The government is us; we are the government, you and I. -Theodore Roosevelt

National Conservation Leadership Institute


The Story Behind the
National Conservation Leadership Institute

Steve Williams
National Conservation Leadership Institute
Chair, Board of Directors

On the evening of May 17, 2003, John Baughman, Bob Model, Lowell Baier, Steve Mealey, and I were sitting beside the fireplace at Mooncrest Ranch just west of Cody, Wyoming. The Ranch is nestled between Rattlesnake Mountain and Logan Mountain on the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park. Reflecting on the vision and leadership necessary to establish the nation’s first National Park in 1872, our discussion shifted to the leadership required to address the conservation challenges of the future.

All of us had years of experience in conservation, and all of us had some gray hair. We realized that the baby boomer generation was quickly reaching retirement age. Along with the retirement of conservation professionals was a loss of institutional memory, the connection to our hunting heritage, and the practical experience that could not be taught in the universities across the nation. With an estimated loss of half of the nation’s conservation leaders in the next decade, we decided that something must be done to impart leadership skills to the nation’s up and coming fish and wildlife professionals.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” 

– John Quincy Adams

Some time later, an expanded group including Jimmy Bullock, Max Peterson and Rick Lemon, met for dinner at the Monocle Restaurant in Washington, DC. There we brainstormed ideas that eventually led to the formation of the National Conservation Leadership Institute. We envisioned a world-class leadership-training program that would bring together individuals from state and federal natural resource agencies, conservation organizations, Native American tribes, and industries that use our natural resources. With the expertise of Sally and Dwight Guynn, who led the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Management Assistance Team, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, we constructed a curriculum to immerse the Institute’s future fellows in the principles and practices of adaptive leadership.

The establishment of the National Conservation Leadership Institute from scratch was no easy task. Generous contributions from the Boone and Crockett Club and Keith Campbell Foundation combined with financial contributions from national hunter-conservation organizations and individuals from across the country provided the seed money to launch our vision. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies provided invaluable in-kind donations to see that vision realized. The Boone and Crockett Club, founded by none other than conservation leader Theodore Roosevelt, has been the major, sustaining contributor throughout the life of the program.

Now over a decade later, the National Conservation Leadership Institute is a resounding success with hundreds fellows working across the country in conservation leadership positions. A few individuals hatched the idea but the success of the program was assured by hundreds of others—the Institute staff, the Institute’s Board of Directors, funders, professional and volunteer instructors, peer coaches, and the Institute’s alumni. Collectively, our actions and dreams inspired others to become more, to become leaders for conservation. 

National Conservation Leadership Institute

Purpose and Vision


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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt