Alan Watson Interview with Dave Parsons May 2016

Alan is a Social Scientist at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute. This Institute has a national and international scope of work and is located on campus at the University of Montana, Missoula. His work encompasses many interdisciplinary dimensions of social science and is international in scope. He has engaged in direct exchanges with investigators and managers from 13 countries in the arena of wilderness management. His research covers a range of conservation issues, recognizing the critical need for social science involvement in human and ecological aspects of wilderness protection and in expanding the scope and meaning of nature protection to contemporary society. Dave Parsons supervised Alan for 16 years, so it was particularly fitting for Alan to interview Dave.

Listen to the Interview

Alan:  Tell us your name and the date today.

David Parsons:  This is David Parsons. It's May 17th, 2016, 22 years to the day since I showed up in Missoula to start my tenure as Director of the Leopold Institute.

Alan:  We appreciate you letting us interview you, and keeping these files at the Leopold Institute. I don't have a release form for you to sign, but I assume it's OK, since you've seen the questions I'm asking.

My first question is to ask if you had any early experiences in your life that contributed to your interest in parks and nature generally.

David:  Yes. A lot of my early life set me up for where I ended up. Growing up in an academic household, where my father was a professor of geography at UC Berkeley, where he worked with and was friends with a number of leading names in the conservation field at the time.

These included people such as David Brower and Starker Leopold, who were family friends. Maybe even more importantly, we spent a lot of time as a family traveling. A lot of the time tent camping, sometimes without a tent. Just sleeping out under the stars and visiting places all across the country, especially in the western US, and in other countries.

I visited a lot of national parks when I was a kid. There was no designated wilderness at that time, of course, but in the '50s, very early '60s I visited most of the big western parks on vacation visits, and became interested in parks and nature ‑‑ mostly the big natural parks.

Alan:  How about research about those parks or about nature? Was that from some of the early people that visited your family, or did something happen in college? Where did the interest in research come?

David:  When I started college at UC Davis, I wasn't sure what I wanted to go into. I ended up declaring a general biology major. The experience I had between my junior and senior years where I received a grant through a plant ecology professor at Davis (Jack Major) to spend the summer in the Sierra Nevada, hiking, looking, and documenting the southern distributions of mountain hemlock trees. Mostly by myself, but sometimes I had a friend or colleague from school go along with me. I did a lot of backpacking and started to realize, "Wow, you can combine some scientific questions with my love of the outdoors."

Then, when it came time to go on to grad school, I'm not sure I would have gone if we weren't in the middle of the Vietnam War. That was the easy way to stay out of the draft without having to make some other hard decisions.

I initially was accepted to go to Berkeley to study under Starker Leopold. Then I decided maybe that wasn't such a good idea, to go study under a family friend.

I ended up at Stanford; not because that's a place I would have thought about going for a career working in parks and wilderness type issues - and to this day, that's hardly a school you would think of as training people that go into that field.

I decided to go there because Dr. Paul Ehrlich was studying human population issues and impacts on the environment. He, of course, was appearing on Johnny Carson late at night regularly. He had just published, with his wife, the book "The Population Bomb." I heard him give a couple of talks.

"Whoa. This is going to be really exciting." But, when I got there I discovered that his grad students all studied technical issues about butterflies and he spent almost no time with them, and so, I switched into something that led me more down the direction of broad ecological questions.  I ended up studying plant ecology under Dr. Harold Mooney.

Alan:  If you hadn't gone to graduate school do you think you would have still gone into the nature management field? Do you have an alternative career you might have pursued?

David:  As a kid, I always tested out whether I should be a park or forest ranger.  Also, for a while, I was intrigued by the nursery business and plants.

I don't know. I might have gone one of those directions rather than into science.

Alan:  I can't picture you doing anything else. All of a sudden, you saying that makes me picture whether you'd be a pilot or a fireman, or what you'd be.

Transitioning, I'm curious about when you started to think about the field of research for wilderness, and maybe leading into number two, how did you come to be the Director of the Leopold Institute? What path took you here?

David:  Straight out of grad school, after interviewing for three different university professorship jobs...I started to realize that they weren't in places I was particularly intrigued by....I started questioning, "Is this what I really want to do with my life?"

