Fort Hays State University Master's Student Wins Hedges Conservation Award

Justin Roemer, recipient of The Nature Conservancy scholarship, credits Boy Scouts for inspiring his passion for the natural world.

The Nature Conservancy, Emporia Community Foundation and Hedges family are delighted to announce that Justin Roemer, a graduate student studying biology at Fort Hays State University, has been awarded the Lance Hedges Conservation Award. The scholarship, named in memory of the former Director of Conservation for The Nature Conservancy, is available only to interns and other student employees of TNC in Kansas.

“Lance was the driving force behind us establishing our intern program,” says TNC director Rob Manes. “He recognized that growing the next generation of conservation professionals was a task equal to our current on-the-ground conservation work.”

Roemer was hired as the very first TNC intern at the organization’s Smoky Valley Ranch in 2014. At the time, he was an undergraduate at Fort Hays State University working toward his degree in wildlife biology.

Justin Roemer at the Little Jerusalem rock formations
Justin Roemer Justin is the recipient of 2018 Lance Hedges Conservation Award. He is pictured here at Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, adjacent to TNC's Smoky Valley Ranch. © Justin Roemer

“It all began when I was in Boy Scouts,” says Roemer. “At a young age, I was taught the complexities of the natural world and I discovered a deep passion for it. I wanted to know more and that led me to pursuing my degree at Fort Hays. I got the opportunity to intern at Smoky Valley Ranch and I’ve never looked back.”

Now in his second year of graduate school, Roemer serves double-duty at the Logan County ranch as both an academic researcher and seasonal conservation practitioner for TNC. In between classes and his research project (aimed at finding new ways to control the plant known as purple three-awn which can cause eye, nose and mouth injuries to livestock), Roemer had the opportunity to mentor the latest Smoky Valley Ranch intern.

“Hopefully, I helped him gain a passion for the field of conservation. Together we were able to complete a large amount of work and it was a great teaching experience for me” adds Roemer.

“Knowing that Justin was one of the first interns that Lance hired, and seeing his growth over the past four years, makes his winning the award even more meaningful for our family,” says Stacey Hedges, who established the scholarship in her husband’s memory. “Justin represents exactly what Lance wanted to accomplish through the intern program.” 

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.