Toni Hardesty has long admired The Nature Conservancy's stellar reputation for quietly conserving nature, but she's coming on board planning to bang a few drums to ensure that the conservancy can continue its conservation and restoration projects with a broader base of support.
Hardesty, former director of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality where she managed a $61.6 million budget and 340 employees statewide, is the new state director for the Conservancy.
With husband Doug, she's the mother of two, 19-year-old Anna, a freshman at the University of Utah, and Garrett, 16, a sophomore at Boise High. Hardesty fielded a few questions during an action-packed transition this week.
Are you skipping the learning stage and going straight into action? What's in front of you right now?
I'm doing a bit of both. I'm certainly learning a lot each day about our work, getting briefings from our amazing staff on all the projects, going out to see our work on the ground and meeting with our many partners.
So are you moving the family here or will you commute?
I'll be commuting back and forth for the next two and a half years until my son graduates from high school. We'll relocate after my son graduates so he won't be switching schools. However, both kids love it up here and are anxious to spend time in the valley skiing, hiking, biking and, yes, being closer to pikas. We have a townhouse in Hailey where I'll be staying when I'm up here and where we'll live when we relocate.
You're an Idaho girl from Kimberly. What does it mean in your personal and professional evolution that you'll be Toni Hardesty, state director of The Nature Conservancy?
I've been lucky to have an interesting and fulfilling career and I've enjoyed all the jobs I've had, but being the state director for The Nature Conservancy is pretty much the icing on the cake. Not everyone gets to go to work each day and do something that they love and find personally fulfilling. I get that opportunity and it really is special.
What is it about your past experience that you hope to bring to the job?
I've managed a diverse set of professionals and worked on a wide range of environmental issues throughout my career. I've worked with people on all different sides of environmental issues and I recognize that you have to spend time to understand where people are coming from, what motivates them and scares them, and how you can address these issues to effectively collaborate and move the ball forward.
When people can't pay their bills and are being crushed economically, how do you see being able to persuade them that the environment is one of those things, like our health, that we can't let get away from us, no matter the current crisis?
It's certainly understandable that when people are struggling, they may not see the environment as something they should prioritize. But I would argue that we are absolutely connected in the most vital ways to our environment. Our environment is an integral part of our economy, community, recreation, lifestyle, history and happiness. I would challenge everyone to think about their health, business, job, weekend recreation, scenic view—almost any part of their life—and ask what it would look like or how it would be different if we hadn't taken care of the environment.
Is it time for the Conservancy to get out front and make some noise to get a broader constituency? If so, how do you plan on doing that?
I think it is. All the surveys and data show us that the younger generation does not currently see the environment and conservation as a high priority. For quite a while now, the older generation has been carrying the water on protecting and preserving this beautiful state.
It's time to get the younger generation involved and to get people involved who benefit from and appreciate all the conservation work but who have not actively engaged or who have not seen themselves as "conservationists." We're exploring ideas for engaging a broader constituency, such as a young professionals organization and teaming with some "emerging partners," such as groups interested in sustainability.
Does that mean a large portion of your maiden term will be restructuring to get that base? Or will you have to balance that with current conservation efforts? I'm wondering if you have the chance to focus on one area or if it will be a juggling act?
Our goal will be to continue the current conservation efforts while working to expand the base. We've spent a considerable amount of time at The Nature Conservancy ensuring that we're focused on the right priorities, and we don't want to lose that focus. I'm optimistic that as we share our objectives and work with a broader group of people, they'll get excited and want to be part of this effort.
With that said, as our base broadens, there will no doubt be new ideas to be pursued or different approaches to accomplishing conservation goals, and I'm certainly open and excited about that.
Conservation-wise, what's the biggest effort that the Conservancy will be championing this year?
From a size perspective, one of our largest efforts is in the Pioneer Mountains. This is one of the West's most unspoiled landscapes, and we're working with landowners and partners to protect the longest pronghorn migration route on earth, as well as sage grouse, mule deer, elk and large-carnivore habitat.
One of our most exciting projects this year is some restoration work on Kilpatrick Pond at Silver Creek. It'll be the largest restoration effort ever undertaken on the creek. We'll be working in combined efforts with the Purdy family to restore the stream to a more natural path—creating wetlands, lowering water temperatures and making the fish very happy!
To learn more:
Visit The Nature Conservancy in Hailey at 116 First Ave. N. or online at www.nature.org.