The Hornaday Award: One of Scouting’s rarest, most prestigious honors

Twelve-year-old Matthew Tropf spotted a photo of a shiny Hornaday medal as he flipped through Boys’ Life. He wanted it but knew little about how to earn one.

When the Uniontown, Ohio, Scout questioned friends in his troop about the Hornaday Award, nobody knew what it was. It’s one of Scouting’s rarest honors — about 1,200 medals have been awarded in the past 100 years.

Its rarity stems from the rigor of its requirements: The Hornaday Bronze Award requires six conservation-based merit badges, as well as planning and carrying out three service projects, each on the level of an Eagle Scout project.

“It looked like a lot,” Tropf says. “But after the first project, I just kept going with it.”

Thanks to encouraging advisors and after more than a year of work, he applied for the Hornaday Bronze Award. His application received the thumbs-up, but he was given a choice: Accept the medal or complete another project and earn three more merit badges to apply for the Silver Award.

The experience instilled in Tropf a deeper love for the environment, so the 14-year-old Life Scout decided to go for the Silver.

If he earns it, he will likely become the first Scout in his council to receive a Hornaday medal. Only two adults in the council have been recognized with a Hornaday medal in the last two decades.

“I was surprised that nobody had wanted to do it,” Tropf says. “I think that should change and that everybody should be more interested.”

A Rare Feat

Conservationist Dr. William Temple Hornaday led the charge in keeping the American bison from going extinct. The first director of the New York Zoological Park (known today as the Bronx Zoo) also established the Wildlife Protection Medal to inspire more Americans to save and preserve this country’s animals. After Hornaday’s death in 1937, the medal was named after him and became a BSA award.

The award includes a few tiers: badge, bronze medal, silver medal, gold badge and gold medal. Venturers and Scouts who have reached First Class rank can earn any of the first three, while the gold badge and gold medal are designated for adults, who must be nominated for one after years of environmental service. Certificates are also available for groups.

Despite its high purpose, few apply to receive a Hornaday Award. Some years, fewer than 50 nationwide submit an application for a medal, says Tim Beaty, chair of the national Hornaday Awards committee.

The workload likely intimidates many who are interested. On average, it takes about two and a half years and at least 1,000 man-hours to complete. Such an intensive endeavor calls for consistent support.

“When the youth is left to do a whole lot on their own, it’s easier for them to give up,” Beaty says.

Amelia Berle, a former Venturer from the Middle Tennessee Council, received plenty of support as she sought the Hornaday Silver Award two years before she aged out. She recruited family members, friends, crew members, summer camp staff, college students and Girl Scouts to help with her ambitious four projects.

Her projects racked up more than 1,000 work hours as she identified about 6,000 hemlock trees to be inoculated against a destructive insect, removed an invasive ivy from a state park, built a retaining wall at another park to solve an erosion problem, and developed and taught a lesson plan about the water table at a Cub Scout camp.

All this while double-majoring in biology and computer science in college.

“It’s completely doable and quite enjoyable,” Berle says. “You just have to be dedicated. It’s going to take a lot of your time.”

Set Up for Success

Eagle Scouts make up more than 90 percent of Hornaday applicants. These are driven Scouts; however, many of their submissions end up being rejected for a host of reasons.

“Most fail because they don’t have a good advisor,” Beaty says. “This is a lot of work. It can’t just be for a weekend. You have to have a passion.”

To capture the conservation spirit Hornaday set forth, Scouts shouldn’t cut corners with a quick trip to the local park. These projects need to provide positive measurable outcomes for the environment, meaning follow-up observations will be warranted.

Adrian Corona-Vallet, an Eagle Scout in the Far East Council, cleaned a polluted freshwater stream near an Indonesian village as part of his endeavor for a silver medal.   

“I believe that water is an essential resource and an important part of the global natural resource cycle that simply cannot be neglected,” Corona-Vallet says.

