Winners of the 2009 Leopold Restoration Awards Announced


While bad news about the environment is easy to find, our Leopold Award winners are success stories that inspire and energize those of us who believe in the principles and practice of ecological restoration. Sadly, they often go unnoticed.

The Leopold Restoration Awards, established nine years ago by Friends of the Arboretum in partnership with the Aldo Leopold Foundation, honors and celebrates individuals and groups that are dedicated to, and successful in, restoring and healing the land.

The Leopold Restoration Awards dinner and program on October 8 is an opportunity to meet and celebrate with individuals who care about the environment and believe it is possible to make a difference. Below is information about this year’s outstanding winners.

Make a reservation to attend this year’s Leopold Restoration Awards event; call Sara Minkoff 608.263.7760 or send an e-mail to Friends Manager Sara Minkoff.

Michael Dombeck: Michael B. Olbrich Award
for Outstanding Career Contributions to Natural Resources Policy

When Michael Dombeck was nominated for a Leopold Restoration Award, the judges had a problem—not with his qualifications or his outstanding career—but with fitting his accomplishments into the existing framework of award categories, so the judges established a new award: the Michael B. Olbrich Award for Outstanding Career Contributions to Natural Resources Policy.

“Dr. Dombeck’s career has been extraordinary and has impacted natural resources conservation, and by implication some restoration programs, in profound ways. The judges panel believe that an unusual opportunity exists to recognize a significant national legacy,” says Tom Blewett, chair of the LRA judges’ team.

With a career that includes spending close to 25 years managing federal lands and natural resources for the U.S. government, Dombeck has directly influenced both public policy development and public investment in natural resources conservation that continues to impact federal lands on a national scale.

His resume is impressive. He spent three years as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management and four years as chief of the U.S. Forest Service, overseeing and influencing the future of nearly 500 million acres of public land.

Dombeck earned his bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree at UW-Stevens Point before earning a second master’s in zoology at the University of Minnesota and then a doctorate in fisheries biology at Iowa State University. He began his career as a USDA fisheries biologist in 1978, then he worked his way through various management positions in the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior becoming chief of the Forest Service. Since 2001, he has been Professor of Global Environmental Management and UW System Fellow on Global Conservation at UW-Stevens Point.

Dombeck grew up in Sawyer County, 25 miles from Hayward in the Chequamegon National Forest, where he later worked as a fishing guide while earning his way through school. “I got to see first-hand how much people from all over the country and all walks of life enjoyed and appreciate the outdoors,” Dombeck recalls.

Dombeck’s commitment to the land was sparked by a teacher who was a fan of Aldo Leopold: “Dr. George Becker, who had audited Aldo Leopold’s Wildlife Management course at UW-Madison, was an exceptionally inspiring teacher who had us read A Sand County Almanac.

“From that point on, my life trajectory remained focused on conservation,” Dombeck recalls. As a young biologist, Dombeck was part of making water, fish and wildlife more mainstream programs in both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Later as Forest Service Chief, he focused on ecosystem-based forest management, watershed restoration, and protection of the remaining wild places in the National Forests—the roadless priorities.

How lucky for those of us who value the land that Michael Dombeck has dedicated years of his life to saving and restoring it.

Randy Hoffman – John T. Curtis Award for Career Excellence in Ecological Restoration

Randy Hoffman absolutely loves Monday mornings, when he can use his knowledge to make a difference.

“It’s the anticipation of doing things over the course of a week that will continue to further Wisconsin’s progress in handling natural areas. Also, I’m a morning person—in my formative years, milking the cows came before breakfast,” says Randy.

Randy Hoffman’s early life on a farm as well as his experiences in private business may help explain his common touch, his ability to converse with the general public and convince them of the value of paying attention to the ways of nature.

He can appreciate where others are coming from and communicate well with them. And he always keeps in mind that “there are no absolute right and wrong ways to proceed; one must always look for the best possible outcomes. Don’t make up your mind right away.”

At the same time, he is able to converse with the scientists and officials who make policy decisions that affect whether land and living things prosper or fail.

His ability to reach consensus by coordinating among diverse stakeholders has led to his Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources successes and his receiving the 2009 John T. Curtis Award for Career Excellence in Ecological Restoration.

Randy’s vast field experience has given him the ability to assess problematic situations and come up with plans to restore, protect and manage some of Wisconsin’s most critical habitats.

He has, in fact, developed direct responsibility and management plans for more than 300 state natural areas, and he has helped to implement many restorations with prescribed burns and other restoration tools.

During his nearly 30 years with the Wisconsin DNR, he also has produced a substantial record of research and publications that underlie his conclusions. He is particularly proud of his book, Wisconsin’s Natural Communities: How to Recognize Them and Where to Find Them.

Because of his familiarity with Wisconsin’s natural areas, Randy knows in uncanny detail where species and communities are living, what condition they are in, and how to improve their lot—knowledge he shares by speaking to a variety of audiences, interacting with other naturalists and writing for a variety of outlets. And he gladly shares his expertise with anyone who asks him a question.

Randy Hoffman is also an accomplished birder who has visited most of the country. “I love it,” he says. “I got my start more than 35 years ago, but I don’t keep a tally—just a list, something like a diary, of the encounters, and I try to record all the circumstances about a sighting.”

Ron Kurowski – John Nolen Award for Excellence in Ecological Restoration Practices

Those lucky enough to have enjoyed Wisconsin’s Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest know that there must be a cadre of hard-working environmentalists who paved the way for their visit.

Outstanding among those who took their mission to heart is Ron Kurowski, who has dedicated his career—nearly 40 years—to resource protection, public education and applied management in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine and nearby lands, where he was able to rescue areas considered beyond repair because invasive species had done so much damage.

From early on, Ron realized the importance of engaging the public’s interest in appreciating the subtle interactions taking place within the forest community.

“You can’t separate the people from the land,” he firmly believes, and he has managed to foster a genuine relationship between the land and the tens of thousands of people who visit the State Forest annually.

With the financial backing and support of the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association, he has helped to restore three historic pioneer log cabins, an 1890s fieldstone barn and seven other historic sites, including two springhouses dating back to the early 1900s.

He has created a Natural History Museum that has more than 20 exhibits on the Southern Kettle Moraine, including an exhibit on bison that shows several might have survived until 1842.

He has also developed seven self-guided nature trails, a DVD program shown in the museum auditorium, and has worked extensively with the Friends group in raising funds for the State Forest.

His proven success with increasing biodiversity and providing ecological value for future generations, combined with his humility and enthusiasm, have garnered valuable donations to the State Forest.

These include the Young family donation of a 52-acre virgin prairie that formed the backbone of the 400-acre Young Prairie State Natural Area, as well as securing more than $600,000 over a 10-year span to reclaim the Scuppernong River Habitat Preservation area, the largest native wet prairie east of the Mississippi River.

Ron has also demonstrated how to manage Wisconsin remnant plant communities on a large scale, including massive tree/brush removal with low-impact machinery and large scale prescribed burns. He showed that, while not cheap, such techniques are the ideal way to approach restoration on a large scale.

Many environmentalists feel that the future is bleak for many such remnants, and that Ron’s approach may save the day for their restoration. This is yet another reason for naming Ron Kurowski as winner of the 2009 John Nolen Award for Excellence in Ecological Restoration Practices.

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.