Out of the blue my major professor, Hal Mooney at Stanford, brought a letter in that he'd gotten from the National Park Service saying that they were going to be advertising to fill a job to run the research program, for a PhD research scientist at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  That was the first time I realized that parks had jobs like that.

He said, "I think this might fit your interests really well." I applied and was interviewed, both in San Francisco and down at the park, and offered the job, and took it. It all happened fast near the end of my last year in grad school.

I spent close to 21 years in that position. Basically, I went in as the sole body. I discovered later...I realized I was perhaps better at developing and overseeing research programs than actually doing the science myself. And so, with time I was able to justify and hire two additional permanent, full‑time research grade scientists as well as several support positions.

We had a small building built by the park for the scientists; things that they just never had had before.

I had been very successful in leveraging money, both Park Service and from outside. The state of California put a lot of money into some early acid rain research in the Sierra Nevada and significant air pollution work was funded by the Forest Service.

I had been successful in attracting some really top ‑‑ mostly academic ‑‑ scientists to come in and start working in the parks. We built a pretty successful program that I think was fast becoming the model for other parks when, in 1993 the decision was made at the Department level that all the research and scientists in the Department of the Interior agencies were going to be pulled out of their agencies and put into a new agency, the National Biological Survey.

Bruce Babbitt was Secretary of the Interior. This was his vision. We learned later that his hero was John Wesley Powell, who besides exploring the Colorado River and a lot of the West, had created the US Geological Survey. Babbitt figured he was going to make his legacy a biological equivalent with the US Biological Survey.

He actually came out to Sequoia and visited with us. Our park superintendent at the time tried to convince him why this was not a good idea. A lot of people did. The chief scientist at the Park Service in Washington, along with the heads of science in the BLM, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and a couple of other minor agencies who had scientists were all called into planning meetings.

The Park Service representative was dismissed after the first meeting and told not to come back, because he raised too many objections as to why this wasn't a good idea. They wanted a team player so they got some lower level person to continue and our chief scientist was completely out of all the planning and negotiations.

Nobody was sure if it was really going to happen but then it did happen. It was able to be done administratively. Within months, the newly elected Republican majority in the House of Representatives with Newt Gingrich as Speaker announced their “Contract for America”. One of the items in it was to zero out this new National Biological Survey.

Everybody was trying to figure out what the future held. Nobody really wanted it to work. Some wanted it to go away and some wanted to go back the way it was. It was really frustrating to be caught in the middle.

That's when I, for the first time ever, even thought about the idea of a different job, and when I saw this advertised, for the director of this new cross‑cutting, interdisciplinary, inter‑agency Leopold Institute, I threw my hat in the ring.

After about six months, and I made an inquiry as to what ever happened with that position. They said, "Well, it still hasn't been filled." Somebody, I think Bruce Kilgore, was with the Park Service at the time, had a Forest Service background and knew a lot of those people, and made a call or two and found out I hadn't been considered because I was from another agency. Turned out I should have been since it had been advertised within the government.

I believe it was in early January of '94 I was in DC for a meeting, actually, and I got a phone call early one morning in my hotel room saying, "I'm somebody from personnel at the Forest Service, I'm offering you the job as the Director of the Leopold Institute, do you accept?" Nobody had talked to me about the job, I really didn't know much about it. So I was able to stall for a couple months, make a trip up here, and then I really had to do some soul searching, but things weren't getting any better for NBS.

This was moving out of a research‑grade position, I, just a year or two earlier had reached the GS15 level through research grade, which I was going to be able to maintain even though I wasn't sure how much science I would do, and I really realized my strength, I thought, was not the doing of the science as much as the facilitation and organizing. It seemed like a really natural fit to expand my interests and what I thought I was best at. That's what happened.

There is a couple of other important ties that made the job seem fortuitous, that it was meant to be. The Leopold family tie; both Starker Leopold, one of Aldo's sons had been a family friend growing up, and had a number of mutual graduate students with my father, and Luna Leopold, another son who had once been the director of the USGS, had moved to Berkeley and he and his wife had become some of my parents’ best friends. Bob Lucas I knew of because he had studied under my father, actually. David Cole had taken classes from my dad as well; so I knew a lot of these names, and it just seemed like it was meant to be.

Alan:  I want you to talk just a minute about research for wilderness. You talk about the agencies, and moving here, and you came up here to learn more about it. You start thinking about doing/ managing research in wilderness, it seems different than what you were doing at Sequoia, or was it?

David:  I didn't view it as very different. Because research for the parks, the work we were doing there was mostly focused on management issues. At that time, in the '80s and into the '90s, the general feeling within the Parks was that they were the closest to what wilderness was supposed to be prior to the Wilderness Act, at least.

To tell you the truth, when Sequoia and Kings Canyon were designated as wilderness, not in the original bill, but in the '80s, it didn't even cause a ripple, because I don't think people understood what the Wilderness Act meant, and they felt like they were already doing most of what it called for. They probably were doing most of it. Doing research for these large protected natural areas was natural for me.

Alan:  When you came here, when you first started as Director, how did you prioritize the work at the Leopold Institute? How did you pick either wilderness‑related or administrative‑related, I guess I'm open to either one. What came to mind as the big topics, the first four or five years? What did you focus on?

David:  My recollection is that I relied pretty heavily on the staff that was here, because I recognized that everybody here had a really strong reputation in the areas they worked in. It was a small staff, so it was very difficult to address all the different needs that we knew were out there.

I didn't try to redirect the scientists that were here into other areas necessarily, but at the same time, I also realized very quickly that the future and success of the Institute was really dependent on the other agencies who were our cooperators, because in the first six months or so, when I had a meeting with Congressmen Vento who had been a big pusher of the Leopold Institute, and his staff people, Jim Bradley in particular, it was clear this was to be not just a Forest Service effort, but the other three wilderness management agencies were going to be part of it.

Of course, with the transfer of the science function of the Department of the Interior to the NBS, a ripple was created that hadn't been envisioned when the Institute was first created. It was critical to work with those other agencies, including the Forest Service, to show that we were responsive to what they saw their biggest needs in wilderness were.

That leads into the long story of frustration, of trying to deal with the higher levels of 5 different agencies, a lot of whom I don't think really appreciated what their responsibilities were with wilderness, or maybe in some cases didn't even care about them very much. That ended up being a huge part of my focus, trying to get the other agencies more involved.

At one point the Park Service called and offered to send us a particular person as an addition to our staff. I knew it was somebody we didn't want, and they were just basically trying to place that person, and I said no. Then later there was a similar offer to move their national wilderness coordinator. The first person had actually been a parks superintendent several places, he wasn't a scientist.

It was fending off such overtures; as at times I felt they viewed us as a dumping place for some of their people, but at the same time we still had this vision that we would get money from them. We did get some project money, but never got the base support that was expected.

I will say I spent many trips to Washington talking to an ever‑changing group of what they called the Wilderness Policy Council, the head wilderness people from each of those five agencies, trying to explain to them why this was in their interest, and what the intent was.

I definitely spent more sleepless nights and more time on that than I did on science. I mostly just tried to facilitate the existing staff to keep their work going, but also to try to be at least somewhat responsive to the agency needs.

Alan:  That's certainly what I imagined, the administrative things were in a new situation with the Institute, and you were coming in with knowledge from a different program too, organization. That I would think would have been real beneficial.

David:  The other thing that happened that very first year, was the House of Representatives went Republican and Congressman Bruce Vento, who had been the primary champion of the Leopold Institute  lost his chairmanship of the House Subcommittee on Natural Resources, and was no longer in a position to make anything happen.

Alan:  The 30th anniversary conference, I remember a lot of sad faces down there, Vento included even. He sat on a table and talked with his head down.

David:  "I can't do much about it," he said, "We're not in charge anymore."  I soon began to sense a feeling at the top levels of the DOI agencies that "Whew! Now we don't have to do that."

Alan:  Over your lengthy time as director what factors influenced the choice about wilderness topics prioritized? I was wondering if you'd maybe give an example of something, how you influenced the topics we studied. You first came in, you certainly facilitated the scientists, and kept things moving, worked on administrative issues...