He installed plumbing to divert sewage from infiltrating the stream and directed it to a septic tank and garden. He monitored how the environment reacted weeks after it was installed. Other projects he did called for more than a year of observation.

As long as they deal with conservation, Eagle Scout projects can count as one of the necessary Hornaday projects. The awards committee has seen many projects that included fixing a trail or building a bridge in a park, which were rejected.

“None of those are conservation issues,” Beaty says. “They’re ‘helping people’ issues.”

Corona-Vallet’s freshwater stream project helped both, since he also put in a water filtration system to purify a village water well. His project cleaned the water table and also provided villagers with clean drinking water and a beautiful, vibrant garden.

An advisor can guide the Scout toward appropriate projects. Projects should concern at least one of the following (note that each project should tackle a different topic):

  • Energy conservation
  • Soil and water conservation
  • Fish and wildlife management
  • Forestry and range management
  • Air and water pollution control
  • Recycling
  • Hazardous material disposal and management
  • Invasive species control

Most of the time, Scouters serve as advisors with council chairs overseeing the work, but finding experts in any of these environmental fields helps immensely. Park rangers might not have the time or resources to organize and supervise a service project. Beaty suggests seeking assistance from conservationists or land-management professionals.

Applicants will often have multiple advisors, some supervising individual projects.

Scouts can work on projects simultaneously. Logistics and planning play a large part in a successful project.

“You always have more options out there,” Tropf says. “You get to think outside of the box a lot.”

An Olympic Medal From the Earth

It’s definitely a positive for all when a Scout is interested in the Hornaday Award. Applicants can demonstrate leadership and see the tangible impact of their work, while younger Scouts have the opportunity to earn service hours and learn about the environment.

In one of Tropf’s projects, his fellow troop members’ families saw energy savings in their homes. Thanks to Berle’s efforts, thousands of trees could be saved from devastation. Corona-Vallet was able to educate villagers to be more mindful of the environment, and one of them was inspired to emulate one of the Scout’s projects himself.

“It was amazing to see the project efforts multiplying,” Corona-Vallet says. “It was a real learning journey over three years — an adventure! I learned that patience and persistence are essential.”

Many Hornaday Award recipients go on to earn college degrees in conservation and become experts in environmental fields.

“It is a stepping stone for sure,” Beaty says.

Berle and Tropf agree that the paperwork proved to be the most monstrous behemoth to conquer. The Hornaday Awards committee expects a mature, in-depth write-up. Tropf’s final application reached 180 pages, including photographs and references.

Trained Scouters give applicants a greater chance of submitting a stellar report. Training sessions used to be held at Philmont Scout Ranch a few times a year. This resulted in only a handful of trained Scouters across the nation. So regional training sessions are being planned to reach more interested people.

The more interest, the more Scouts can endeavor to join an elite class of conservationists.

The Hornaday is “not easy; it’s not designed to be easy,” Beaty says. “It is prestigious; it is extremely rare.”


By the Numbers

Since 1914, 5,300 Hornaday awards have been bestowed to conservation-minded Americans. Nearly half of those were Hornaday badges. Fewer than 1,000 have been unit certificates, which were introduced in 1940.

A total of 897 medals were given from 1914 to 1974. In 1975, bronze, silver and gold distinctions were created. Since then, fewer than 50 gold, 150 bronze and 150 silver medals have been earned. Gold badges were introduced in 2000 and almost 600 have been awarded so far.


The Tier of Awards

The Hornaday Award comes in badges, medals and certificates. Here’s what you need to do to qualify for each one.

Badge

Scouts must earn five merit badges from the list below — including three listed in bold — plus plan and carry out one significant project.

Bronze Medal

Scouts must earn six merit badges from the list below including Environmental Science and three in bold, plus plan and carry out three significant projects. Reviewed by a national committee.

Silver Medal

Scouts must earn nine merit badges from the list below, including all of those listed in bold, plus plan and carry out four significant projects. Reviewed by a national committee.

Unit Certificate

At least 60 percent of registered members in a pack, troop, team or crew must carry out a substantial
conservation project.

