An average of a dozen Hornaday Awards are earned each year. By contrast, 56,841 Scouts earned the Eagle Scout Award in 2013.
The awards are named for the esteemed American zoologist, conservationist and taxidermist William Temple Hornaday, who served as the first director of the Bronx Zoo and established the Permanent Wild Life Protection Fund. In a 1920 memo, Hornaday spelled out the three goals of the awards: “First, to furnish a lasting token of appreciation of valuable services rendered to the wild life cause. Second, to attract attention to the duty of the good citizen toward wild life; and Third, to develop new leaders in the warfare against the destroyers of wild life.”
For Scouts, Venturers and Sea Scouts, the Hornaday awards — badge, Bronze and Silver — require a challenging combination of merit badges and conservation-related projects. And these aren’t just any projects, says Hornaday committee chairman Tim Beaty. A 35-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service, Beaty spent 20 years as the service’s national liaison to the BSA and works with the Hornaday Award committee charged with reviewing every Hornaday application. Beaty says that successful Hornaday applicants all share a burning passion for their projects.
“You have to have that passion, play into that passion for a place or a species,” Beaty says. “You’re going the extra mile, doing what’s good for the environment or the animals. If you don’t have that passion, you’re just working for an award; most of those people fail. Someone who steps up and is exceptional — they’re the only ones who should be wearing an exceptional award.”
It’s that drive, Beaty says, that propels some Scouts to devote literally thousands of hours to their Hornaday projects. “From our viewpoint, it has to be at least the scope and scale of an Eagle project, and most are much, much larger. On average, they’re probably looking at two years of work,” he says. “Many put in 1,000 to 2,000 hours of work over two or three years. Some take four or five years. The projects get so involved.”
Hornaday projects must involve a “conservation need” that goes beyond human needs such as recycling or repairing trails, Beaty says.
A list of recent Scouts who won Hornaday awards includes such projects as removing discarded fishing lines from reservoirs; monitoring a bald eagle nest; protecting endangered plants at a park by removing invasive species; returning an illegal road to natural conditions; and removing incorrectly installed drainpipes that caused erosion.
Ultimately, Beaty says, it is “hard to define” what makes an ideal Hornaday project, a truth that goes back to a letter Hornaday himself wrote in the 1930s. “I can’t possibly tell you what makes a significant project or what you should do,” he wrote. “Go out and study the birds and the quadrupeds and the abused animals. They’ll tell you better than I can what you should be doing.”
For more on the Hornaday awards and requirements, go to scouting.org/awards/hornaday.