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  • Matt Breton

Right Beneath My Nose

Got an email from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership the other day, and clicked on a link about women in conservation. Reading through the list I saw a name, Mollie Beattie.

Strange, I thought to myself, recognizing the name as belonging to a boardwalk in a significant black spruce woodland bog I drive by several times a year, on my local NWR. I'd never questioned the name of the boardwalk, dismissing it as obscure or weird, usually forgetting about it within 10 seconds of driving by. For some reason, I never considered that the name belonged to a person who I should look into. Why would a bog, tucked away in northeastern VT, with a boardwalk on the Conte Refuge, be connected to someone popping up on a list of influential conservationist women? As with most things, when I decided to dig in, I got into much more than I expected. There was a lot hiding right beneath my nose.

(A photo of the boardwalk, Amy Boemig)

According to the research, Mollie Beattie was born in 1947 and grew up in Glen Cove NY. Her connection to VT came first, as far as I can tell, from her training as a forester at UVM, graduating with a Master's degree in 1979. From 1985 to 1989, she was Vermont Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation, then from 1989 to1990 she served as deputy secretary for VT Agency of Natural Resources, then in 1993 she was appointed as the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where she served for three years as the first woman to hold the post. According to a number of articles, she combated weakening of the endangered species act, oversaw the successful reintroduction of the gray wolf into the northern Rocky Mountains, the addition of 15 new wildlife refuges, as well as established over 100 new habitat conservation plans. After her untimely death at her home in Townsend, VT, in 1996 due to a brain tumor, Ms. Beattie's work was honored by Congress with the naming of the Mollie Beattie Wilderness area, which is approximately 8 million acres inside the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to the small boardwalk on the Conte Refuge, Vermont has honored her memory with the Mollie Beattie State Forest, 203 acres in Grafton, VT.

As I read through a couple of articles, some of Mollie's quotes stood out to me:

"I've always worked hard never to allow my lifestyle to rise to the level of my income or my expectations of my career to be one of an endlessly ascending trajectory," she said, shortly after assuming office. "I've worked very hard on those two things so I'm always free to go, because I know where my lines are. If you have to put it on the line, you have to put it on the line." (Washington Post article)

“What a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself.” (USFWS article)

Powerful thoughts.

A couple of take-aways from this for me. One is to make the most of whatever time you're given. She accomplished an awful lot in 49 years. Another is that someone from a small, tucked away place can have an impact. We're only held back if we think we are - many barriers can be overcome by desire and determination. Lastly, it seems that Mollie Beattie worked for change from inside the system. A strong lesson for 2020.

A much belated thank you Ms. Beattie, for your work and guidance. I'll probably stop and check out that bog and boardwalk the next time I'm driving by.

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