Russell Martin (MS ’10)
Panhandle Wildlife Diversity Biologist, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
What did it mean to you to be named a Doris Duke Conservation Fellow? What were some of the activities and opportunities that held the greatest impact for you?
Receiving the Doris Duke Fellowship was a huge honor and a critical piece to the successful start of my career. The most memorable activities and opportunities were associated with the trip to National Conservation Training Center where we met fellows from other universities and received some of the best training and education I’ve ever received to date. The greatest impact is the network the fellowship helped me establish, and I still maintain many of those contacts today.
Can you tell us about your SEAS experience? How did it help you advance in the conservation field?
Receiving my Master of Science (MS) degree from SEAS was another critical piece to the start of my career. Dr. Mark Hunter unknowingly convinced me to stop pursuing medical school so I could apply my undergraduate and graduate education as an ecosystem management and restoration practitioner. The experimental course on bio-based carbon mitigation and biofuels that Dr. Bill Currie taught helped me get my foot in the door with one of the largest conservation programs (USDA’s CRP) in the nation that is still benefitting my career to this day. And Steve Yaffee helped me understand what motivates different conservation actors and stakeholders and how perception is as, if not more, important as reality. (P.S.—thank you, gentlemen, for helping me get to where I am today.)
It was the total experience, education, networking, and work experience that SEAS helped me gain that really catapulted my career into natural resource conservation. Receiving my MS from SEAS also recently opened the door for me to transition from an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army National Guard to a Civil Affairs Governance Specialist in the U.S. Army Reserves, where I will have the opportunity to advise theater-level commanders on natural resource and environment issues across the globe as the U.S. Army works with other U.S. government agencies to secure our national interests against our global adversaries.
What kind of changes have you observed in land conservation in the U.S. over the course of your career?
Some observations that make me feel pessimistic about the future of conservation: 1) the relentless onslaught of development (energy, urban, transportation, etc.) that continues to destroy, degrade, and fragment our natural resources and the landscapes where that development occurs, 2) in my part of the world (west Texas), the increased frequency, intensity, and duration of drought, which is likely a symptom of climate change, that exacerbates the fragility of historic land-use decisions, 3) the “mission creep” of government bureaucracy that continues to erode and interfere with our ability to conserve what’s left of our natural resources, and 4) how under-funded the conservation agencies are and the lack of strategic use of those funds to move the conservation needle.
Some observations that make me feel optimistic about the future of conservation: 1) the recent uptick in interest to provide better funding for conservation (Land and Water Conservation Fund, “Blue Ribbon Panel” and Restore America’s Wildlife Act, North American Grasslands Conservation Act), 2) finding and working with private landowners that are genuinely good stewards of their natural resources, and 3) finding and working with corporations that genuinely want to avoid, minimize, and mitigate their development impacts.
Note: Prior to 2017, the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) was known as the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE). References to “SNRE” have been updated to “SEAS” to reflect the name change.