Creating a Truly Inclusive Conservation Science Community

Tosha Comendant in the field. Photo courtesy of Ian A. Nelson.

By Tosha Comendant, Conservation Science Manager

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s celebrate the foundational and innovative role women play in sustaining the planet that sustains us. As a fiercely egalitarian thinker, I initially bristled at the concept of “one day” (International Women’s Day is March 8) or “one month” (March) to celebrate women. The barriers to creating a truly inclusive conservation science community are for many an everyday, and often career-shifting, type of experience.

However, this opportunity to read and embrace some of the often untold stories of women pioneers in science and conservation has strengthened my resolve. Leaders like Marjory Stoneman Douglas (Everglades National Park), Margaret Murie (The Wilderness Act and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), Rue Mapp (Outdoor Afro), and Deb Haaland (US Secretary of Interior) stand out as compelling examples of big thinkers who are breaking down barriers.

Margaret Muries’s idea of preserving large ecosystems laid the scientific and intellectual basis for large parks and protected lands. Right now, Deb Haaland is taking action to change the name of 660 U.S. place names that include a slur for Native women because, as she says, “words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds.”

As I reflect on my own path as a conservation scientist, I was privileged to learn from fearless, female biologists like Kelly Zamudio (Professor, University of Texas), Healy Hamilton (Chief Scientist, Nature Serve), Jerre Stallcup (Chief Resource Officer, Conservation Biology Institute), and Lisa Micheli (CEO Pepperwood). My current work is focused on paying this forward.

At Pepperwood, we’re building a conservation science culture that makes it conducive for women to thrive. Our programs aim to build the next generation of cross-disciplinary thinkers and doers – women like Makayla Freed, Pepperwood’s Grizzly Corp fellow. As we elevate women, let’s also be mindful of expanding access and benefits in a way that allows all boats to rise.

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