Habitat & Conservation  |  02/22/2024

National Volunteer of the Year Award Finalist: Josh Maher


Preserving habitat and heritage in Iowa

This year, for the first time, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever will recognize a national “Volunteer of the Year.”

The award celebrates the very best the organization has to offer — the members and volunteers who optimize the Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever mission, who seek to protect and grow our wildlife habitat, and who help ensure our heritage continues for generations to come. 

We have chosen eight finalists (Four Pheasants Forever and four Quail Forever) for the award. The winner will be announced at the upcoming National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic, which runs March 1-3 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. 

“Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are dynamic conservation organizations, fueled by the dedication of volunteers,” said Tom Fuller, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s vice president of chapter and volunteer services. “The Volunteer of the Year award seeks to honor individuals who have made a profound impact on our mission. Our volunteer network is a vibrant community of passion and talent. This annual award is a celebration of the remarkable accomplishments of these volunteers, and is intended to inspire others to join the movement for upland conservation.”

Over the last few weeks we’ve gotten to know the finalists one by one, and have celebrated their accomplishments in the world of habitat conservation. The last volunteer we’ll highlight is Josh Maher, from the Henry County Chapter of Quail Forever in Iowa. 

Let’s start by just telling us a little more about yourself. Your history with bird hunting and conservation, how long you’ve been a member of Pheasants Forever, etc. 

I live in my hometown of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa with my wife, Karla and two kids, Jayden (7) and Keelyn (4). I have my real estate license, work at my wife’s dental office and am a full time dad managing our household and ushering the kids around to school and various events. Since moving back to Mt. Pleasant in 2013, I've immersed myself in local clubs and organizations to try and give back. I am currently the president of Henry County Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, the president of our McGwider building trades board, am a board member of the Mount Pleasant Community School District, co-chair of St. Alphonsus Old Threshers committee and past member of Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions Club and Main Street Mt. Pleasant. After a year or two of being back in town, a family friend invited me to a Pheasants Forever meeting and I joined shortly after. 

What initially spurred you to get involved with your local chapter? 

Being involved in the community already, I wasn’t really looking for another club or organization to join, but the simple ask from a long-time board member was all it took. I remember attending Pheasants Forever banquets with my dad as a kid and have always had a passion for hunting and conservation, so I thought this would be a good group to be a part of. Initially, I thought I was saying “yes” to helping one night out of the year at the local banquet. Although that one night does consume a lot of our discussions, I learned there was so much more to the organization, and it inspired me to help out even more. The knowledge and stories that are passed around from board members regarding CRP contracts, food plot recommendations, land and habitat management discussions, even fire arms recommendations and prior hunting stories is what hooked me and keeps me coming back for more. Our chapter has a lot to offer, especially to landowners, regarding habitat and how to best utilize and improve the land we have around us.   

Talk about the work you and your chapter have been doing over the course of the last year. 

This last year has been busy for our chapter, as we wanted to grow in everything — membership, outreach, youth programs and habitat. We had the highest grossing banquet totals in the last 30+ years this year, and have been working on outreach by growing our social media presence. Our chapter has also tripled the number of trap teams we’re supporting during the 2023-2024 school year, with each team receiving a $1,000 donation. Habitat has probably been an area with the largest growth and in my opinion, the most exciting. We've offered all of our members free planter rental and enough free corn and soybeans to cover over 750 acres in food plots. We also purchased a prescribed burn trailer, available for rent to all Henry County PF/QF members. We have also contributed financially to a neighboring county’s chapter to assist with a land acquisition project. Within the last month we initiated conversations with our local county conservation department to help enhance the nearly 900 acres of public ground in Henry county. 

There are nearly 140,000 Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever members, and eight finalists for Volunteer of the Year. What does it mean to be nominated for this award? 

WOW. I do not know how to adequately express my gratitude for this nomination. As you can see from my introduction, I’ve been involved with many different organizations. It has never been about the recognition, but rather what I could give of myself to make my community a better place. When I received the email that I was a finalist, I sent it out to the chapter board members not only to thank them immensely for their support, but to tell them this recognition truly belongs to our entire chapter. Our accomplishments this year would not have been possible without the support, time and dedication of the board members, past and present. Whenever I join an organization, my goal is to have grown and enhanced that organization by the time I am done with my term. The volunteers for the last 30+ years of our chapter's history did an excellent job in laying the foundation for enhancing and promoting the PF/QF mission statement in and around Henry county. I hope my leadership has contributed enough to take us to the next level. 

One of the most profound aspects of volunteering for Pheasants Forever is you can see and touch the work. It’s not abstract, or done in some far away place. When you accomplish a habitat project, you can stand in the dirt and witness the progress firsthand. Same is true for outreach — you get to see new people discover the world of conservation or watch a bird dog work for the very first time. What’s it feel like to sit back and watch your work come to fruition? 

Growing up in a small town in rural Iowa, you get to know people — the mayor, county supervisors, doctors, lawyers, teachers, the list goes on and on. That instilled a sense of community in me, but also a sense of responsibility toward bettering that community. I joined Pheasants Forever, not because I like to go hunting (although I do), but because of its mission: “...to conserve pheasants, quail, and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public access, education and conservation advocacy.” The memories of hunting with my dad as a kid, specifically pheasant hunting, are some of my most meaningful experiences. It's experiences like those I want to ensure generations down the line will have access to. Local chapters to have a direct impact on the wildlife, habitat and public access in their area, and that’s why I’m a proud member of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever — and why I gave my son a Pheasants Forever lifetime membership.