Gold Badge

Scouters or Venturing leaders can be nominated for leading and educating youth on conservation efforts
on a council or district level for at least three years.

Gold Medal

Scouters or Venturing leaders can be nominated for leading and educating youth on conservation efforts
on a regional, national or international level. Reviewed by a national committee.

Gold Certificate

Corporations or organizations can be nominated for leading and educating youth on conservation efforts in an outstanding way. Reviewed by a national committee.

Hornaday merit badges (required list in bold)

  • Energy
  • Environmental Science
  • Fish and Wildlife Management
  • Forestry
  • Public Health
  • Soil and Water Conservation
  • Bird Study
  • Fishing
  • Fly-Fishing
  • Gardening
  • Geology
  • Insect Study
  • Landscape Architecture
  • Mammal Study
  • Nature
  • Nuclear Science
  • Oceanography
  • Plant Science
  • Pulp and Paper
  • Reptile and Amphibian Study
  • Weather

To download applications and read more about the Hornaday Awards, visit bit.ly/hornadayawards

18 Comments

  1. Do I know someone? Yes, my son earned the badge. However, few outside his troop know it. It is disconcerting that only a few scouters recognize and promote this. I hope to change this by becoming an advisor and getting more scouts and scouters educated and involved.

  2. Approximately 45 years ago I completed the requirements and was awarded the William T. Hornaday Conservation medal by the National Council, BSA. The experience led me into a career in science. Today I continue doing conservation related activities to improve the environment including annual clean-ups of the largest lake in our county coordinated by my best friend and fellow Eagle Scout. I can appreciate the drive, determination, dedication as well as admire the young men featured in the article who became recipients of the Hornaday medal.

  3. Chemistry MB should be included in the list as chemistry is a major component in all of the required MBs. There would be no environmental science, soil & water conservation, nuclear science, etc without CHEMISTRY!!!!

  4. Can the Hornaday medal be earned by a Venturing Scout who is 18? Do they have to of completed all of the necessary merit badges before they turned 18? I know of several Eagle Scouts who started on the Hornaday, completing several conservation projects but opted to wrap up their Eagle instead of the the Hornaday. Two that I know of continue in our crew. An additional person is an Adult ASM and is part of crew and an Explorer Post.

    • Venturers have separate requirements, which do not include the merit badges. My understanding is that youth apply for the award under one “track” or the other (that is to say, you can’t start as a Boy Scout and then “flip” over to Venturing after the 18th birthday, but rather go all in and complete before 18, or do the Venturing requirements before 21). The application form itself has more information: https://filestore.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/hornaday/badge.pdf

  5. Informative article on a prestigious award. The first Hornaday unit award was presented in 1951 (not 1940) to a troop in Bristol, Virginia. The Wild Life Protection Medal awarded by the Permanent Wild Life Protection Fund did not physically exist in 1914 or in 1915. The first one was cast in 1916. The first four recipients of the medal received them in 1917. The very first recipient was a woman who was not a member of the BSA. The first member of the BSA to be awarded one of the Wild Life Protection Medals received it in 1922. The original medals were not a BSA award and were awarded to men, women, boys and girls around the world including two Presidents of Mexico and citizens of France. The medals were awarded for “distinguished” service to wild life protection, specifically bird protection. The badges, which were created in 1922, were awarded for “Valuable” service. When the awards became a BSA program in 1938 and named the Hornaday Awards, they became more focused on conservation in general. Again, nice article.

  6. A number of years ago the Troop I was associated with received
    The Hornaday Certificate.
    It was quite memorable because our work consisted of collecting paper products and newspapers over about a two year period.
    Lots of Scout volunteer help and the Troop was proud to have been selected and approved for the award.