Talk about over time how you influenced topics studied, some indicators of success you feel.

David:  I don't know how much influence I really had. I was certainly influenced by the Institute staff...I had increasingly throughout my career sensed the importance of the human dimension of things. Coming here, and having Alan and some of his collaborators here, and to some extent maybe David Cole, focusing more on the human aspect really just struck me as this is really critical, we need to keep this going.

All of what I had viewed as biological questions ultimately had a human component to them, whether they were fire, wildlife, or whatever.

In terms of research topics at the Institute, the two new areas that came about after I got here, were fire and, I would say wildlife, and they really came about in different ways. The fire program, my recollection, and this may not be the recollection of Alan, and David and others, was in some of our prioritization meetings and listening to what the agencies had to say, fire was a topic that came up continually.

While there were fire research programs in the other agencies, and in the Forest Service, there was a wilderness component to it that we felt was being ignored. I did have personal background in that area from my Sierra Nevada days.  I don't recall exactly how the first money came about but Peter took the lead in that area, working with me.

We brought Carol Miller in initially, who I had worked with in the Sierra, and knew she had a personality and some expertise that I thought might fit in pretty well. She didn't come out of a wilderness background at all. I had a hunch that that wasn't going to be a major issue for her, to get her on board. We brought her in first in a term appointment, and eventually got her into a permanent one.  That's flourished, she's developed working relationships with a lot of other people both within the Forest Service, the other agencies, and in academia.

I believe the fire program is the biggest funded program in the Institute now. Not because it's necessarily the biggest wilderness issue, because of external factors that fires become a major issue eating up all of the agencies' budgets.

The other area, wildlife, was a little bit different story. In our continuing negotiations with the National Biological Survey ‑‑ which later got incorporated into the US Geological Survey as the Biological Resources Branch, we reminded them that they had the science responsibilities for Interior. That includes wilderness. So Steven Corn who had been in Fort Collins was put forward to us as the person they would like to send up here to represent them.

He had his own interests, mostly in declining amphibian populations, which was fine. That fit into, and a lot of his work had been in National Parks, but also in a few Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service areas. It wasn't a bad fit, again he didn't come in with any background or not even sure very much interest in wilderness per se.  It was a struggle to fully integrate his work into the rest of the Institute.

On the other hand, most of the work our different scientists did wasn't integrated very well with others here. Most of them had their own external collaboration groups.

Alan:  As an indicator of success, Carol is still here, and Steve stayed until he retired. They certainly built careers on those topics.

David:  Young scientists are now here, Carol's got a second one in Sean, and Blake has taken over the role Steve played.

Alan:  They're continuing these important topics for the Leopold Institute. What determined the places the scientists at Leopold Institute studied? Were you ever involved in those decisions, did you try to guide us toward places? Topics is one thing, places seems to be another, and people often ask us how we decide. How do you think we decide, or what role did you play in those?

David:  For the most part, the role I would play was just, in most cases, questioning, reviewing why do you want to do this work where you're doing it? There was a conscious effort to try to spread our work into some geographic areas that we had not worked in in the past. It's often the money came with specific areas in mind, or regions at least. To some extent we had some freedom, but not complete.

There was an effort made, and Peter Landres took the lead on this, and actually hosted a couple of workshops. One in the South, I remember, I think that was Peter, and one in the southwest deserts, trying to bring together wilderness managers, mostly managers, a few scientists I believe, to talk about what their wilderness needs were that science and the Institute might be able to help with.

Alan:  I was going to say even I ventured off into Alaska, that was a pretty big issue, and you certainly supported that, and were a part of the decision. Is that a good idea? We've worked a lot of places in Alaska, we developed a lot of knowledge we didn't have before. Then we went on at some point in time.

David:  There were so may needs in so many places, that it was really hard to prioritize. I thought it was important to keep up an appearance of working throughout the country in different parts of the country, but it had to be tempered to some extent to where the local interest was, and where the dollar support was. I don't recall a whole lot of projects that came in here where we were free to go do the work wherever we had wanted.

In some cases we may have applied for that money to work in Alaska or in certain places. On the whole, we did a pretty good job of spreading out between the Boundary Waters, and the Southeast, and maybe we were weak in the Northeast, but again, it was balancing the expertise we had here and the funding sources, and the interests of the agencies we were trying to be responsive to.

