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Westborough — On Tuesday, October 4, 2017, George Peterson Jr. of Grafton, former House Representative and Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game, received the Governor Francis W. Sargent Conservation Award from the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board for his contributions to the sporting community and to the conservation of the Commonwealth's natural resources. Peterson is the 13th recipient of the award. Established in 2000 by the Fisheries and Wildlife Board, the Sargent Award honors the former governor and noted conservationist who directed the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) in 1963 and '64.
Peterson, a lifelong angler and hunter, received the award - a hand-carved wooden loon decoy created by Geoff Walker of Hank Walker Decoys of Newbury - at a ceremony held at the MassWildlife Field Headquarters in Westborough. In addition to the Fisheries and Wildlife Board, the ceremony included MassWildlife Director Jack Buckley, Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Ron Amidon, and Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton. Representatives from sporting and other conservation organizations were also in attendance.
"George Peterson is well known and highly respected in the conservation community for his interest in fish and wildlife," said Fisheries and Wildlife Board Chairman Joe Larson. "He is a champion of natural resource protection and management. What may not be so well known is his support of other environmental topics." Larson noted that Peterson was an important supporter of efforts at the University of Massachusetts to develop methods to recycle chemicals from waste streams to reduce pollution.
"Today we are recognizing an individual with a long history of working in partnership with MassWildlife and others," said MassWildlife Director Jack Buckley who offered an example. "George was a key force in a successful interagency construction project of a mile-long water pipeline and hydropower turbine supplying six million gallons of water daily to our Belchertown hatchery. The project produces renewable energy, reduces the hatchery's electric demand, and increases hatchery operation efficiency . Working with three state agencies is a considerable challenge and we appreciated George's leadership in the process."
A t the awards ceremony, Peterson said, "Working as the Commissioner for this department was a labor of love. It's amazing how much has changed in my lifetime. The hatcheries are stocking trout twice as big as when I was a kid, deer are no longer a rare sight and now there are wild turkeys everywhere thanks to the restoration efforts of MassWildlife." He expressed appreciation for the relationships he built with staff and other conservationists. "For me, I see you all as friends working together to protect natural resources for the benefit of both the fish and wildlife and the Commonwealth's citizens."
Peterson, a hunter and angler for most of his life, studied at the UMass Amherst Stockbridge School of Agriculture for a short time but went into the US Army in 1969 where he served for two years. He worked with friends who were commercial fishermen in Gloucester and Rockport before becoming an owner of a small retail/wholesale seafood business in North Grafton. He first became involved in politics serving on the Grafton Planning Board and the Board of Selectmen. Elected as a state representative in the 9th Worcester District in 1994, Peterson sat on the Natural Resources and Agriculture and Rules Committees, and served as the House Minority Whip and later as the assistant minority leader. His interest in the outdoors continued throughout his tenure in the Legislature, supporting legislation and other efforts to protect natural resources and promote outdoor recreation. Peterson was a strong advocate for the Blackstone River, participating in the 2000 Blackstone Expedition, a four-day paddle from Worcester to Providence. He retired from the legislature in 2014.
In February of 2015, Peterson was appointed Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game by Governor Charlie Baker. For over two years, he worked on the issues he cared deeply care about - habitat conservation, fisheries management, ecological restoration, and enhancement of public access to the Bay State's lands and waters, and outdoor activities such a hunting and fishing. Peterson retired this past July and plans to move to Florida and spend time with his children and grandchildren.