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Leopold Week  •  Programs and Events

The Aldo Leopold Foundation will be closed to the public for a private event on Saturday, September 30.


Future Leaders Program Pays Dividends

written by Dan Hoff

I turn 33 here at the end of the week and it’s always interesting to look back at the inflection points and forks in the road on my journey through life. Few have had a larger impact on my career than a very forgettable auto generated email to all the work study eligible students at UW-Baraboo Sauk County in September of 2009. In May 2009 I graduated from high school. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I figured I should probably go to college. I enrolled in my local UW system 2-year school at UW – Baraboo/Sauk County, now a branch of UW- Platteville. I had work study eligibility and despite living just over 30 minutes from the Leopold Foundation I had never heard of it so when I saw a work study job at a conservation non-profit I thought that was a better deal than washing dishes in the cafeteria or restocking books in the library.

And so, I began my career in conservation, as the intern’s intern. I stacked a lot of wood, cut a lot of poplar sprouts out of the Shack Prairie, swept a lot of mouse poo out of the Shack and I learned a ton. The first scientific article I ever read for fun was waiting for me one morning after I’d questioned the wisdom of not removing prickly ash (a native, Wisconsin’s only native citrus in fact) along with common buckthorn (an invasive) the week before. From that ’09-’10 school year through 2015 I was involved in working at the foundation on and off while completing my BS in Wildlife Ecology at UW—Stevens Point, working full time for over a year post-graduation, and then (finally!) leaving to pursue my MS at Oklahoma State. It’s hard to exaggerate the impact my time at ALF has had on my career.

After grad school I came back to Wisconsin to work for the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS), a conservation non-profit composed primarily of grouse hunters focused on supporting habitat and healthy grouse populations. That position was in partnership with US Dept of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) out of the Lena Field Office north of Green Bay. In that role I assisted landowners in accessing financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a program I was familiar with because I’d worked on several EQIP projects at ALF on the Leopold—Pines Conservation Area, including buckthorn removal! I’ve since transitioned to working directly for the NRCS but my duties are similar. I provide a lot of free land management advice and assist landowners in leveraging federal financial assistance programs to jump start conservation on their properties. The model of voluntary conservation we use is still largely the voluntary, locally led, landowner driven model that Leopold helped pioneer in the Coon Creek Watershed, our nation’s first watershed conservation project.

One special project we are working on here in NE WI that includes several watersheds, all connected to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, has brought me back to working along side ALF staff. As some of you may know ALF spearheads My Wisconsin Woods (MWW), a public/private/non-profit partnership that works together to help woodland owners across Wisconsin access land management resources. MWW has been assisting with promotion and outreach for a Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership , the Northeast Wisconsin Forestry and Wildlife Partnership, to assist area landowners by funding wildfire risk mitigation, water quality, and wildlife habitat creation. I am serving as the coordinator for that project, and it’s been a pleasure to work with Leopold Fundation staff again. It’s incredibly important to have partners like MWW that can take a conservation message and amplify it to an area-wide audience. You can find out more about this partnership here.

I’ve tracked landowner visits since I’ve been back in Wisconsin working for RGS and NRCS and I’ve visited 210 individual properties. It is no exaggeration to say I carry Leopold and the Land Ethic to every one of those properties. Just earlier this week I used Leopold’s concept of “writing your signature” on the landscape to help a new landowner conceptualize how their land management options are constrained by the prior landowner’s signature and understand the long term impacts their land management decisions—their signature—will have on their property and the surrounding landscape for the next generation.

“A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke [of the axe] he is writing his signature on the face of the land.”

The fellowship program at the Aldo Leopold Foundaiton has changed quite a bit since my time there, I had the opportunity to visit the Foundation earlier this summer and chat with the current crop of fellows and I was very impressed with the quality of their current experience, as well as the obvious high quality of the individuals themselves. I have no doubt that the future leaders the foundation is currently producing will go on to do much greater things than I (as have most of the other interns). When Buddy asked me to write a blog post about my story arc through ALFs fellowship program to where I am now, I didn’t intend to end it with a shameless plug but I think I’m going to anyway. Support the future leaders program. It’s a good investment. I don’t think there are very many places where you have the opportunity to have as dramatic an impact on a career and the annually compounding benefits on the conservation community of steeping an early career professional in Leopold and then turning them loose to apply the Land Ethic.

(Photo: Dan Hoff, left, and Buddy Huffaker)

Learn more about our Future Leaders Program

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