In some cases it would be a local wilderness manager who would come to us that had the drive and the interest that would get our attention. Because without local support, a lot of the project we did wouldn't have gone very well.

Alan:  One of our scientists used to suggest that we were a mile wide and an inch deep, and we needed to be an inch wide and a mile deep. Did you ever think about that? Did you influence us in trying to keep tighter, or to explore more? How did you deal with that?

David:  That was a continual challenge. We were so thin in terms of staff that you couldn' become really an expert in some topic, you needed to spend most of your time on that, and it was very hard to broaden out either discipline‑wise, topically, or geographically. So yeah, that was a constant struggle we had here.

As I would talk with the scientists about what they wanted to work on, what they might work on, that was certainly something we thought about, but when you only have four or five core scientists to deal with the wide breadth of issues that potentially need to be addressed, I didn't feel we could really afford to have just a few very focused, deep scientists using your terminology, that weren't broad.

Yeah, I really encouraged breadth, but it was a continual challenge to provide such.

Alan:  I agree. It felt like the early days of wilderness science, they had a few questions. Bob even said, we start out with a few of us and a few questions we thought we'd answer fairly quickly. It seemed kind of narrow, specific, it just tended to get more and more broad. I don't know where we are today on that, it feels like a transition.

Let's go on. Who do you feel gave you the greatest support as Director of the Leopold Institute?

A couple clarifiers, who cared the most about your success and support, and the success of the Institute? Who did you most enjoy collaborating with? I'd like to think about how you reacted to either external or internal influences on you as Director of Leopold Institute.

David:  The greatest support came internally from the staff here, especially the staff that carried over from the previous work unit. They wanted to see the Institute succeed.

Other than a few individuals, I didn't sense the same support or desire to make sure we were successful from the national levels of any of the agencies, including the Forest Service or Rocky Mountain Research Station when we got put under...initially, we were administratively under them, but reported to the Washington office.

The interest in us being successful seemed to be fleeting in a sense when they would visit, or I would sit down with them, the interest was there but then nothing would happen. That was a very discouraging reality check, unfortunately.

In terms of collaborating, I tried not to play favorites within the Institute. I wasn't doing science per se. The writing I continued to do tended to be big overview issues.

My science collaboration, what was most memorable about that was people outside the agencies for the most part. Some of the university people, some of them we got to come here like Tom Swetnam came up from Arizona, people like Lisa Graumlich, or Norm Christensen, Greg Aplet with Wilderness Society who we got involved in some issues. We got them to come to conferences and play keynote roles.

To me, those were much more rewarding collaborations than trying to work with let's say the bureaucrats, the administrators within the agencies who had a lot of other things on their mind as well and had questionable commitment.

Alan:  That's what I was looking for. I appreciate that. Things with those people, it makes me smile. Good relationships we had with a lot of good scholars and. other scientists. David:  Those were the names of people that I interacted with most. Each of the scientists here had their own group. Alan Watson, in particular, had some strong collaborators that appreciated the time he put in. I guess I should say those people also cared about the success of the Institute.

David Cole tended to work a little bit more on his own. There were some cases, and the Beyond Naturalness workshops he pulled together with Lauri Yung of the University of Montana and the book that came out of that were good examples of strong collaborations.

Peter's collaborations tended to be more managers than scientists, I would say. Carol has collaborated pretty widely with both.

We never would have made it very far at all here at ALWRI if we hadn't had the external collaborations.

Alan:  The mission of the Leopold Institute within overall Forest Service Research, think about within the Forest Service. You're in science generally, but I'm interested in you explaining to me how unique our mission was, or whether you think it's unique.

David:  Many of the components of what we did were not particularly unique. It was the efforts and ability to integrate that work into the bigger overriding question that wilderness brought to the table that was unique.

You could be an expert in any number of topics. That's what most scientists are, but to try to apply those to this administrative classification of wilderness and to integrate your work with other relevant works so it is applicable to the stewardship decisions that had to be made.

