Yoko Minoura / The Bulletin

A fourth-generation rancher who until recently ran her own cattle, Diane Snyder may seem like an unlikely champion for conservation.

But the 45-year-old Joseph resident and mother of three used efforts to protect the ecosystem as a way to turn her rural community around.

Under her leadership, work to preserve healthy forests in Wallowa County in Eastern Oregon translated into new jobs and a new sense of hope for residents.

Snyder was honored for her work Friday night, when the High Desert Museum presented her with the 2007 Donald M. Kerr Award.

The $5,000 award, named after the founder of the museum and funded by the Chiles Foundation, recognizes citizen leaders in sustainable natural resource management. Recipients must reside in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah or British Columbia.

Snyder said the news that she won the award was a shock.

“I was literally speechless, and for me, that doesn’t happen very often,” she said. “I’m incredibly honored. I had no idea I had been nominated.”

Snyder was nominated by Forrest Rodgers, the outgoing president of the museum, according to a museum spokeswoman.

Snyder now works for the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities, a national nonprofit that protects and supports both forests and communities that have historically relied on timber harvests.

But Snyder’s most notable contributions were meant to lift up her home community, in Wallowa County in northeast Oregon.

Snyder said the decline of the timber industry and many traditional natural resource industries had led to a sense of despair in many rural communities.

In 1996, she founded Wallowa Resources. The nonprofit collaborated with many groups to find ways to protect the environment that also bolstered the local economy.

For instance, she said, the nonprofit worked with the U.S. Forest Service and other groups to put loggers to work removing invasive weeds and performing thinning to reduce the risk of wildfire.

Maintaining a certain amount of timber harvest, and finding ways to use small-diameter trees for wood products, was another component, she said.

“It’s really thinking about including the work force and engaging people in helping the environment,” she said.

Wallowa Resources also branched out into natural resource education. The nonprofit looked for locals in natural resource management, who were familiar with the land, to round out academic and science-based perspectives, Snyder said.

On many projects, the nonprofit brought often opposing groups together to talk about their specific concerns and work toward a solution.

Snyder has collected a variety of accolades for her accomplishments at Wallowa Resources.

She was named Wallowa’s Civic Leader of the Year in 2001 and recognized in Oregon Business Magazine as one of 50 leaders in the state in 2007, according to her biography on the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities Web site.

But Snyder said the Donald M. Kerr award outshines those honors.

“This is definitely one of the high points of my career,” she said. “It’s humbling. I do this because I have a deep passion for the land and the people, and for future generations to have the same experience we have.”