  7. I cannot stress the importance enough that we as scouts get more involved with conservational efforts of all types. We who are in the forests and on the rivers see first hand the effects that careless people can have on the environment. We already teach our scouts to leave no trace, conservation projects teach them that they can make a difference, and sometimes in a much grander scale. My son is a Silver medal recipient and now that he’s moved on, I continue to advise those who want to follow this path. It’s an uphill battle as this program has not been given a lot of attention. The current articles will put it in scouts and scouters minds for a while, but it fades. I’d love to see a section in scouting magazine similar to the Eagle scout project recognitions be posted regularly so that it’s kept in the minds of scouters. I cannot imagine the numbers of completed Eagle projects that have also met the requirements or could have been expanded upon to meet the Hornaday badge requirements if there was more awareness to the Hornaday awards. One thing I wish was available, an arm patch (worn at the right shoulder) for unit citations. I believe that if a troop was at a camporee, conclave, etc. with those on, it would gather the attention of other scouts and scouters possibly encouraging a scout to start a path into a conservationism

    • Minsi Trails Council made an effort in the ’80’s to make the Hornaday Award more familiar in its council by presenting a weekend program. Out of the program one boy started and completed a service project for the award. I was pleased since I put the committee together from specialists in the area.

  8. I disagree with the statement that the Hornerday award is the rarest BSA award. Fewer than 1000 Silver Buffalos and fewer than 1000 National OA Distinguished Service Awards have been presented in the history of the BSA.

    • Of the original design Hornaday Medals that were awarded after 1938 when the “named” Hornaday Awards came into existence only three were awarded before the redesign in 1952. They were cast from the same die the original Permanent Wild Life Protection Fund medals were made from (1916-1937. The P.W.L.P.F. ended in 1937 when Dr. Hornaday died. The post 1938 BSA medals had “Hornaday Award” engraved on the back with the recipients name. They were presented by the BSA in 1941, 1943 and 1949. Two are in a private collection and the third one (the 1943 medal) is on display at the Scouting Museum in Toledo, Ohio. With that said the three original design named Hornaday Medals are most likely the rarest of all BSA medals. I personally consider the original design Hornaday Medal to be the most beautiful of all BSA medals ever issued. It is unique and features an antlered deer standing on a hunting rifle.

    • Excellent point by there is a huge difference here – the individual or unit receiving a Hornaday Award makes a personal decision to work toward that specific goal whereas the Silver Buffalo and National OA DS Awards are not awarded for similar personal goal setting and completion achievements.

  9. My son, Bryan, and I both received this award. I think we were one of the first father/son teams to receive the Hornaday award. Bryan has his mounted with his Faith in God, Duty to God and Eagle Scout metals. I have mine mounted with my Scouters,
    Scout Leader, Duty to God and Silver Beaver metals. We are both very proud of these awards.

  10. I became an Eagle Scout in Nov. 1966. I wasn’t 13 until December. I call myself an environmentalist and a pollinator farmer: i.e. I’m green.Sadly, I don’t remember hearing of The Hornaday Award until today.

  11. Warren Chatwin was the last Scout from Indian Nations Council to receive the Hornaday Award in our Council. An outstanding young man who spent over five years earning the award. I remember having to mail his project workbook to the review panel and it weighing over 10 pounds. Included were five projects that were quite varied in nature, but each impacting the community.

  12. Yes, my brother Stephen Langton and several of his fellow scouts of Troop 18, North Hollywood, CA earned one of the Hornaday medals and the troop a citation for merit badges achieved and work accomplished. This was a long time ago.

  13. We are so proud of our two sons who each earned this distinction. Bradley Garr awarded a Silver Medal in approx. 2012 and went on to earn an NROTC full-ride NAVY scholarship to USC. Brad was also awarded the BSA Medal of Heroism. He is a “highly” decorated Eagle Scout. And, our younger son Matthew who earned the Hornaday Badge in 2016. Matt is also an Eagle Scout, decorated with other BSA awards, and on his quest to attend USC and becoming a physician. Our thanks and gratitude to their respective counselors and advisors — so dedicated — in this wonderful organization BSA! Bill & Mai Garr, Scottsdale, Arizona.

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