To me, that's what was unique, the crosscutting, taking individual expertise and topics, and trying to apply that to this bigger picture idea. I'm not sure there are very many other examples where that would hold in agency research.

To me, that was the uniqueness of it bringing different areas of expertise, cross‑cutting themes and disciplines together to work towards common goals.

Alan:  In the Forest Service, that was unique. Does it make you think of anything else in science? You think other people deal with that complexity or that uniqueness? You run with anyone out there that was doing something similar to you, you felt like?

David:  No. To some extent, the Park Service Research programs in the late '70s, '80s, early '90 was closer to that than Forest Service research. One of the eye‑openers for me was coming into the Forest Service and realizing that these work units were very discipline‑based, whereas the Park Service where there was one, or two, or three, or four scientists in a park you had to be more of a generalist. Everybody, for the most part was dealing with larger ecological, ecosystem, questions and with multiple questions at once.

The Fish and Wildlife Service was at the other extreme. The scientists I got to know that came out of that agency mostly were focused on very narrow questions where there was a certain bird disease, or a fish disease. They did not look at the broader ecological interrelationships much, and they certainly didn't bring in the human aspects of it.

It's a unique situation. There are examples of small groups of scientists that work together in terms of universities or between universities. I'm not sure any science organization in this country facilitates that very well, the broad, what I would call, ecosystem level studies.

Alan:  That's consistent internationally, too. That's why we're novel, why we do a lot of international work. We're doing something other people don't quite understand.

We've had people come here from Denmark, from IUFRO trying to figure out how we work inter‑agency. How does that work? You're dealing with maybe less of a biophysical resource and more of a sociocultural thing sometimes. That's intriguing to them.

If I was trying to answer your question all of a sudden, I realized I would think international. We're novel. We're unusual. They can't quite figure this out sometimes.

I'm curious how you think about the science at the Leopold Institute during your time as director. Was it different from early wilderness related research prior to your arrival? I asked because we've interviewed people earlier than you in our program.

You're filling in a big part of the history of the Leopold Institute. How did those relate for what was happening before we became an institute and what was happening as an institute inter‑agency with you as Director?

David:  My impression when I was in here to see it first‑hand was that prior to the Institute, the Wilderness Research work unit of the Forest Service were the only people I'm aware of that were focusing on wilderness questions, and that work was primarily focused on the human use component ‑‑ both the impacts of use, allocation of use, and perceptions of users.

Clearly, the founding documents for the Institute articulated broadening those questions out to include ecosystem, biology, and ecology components. While we continued to do the kind of work that had been done before, it was the expansion beyond those traditional recreation user and impact studies that was the big difference into more ecological questions, values questions, maybe some economics even.

Alan:  That leads well into the next question. As we became more diverse in agencies we represented, the disciplines we represented, can you evaluate the extent of the contribution of a collaborative, congenial atmosphere of work at Leopold Institute? Was that easy? Was it difficult? Did you have to manage us a lot? How did you feel about our atmosphere?

David:  It was difficult. The three of you that were here when I came were all pretty focused on your own interest. I had a hard time getting people to sit down and interact. At some point, I gave up in trying to force collaboration in terms of true collaboration.

Some of that was personality‑driven. Some of it was being entrenched, knowing that you were appreciated, and recognized for what you had been doing, and not wanting to change from that too much.

I decided not too far into my tenure here, that I was probably better off facilitating each of you with your own networks of collaborators, and to focus within Institute collaboration, more on trying to identify and see if we could reach agreement on priorities and things that might not even be, in all cases, what the people here would be doing. There wasn't hostility.

Alan:  Was it competitive?

David:  I don't think I sensed a competitiveness to it very much.

Alan:  I don't either. It feels like there is some sense that we could have been more cooperative, but we didn't find a way to do it. Like you said, it wasn't hostile. It wasn't real competitive. We're operating in our own.

David:  All of you, maybe David more than any, had your vision of what the right way to do things were. He, in particular, I can remember since both you, Alan, and with Peter where I would try to bring you together. He knew what he wanted done.

Alan:  Strong personality for sure.

David:  He was very much appreciated for what he did in the field. It was not worth my effort to try to force a change there.

