Director’s Note, March 2021

Photo of Karen Oberhauser, UW–Madison Arboretum director

Karen Oberhauser, UW–Madison Arboretum director (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW–Madison)

For most of my career, a big part of my job was advising undergraduate and graduate students in the fields of conservation sciences. Every spring, I taught conservation biology, a large class filled with students passionate about the environment who wanted to pursue meaningful careers. I’ve kept in touch with many former students who found jobs they love doing work that benefits humans and the millions of other species with which we share the Earth.

But, let’s face it, I have been a professor for most of my career. When my younger daughter was asked what her mom did, she said “she saves monarchs.” My lens on the world of conservation jobs was narrow, to say the least.

In many ways, the Arboretum is a microcosm that includes a wide variety of conservation jobs available to people like my former students who are smart, passionate, and excited about putting their education to work.

Our land care team works in the applied side of conservation. They spend a lot of time outside, getting their boots and hands dirty as they manage hundreds of acres of natural habitats and gardens, and they keep the trails open so that people can access and learn from these spaces. They are conservation experts whose management techniques build on knowledge gleaned from the classroom, field research, the collective wisdom of earlier Arboretum land care staff, and their own experience. Their work is based on a solid adaptive management plan, and they skillfully incorporate volunteers and outside contractors. They enjoy the sense of achievement that comes from witnessing progress on the land they manage. We welcome Chelsea Camp to this team as a restoration specialist.

Our education team includes both full-time staff and many part-time naturalists—all are passionate, knowledgeable about the environment, and skilled at engaging people in learning. These professionals plan and carry out innovative and varied programming that promotes awareness and sensitivity about environmental challenges, and provides the skills to help people address these challenges. The land ethic espoused by Aldo Leopold in the finale to A Sand County Almanac is a call for caring about all parts of the Earth—people, plants, animals, water, and soil. While Leopold’s thinking about the relationships between people and the land developed throughout his career, I like to think that his work at the Arboretum played a key role. And our education team is devoted to promoting Leopold’s land ethic throughout the programming.

Solid science underpins conservation interventions. Our research team reflects the long history of research at the Arboretum, the birthplace of the field of restoration ecology. This team conducts field studies on topics like ecological succession and impacts of invasive species, and oversees species monitoring. They engage members of the public in their work through citizen science programming, oversee dozens of projects conducted by scientists from UW–Madison and beyond, and run a graduate student fellowship program that supports training of future environmental researchers. Our research team has rigorous scientific training, and skills in complex statistical analyses, database management, and ever-changing technologies. Julia Whidden just joined this team as our citizen science coordinator.

Land care, research, and education at the Arboretum all depend on a core of foundational staff, who have jobs that my students may not have considered as they were thinking about how to make a difference in the world. Our communications team develops engaging stories for broad audiences using many virtual and print channels. They too must keep up with ever-changing technologies, from new social media platforms to the production of video and photo stories. Our volunteer coordinator is a matchmaker of sorts, ensuring that the many volunteers who are vital to our success have rewarding experiences in areas that complement their interests and expertise. Our development specialist helps to raise the funds that are vital to our work, also serving as a matchmaker of sorts to provide opportunities for people to support programs that are important to them. Our Visitor Center coordinator oversees all programs in the Visitor Center, from the bookstore to the Steinhauer Trust Gallery. And our finance team and custodial staff keep everything running smoothly. Robin Zander recently joined our foundational team as a financial specialist.

I wish I’d had the experience of being part of an organization like the Arboretum before spending so much time advising undergraduate and graduate students. And I hope that anyone who has the honor of interacting with students of any age encourages them to follow their passions for conservation. They may often hear that there are no jobs in this field—that’s just not true. There is so much we still need to do to protect the world’s ecosystems and the species with which we share the Earth. There will be jobs that require diverse skills and backgrounds, and passion for the environment, for a long time to come.

—Karen Oberhauser, director