2018 Aldo Leopold Memorial Award recipient (retired)
I am the bucket man because I believe in the value of personal observation from many aspects of life and especially so from an ecological perspective. My generation is from a different era. The field of conservation gradually developed from a time when conservation visionaries assured landscapes were protected by parks and management areas. Today’s generation must deal with highly modified landscapes where these protected sites are now small examples of once vast, diverse biogeographical regions. Thus they face challenges that reach far beyond the local scale to a global one. My 80-year journey is an example of how a naïve kid from a family of modest means seized opportunities to protect and manage the wonderful ecosystems on this planet, and the individuals who are responsible for them. My observational skills were honed on farms where daily observations of crops and livestock were key. My strong attachment for wetlands was widely supported by key aspects of family life and values, friends, neighbors, relatives, and a few key professionals. These experiences set me on a course early in life to find a conservation niche, but I had little or no advice about how to make a living in such a field. At Iowa State College, key mentors and professional opportunities supported consistent progress. Our profession needs a diversity of intellects, interests, and expertise to meet its challenges. Professional land management opportunities increased after the drought of the 1930s, but knowledge of natural systems was limited and protecting them wasn’t recognized on a national scale until federal legislation was passed four decades later. During a decade of university studies, I identified the needs of land managers and how to enhance communication. Furthermore, year-round exposure to marsh systems opened blind eyes to annual variability of critical importance in making land management decisions. My professional position as a laboratory director provided a unique opportunity to investigate life histories of flora and fauna. Managers began to ask more complex questions and information expanded concerning abiotic and biotic principles across disciplines. As a result, studies of systems became the focus. Exposure to wetland systems in all 50 states, foreign environments, and more than 300 national wildlife refuges expanded understanding of constant change, the importance of variability, the need for patience, as well as careful listening, collaborative learning, and use of new thinking and technology. Skepticism is important in making progress as well. Thus, beware of tribalism, silos, old dogma, and good deals. I will share my path of experiences that shaped my thinking and actions concerning conservation in general and land management for wetland habitats specifically.