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Immersive Projects Drive Fellows’ Outstanding Year!

The 2019-2020 Aldo Leopold Future Leaders Program fellows faced unprecedented challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic in the last quarter of their fellowship, but they didn’t let it curb their enthusiasm, or their contributions. We are excited to share some highlights from this unusual but very successful year.

At the heart of the Future Leaders Program is our goal to provide a rich learning experience for fellows to grow as a leaders in conservation. They enter into the program with a declared focus in either Land Stewardship or Education & Communication, and there is throughout the year a great deal of cross pollination, creating an interdisciplinary culture. Our program curriculum is a blending of hands-on application and formal professional development sessions in seven core competency areas, including: Applied Science & Natural History, Communication, Finance & Fundraising, Strategic Planning, Partnership Building, Leadership, and Conservation Ethics.

After some years experimenting with more limited fellows projects (tinkering with scope while prioritizing mission-relevance), this year we launched year-long, immersive independent fellows projects and couldn’t be more pleased with the results.

2019-2020 Future Leaders Program fellows, left to right, Makayla Marshall, Lillie Herbst, Eudora Maio, Suzanne Londeree.

To set the stage, foundation staff members created potential fellows projects and priorities that met certain criteria:

1. The project, or a defined portion of it, should be achievable within the fellowship year.
2. Fellows take full ownership of their project, and organize and guide the process.
3. Fellows earn one or more valuable deliverables to carry forward in their professional portfolio.
4. The project provides opportunity to apply principles and skills from multiple core competency areas (as defined above), and,
5. The project advances the mission of the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

Once the fellows selected their projects, each worked directly with the assigned process owner of the respective project, who served as mentor. In most cases the process owner was a senior staff member who didn’t already supervise the fellow, which provided each fellow an opportunity to get to know other staff members and expand their network. Fellows really appreciated this aspect of the program.

Each fellow this year strongly gravitated toward a specific project, so we were off to an encouraging start.  From my perspective as the staff member who oversees the Future Leaders Program curriculum, these projects allowed each fellow to let their talents shine, become skilled project managers, and truly advance the mission of the organization while gaining a wealth of experience.

We hope in time you can come and see the products of these projects in person; in the meantime we give you a preview. We anticipate, like us, you will be proud of what these young, inspiring leaders accomplished!

Eudora Miao (Land Stewardship) is a birder and scientist who was eager to take on the acoustic monitoring pilot project on the Leopold-Pine Island Important Bird Area. The goal of the project was to test the feasibility of field audio recorders to capture the presence of our priority bird species in habitats we manage. If successful this method would allow the Leopold Foundation staff to inform management decisions at more frequent intervals and for a greater length of time. Maybe there is someone out there that wants to stand in one spot, for the six-week breeding season and record bird songs, but we haven’t found them yet!  

Eudora worked closely with Gary Casper, Great Lakes Ecological Services; Stan Temple, Senior Fellow at the Aldo Leopold Foundation and former Chair of Forest and Wildlife Ecology Department at UW-Madison; Mike Mossman, ecologist (ret.), Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and former Leopold Fellow, and Steve Swenson, Program Director at the foundation. She chose to focus on one of our oak savanna habitat priority species, American woodcock, primarily because its breeding season is early spring, making it often missed in our other surveys. She focused on recently harvested floodplain forests that resemble their savanna habitat but had yet to be detected. Sampling ran for a week at each of eight points. Because the distinct “peent” song is simple and at a consistent frequency, Eudora was able to put AI (artificial intelligence) to work, using the computer program to find the songs in the hours of recordings. Woodcock were found at five of the eight locations! Interestingly, of the three locations in which they were not detected, two of them had been burned early spring, greatly reducing camouflaging ground cover for nesting presumably just this year. Eudora demonstrated an application of technology to bring us closer to the land ethic. 

Makayla Marshall (Land Stewardship) strengthened her hands-on land stewardship skills during the fellowship in pursuit of future career goals that included overseeing conservation restoration projects. She found the Shack preservation and trail improvement project a natural fit. She worked closely with Arik Duhr, Site Manager for the Aldo Leopold Foundation, to determine and take appropriate steps to preserve the Leopold Shack, a National Historic Landmark, and improve the visitor experience through our trail system. 

Makayla eliminated the potential for tree roots to heave the fragile Shack foundation through the instillation of a root barrier around the Shack (image at very top) through a partnership with natural resources students from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Also, the edges of the Shack prairie got a “haircut” with the removal of dozens of trees that encroached on the prairie over the decades. And, like most properties with long histories, trails are developed at various times for many different needs, ending up with a spaghetti network of trails that don’t necessarily work together. Makayla vastly improved and simplified our system through trail improvements that saw her  hone her chainsaw skills felling trees and operating the forestry mulching mower, capable of chipping large stands of brush in minutes. The second phase of this project will continue as an independent project for the 2020-21 fellows which includes designing and installing new interpretive exhibits along the visitor trails. You can read more about Makayla’s independent project and fellowship experience here.

Lillie Herbst (Education and Communication) was motivated to put her background in communications to work. Her project was reporting our findings from a recently completed survey exploring the prevalence and importance of ethics curriculum in environmental studies, science, and sustainability programs. Lillie worked closely with Buddy Huffaker, President and Executive Director of the Foundation, Jennifer Farnum, Director of Development, and Alanna Koshollek, Evaluation Coordinator as well as Shirley Vincent with Vincent Evaluation Consulting, LLC. 

The foundation is interested in instilling a land ethic in the future leaders in conservation starting with those graduating from programs in the field. Lillie produced the reports which can be found here. As a result of this work we have been able to identify several resources we can make available to faculty to help infuse more ethics, including Leopold’s idea of a land ethic, into curricula. 

Suzanne Londeree (Education and Communication), from the moment she walked through our doors was interested in giving our exhibit hall a face-lift and was thrilled to see this listed as a project. She worked closely with Curt Meine and Stan Temple, Senior Fellows of the Foundation, as well as Steve Swenson and Lauren Graves, Education Coordinator to craft the exhibit narratives. Suzanne also was exposed to decades of graphic design talent working with Andy Radtke, our Communication Associate for the foundation. 

You can take a look behind the scenes of her exhibit hall revitalization project here. One walk through the exhibits and you will be inspired by Leopold’s story, his words, and by the fact one eager fellow took on and completed this massive undertaking in one year.

We are so proud of all these fellows and wish them all the best in their future endeavors!  They certainly left a legacy at the foundation. To all of you who have supported the work of the foundation, and specifically have supported the Future Leaders Program, we want to thank you for your ongoing support. A special thanks to Herb Paaren and Denise Marino and the Kohler Trust for Preservation for their generous support of the Future Leaders Program and Suzanne and Makayla’s projects. You have touched the lives of these fellows and have helped to shape the foundation itself, and conservation leadership of the future!


Learn more about the Future Leaders Program designed to cultivate diverse, capable conservation leaders of the future!

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