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Fall Outlook Explores Conservation Leadership

Moving Mountains

Aldo Leopold understood that conservation was not an undertaking for the faint of heart. Indeed, he realized that the real goal was to wholly redefine humanity’s role from “conqueror to plain member and citizen” of the biological community. Such an undertaking would take energy, endurance, and diverse talents.

In the fall 2016 issue of Outlook, we consider the task of conservation leadership. As an effective leader, Leopold knew one of his roles was to inspire the interest and energy necessary to build a movement capable of moving mountains. Teaching classes of undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Leopold encouraged students to learn about the land through inquiry and direct experience.

“To change ideas about what land is for is to change ideas about what anything is for. Thus we started to move a straw, and end up with the job of moving a mountain.”  -Aldo Leopold, State of the Profession (1940)

Leopold was able to take this approach to education even deeper with his graduate students, preparing them to become the next generation of conservation leaders. Names like McCabe, Errington, Hochbaum, Hawkins, Hickey, and Hamerstrom are but a few of those students who would go on to pioneer the science and practice of conservation in academia, government, and not-for-profits. Even today many people still proudly trace their intellectual roots back to Leopold through these and subsequent generations of leaders, thinkers, and doers.

However, Leopold also recognized that the value of understanding our connections to the natural world was not a task to be confined to conservation professionals, and he challenged us to imagine a world where the health of the land is connected to the health of our communities and personal wellbeing. In our lead article, Peter Forbes reminds us that ultimately for conservation to be successful, it must be about people just as much as it is about land, air, water, and wildlife.

Building a Diverse Movement

We hope someday that all professions are de facto “conservation professions.” For the foreseeable future, however, we will still need individuals who are called to be “conservationists” to ensure that we continue building a land ethic throughout our society.

An important first step is to continue the efforts to honor, recruit, and engage diversity within the conservation movement. In Masi Mejia’s essay “Diversifying the Field of Natural Resources,” we learn how family connections and outdoor recreation inspired her interest in a wildlife career, and we also gain insights into the experience of being a Hispanic woman breaking into a white, male-dominated profession.

The work of conservation itself is also diverse. Communications and Marketing Coordinator Madeline Fisher interviewed and compiled profiles of six conservation leaders that inspire us in the many different ways they put a land ethic into action. These perspectives are followed by Leopold’s own insights in “A Survey of Conservation,” about how conservation education needs to prepare leaders that are scientifically literate, technically capable, and ethically grounded.

If Leopold had a profound impact on his graduate students, his impact on his children was the ultimate example of investing in the future of conservation. It is a unique honor to include an excerpt from Estella Leopold’s new book Stories from the Leopold Shack where she shares reflections on her family’s experience in “The Shack Enterprise.”

Introducing the Future Leaders Campaign

Recognizing just how important it is to nurture, cultivate, and develop leadership for conservation, we are also excited to introduce our next major initiative: the Future Leaders Campaign. This $5 million campaign seeks to replicate and extend Leopold’s investment in the future of conservation by providing hands-on, immersive fellowships in land stewardship and environmental education.

It also grows the foundation’s capacity to share this opportunity with more young leaders from all walks of life. Two of our recent fellows, Gregory Hitch and Jennie Solverson, share personal perspectives on the impacts their fellowship experiences had on cementing their commitment to conservation and preparing them for a future leadership role in advancing a land ethic.

Rounding out this issue of Outlook we proudly present the Wisconsin Leopold Writing Contest winners and share two essays from young leaders that eloquently and effectively articulated their own perspectives on conservation. We conclude by sharing some of the foundation’s recent accomplishments and announcing upcoming events.

We hope this issue of Outlook reinforces just how critical it is to invest in the kind of leadership necessary to build a land ethic and we hope it will inform and inspire you to continue contributing your time, treasure, and talent to the effort. Together, we will move mountains!