The New Face of Conservation

By Julie Morse, Regional Ecologist

Would you spend eight weeks living out of a van and camping every night somewhere new, with 20 strangers? With this group, stranger status seems to have been obliterated within the first five minutes of that eight weeks. It’s only Week Two and already this cohort has its own secret — soft finger snaps show appreciation and gratitude, hands high in the air signal your attention is needed — be quiet! 

The Doris Duke Conservation Scholars program out of UW is truly a unique program working to cultivate the next generation of conservationists. The program brings together a diverse group of committed and creative young professionals from around the country and plops them into an eight-week “classroom in the field” experience. By engaging in conservation practices across the state, students gain real-world experience in a full range of ecological and cultural issues across the Pacific Northwest.

Doris Duke Conservation Scholars touring the Skagit Valley. © TNC

If this is the next generation of conservationists, then I guess that makes me — an established environmental professional — part of the old guard. While I still like to think of myself as a young and emerging professional, spending a day with this group makes it clear — none of this social stuff was part of my own grad-school experience. 

A few of us Nature Conservancy staff from the Mount Vernon office toured this group around a few of our restoration projects in the Skagit and Stillaguamish valleys last week. This group wasted no time before diving in, interrupting our routine spiels about the projects with tough questions: Why is diversity important in conservation? Don’t farms contribute to water-quality problems? How do you overcome conflict when the root of the conflict is really about deep identity differences and connection to place?

Doris Duke Conservation Scholars touring the Skagit Valley. © TNC

They asked tough questions. They challenged us. And we most definitely welcome these challenges. These are unprecedented and unreal times to be working in the field of conservation; we absolutely welcome their fresh ideas and their help. 

Doris Duke Scholars is an incredible program, and the Nature Conservancy is thrilled to also host two second-year students as summer interns this year.