Gertschenpicby Chris Gertschen

For the past three decades, I have been an activist, a volunteer, a student and a teacher of conservation.  My activist years gave me an advocacy perspective but I quickly saw a great need to expand my own natural science education – to give some foundation and balance to my life and love of the earth.  My studies of biology as an undergrad were focused singularly on human biology and physiology.  The word “ecology” was not then part of the curriculum.  As a graduate student, I was introduced to a whole new world.  In the natural history interdisciplinary program that I designed for myself at Boise State University, I studied geology, zoology, ecology and public affairs.  And, I began to learn about conservation biology.

In 1994, I was asked to lead the Idaho Environmental Education Association (it was the Idaho Energy and Environmental Education Society in those days) and continued to lead the organization for the next nine years.  Affiliation with the North American Association for Environmental Education allowed for tremendous educational opportunities and I was fortunate to be introduced to a great diversity of educational programs taking place all over North America.  At home, I continued to hold the vision of a much expanded environmental education organization.  But I saw the environmental education community keeping very much to itself with very little interaction with conservation organizations.

In 2010, after a 20 year career as director (and founder) of the Sawtooth Science Institute in Idaho, I found myself prematurely retired.  In my search for work — volunteer and otherwise — I offered my services to a variety of conservation organizations, universities, and non-profits.  Through this process I learned many lessons about what was and was not happening in education and conservation.  It was not easy to get a response and so I began to delve a little deeper.  I went in search of answers to my questions.  I wanted to begin a dialogue about how conservation efforts might be improved through better coordination and communication. I asked questions of the leaders of conservation organizations in the hopes of hearing from them how conservation could be improved.

I believe that the barriers that exist between environmental education and conservation are calling for a new way of doing business.  Can conservation education bring together scientists, conservationists and environmental educators for a better future?  Is there a place for education in conservation?   In the interviews that follow, I’ll ask these and other questions of conservation leaders.  The dialogue we begin may help us discover new ways of working together that will have benefits for all who care about this planet.

Chris Gertschen

Interview with Lance Craighead (August 2011)