Scouts can help the environment through the new BSA Distinguished Conservation Service Awards program

Scouts have been working to conserve our planet since the organization’s inception. Now, they can be honored for their work through the BSA Distinguished Conservation Service Awards program.

Scouts BSA members, Sea Scouts and Venturers can earn the youth version of these new prestigious awards while adult leaders and other organizations and individuals can be bestowed other versions. The awards aim to honor exemplary environmental stewardship and service while encouraging others to strive toward making a difference.

Project details

Earlier this year, the William T. Hornaday Awards, which became a BSA award in the late 1930s, were discontinued and the BSA Distinguished Conservation Service Awards program was launched — a modernized, streamlined program designed to encourage more conservation advocacy and service.

The conservation service projects required for the award will be just as rigorous as the previous requirements; however, Scouts will need to plan, lead and carry out two conservation service projects, instead of three or four. Just like before, a conservation-focused Eagle Scout project can count for one of them. This streamlined change should embolden Scouts (especially those who have already done a qualifying Eagle Scout project) to go for the award, but more importantly, spark their interest in conservation.

The impact Scouts can make through the new program can be tremendous. On average, Eagle Scout candidates and the volunteers they lead put in about 140 service hours for their projects. The BSA Distinguished Conservation Service Awards require high quality work — the same level as an Eagle project. With two projects, that’s 280 hours. Last year, 61,353 Scouts earned the Eagle Scout Award. What if some of those Scouts devote their projects to conservation and then do another project for the Distinguished Conservation Service Award? Let’s say, 30,000 Scouts choose to do that. At 140 hours per project, that totals to 8.4 million service hours!

Another streamlined change comes from the review process. Before, a national committee reviewed Scouts’ projects. With the BSA Distinguished Conservation Service Awards program, the council’s conservation committee reviews the work.

Any service project cannot count toward the award. It needs to help the environment, not people. The projects must focus on one of the following categories:

  • Energy conservation
  • Soil and water conservation
  • Fish and wildlife management
  • Forestry and range management
  • Air and water pollution control
  • Resource recovery (recycling)
  • Hazardous materials disposal and management
  • Invasive species control

For project examples and ideas, click here. This page includes applications, the workbook and more FAQs about the award program. The award will include a certificate and square knot.

Additional requirements

The updated requirements call for Scouts BSA members to earn natural science-related merit badges; Venturers and Sea Scouts will have to do additional leadership projects and presentations.

Those who are already working on the Hornaday Awards and have completed at least two service projects and started the third or fourth projects by October 13, 2020, will be eligible to earn the BSA Distinguished Conservation Service Award with either bronze or silver honors, if they finish by June 30, 2021. Afterwards, the bronze and silver distinctions will be retired.

Other honors

While the BSA Distinguished Conservation Service Awards are available to older youth and adults, other BSA conservation awards are available, including many for Cub Scouts. These include:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also working with the BSA on the creation of an EPA/BSA special award.

About Michael Freeman 215 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is associate editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.