Alan:  It's hard for those of us who know his science accomplishments and then get into conversation with someone that might be critical of that strong personality where you're defending him, or defending him because of the quality of the science that he produces.

He valued collegiality. I know he certainly valued that in the early stages of his career. I have to say to you that when it was him and me, it was difficult sometimes when we had different opinions. When Peter came, it helped a lot because then you could focus having three people versus two, became more collaborative.

Then, as we grew more, you were handling a larger and larger group of people with more discipline diversity and topics. It would be hard to maintain that collegiality of the early days of the institute, or the research work unit. With a very small number of people, everybody focused on LAC, or everybody focused on a small number of things...we never had that very much anymore.

David:  I don't think there are very many examples out there where groups have been very successful in doing that. It's a tall order.


I was interested in you talking to us about your role in the science community. Not necessarily the Wilderness Science Community, but beyond your duties at Leopold Institute or as extension of them. What did you perceive your role or contribution to the larger science community to be? I perceive you did a lot and you enjoyed that.

David:  I was pretty involved throughout my career with professional societies. I saw my role being, especially with the Ecological Society of America, where I held several offices and served as an editor, the longest‑running editor to date, for their journal Ecological Applications. 

I organized a number of workshops, theme sessions at their major conferences and some regional conferences, to bring the interest, and importance, needs of parks other large, protected natural landscapes, to the larger science communities, to the ecological community.

Many of those conferences would be focused on graduate students that were perhaps in fairly narrow disciplinary topics but we're looking for ways to make their work more relevant widely once they moved on into new jobs. I felt I had a role I could play in bringing the bigger view of the importance of these kinds of management issues at these big protected areas to the science community.

The other major group I've been involved with was the George Wright Society, which grew out of some early National Park Service science conferences into what now is a much broader interdisciplinary focus that goes way beyond parks as they see a lot more academia, more international participation at their biannual conferences of which I've chaired several. I've been on their board of directors. This year, I'll be wrapping up my second six year tenure there. It will have been a total of 12 years.

It was more trying to maybe bring the scientists and the managers together. That is what I like so much about those conferences. They were very different than Ecological Society of America conferences where you basically had all scientists in attendance. With the George Wright Society, it was everybody from field managers, to park superintendents, to Washington office people, to scientists both inside and outside the agencies.

Those were probably my two primary involvements. They kept me pretty busy and still do to some extent, although the George Wright will be winding down now. I've not been very involved with the ESA, Ecological Society, since I retired.

Alan:  Last question I want to ask is, you talked a little about retirement. I'm curious about things like whether wilderness and science are part of your identity. If so, how? What are your priorities in retirement? Anything you think about or want to talk about so that we know what it's like when you leave here.

David:   I would say wilderness, parks, science, none of those are as prominent in my life as I thought they would continue to be when I first retired. I thought I would stay more engaged.

David Cole and I have continued to work on one project for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks but that’s pretty much wrapped up now.  I do make it a priority to get in a week or so backpack trip each summer, usually in the Sierra Nevada. 

I have a lot to keep me busy, mostly on our 20 some acres; I'm outside working a lot and getting out, recreating, skiing, whatever. I've also sensed, to a certain extent, you are forgotten faster than I thought I would be by the people I used to work with.  And, as other past colleagues retire you gradually lose your contacts; it’s's a new generation taking over.

I do maintain an Emeritus Scientist appointment with both the Forest Service and the National Park Service, but I’ve not been doing much for either of them recently.

Up until maybe these past six months, I don't think I had a single day since I retired, which has been five years now when I've had the thought, "What am I going to do today?"

I still am pretty active. We still do a fair number of things with a number of other local retirees. I sense I might be even more involved than most of them are in terms of staying in touch as little as I do.

Alan:  Did you have a role model in retirement? When you retire, did you go, "I don't want to be like that person. I want to be like that person". 

David:  I don't.

Alan:  We appreciate you doing the interview and to take this opportunity to thank you for your contributions at the Leopold Institute. What years do you think that was from '94 until...?

David:  May of '94 till January of 2010.

Alan:  2010, and you were the Director that whole time?

David:  Yeah.

Alan:  Thank you, Dave.

Transcription by Casting Words