John T Curtis Award Winner Jeff Nania


Put Jeff Nania next to a restored wetland, and in less than a minute you can sense how passionate he is about his life’s work. Spend just a little more time with him, and you, too, will become a wetland restoration enthusiast.

Nania has made significant contributions to the field of ecological restoration over a distinguished career involving field work, teaching, public policy, educational reform, writing, advocacy work, and development of restoration techniques and management tools.

He was a pioneer in the ecosystem-based approach to restoration, now considered the national standard. He has also been active in the Wisconsin legislature working on environmental policy and education, helping to draft and pass more than 30 bills.

Nania was instrumental in establishing Wisconsin’s wetland protection law and supporting the re-authorization of the Stewardship Fund.

He served as executive director of the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association for five years, and headed their habitat restoration team for 17 years. During this time, Nania worked with more than 20 conservation organizations and nine governmental agencies, planning and constructing thousands of acres of restoration projects statewide.

The success of his programs and projects throughout Wisconsin is due in large measure to his ability to collaborate with a wide array of public and private organizations.

He has worked with The Nature Conservancy, Madison Audubon Society, Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Wisconsin Wetlands Association, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Ho-Chunk Nation, various lake associations and municipalities, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Geological Survey.

For the past 10 years, he has dedicated himself to developing the next generation of conservationists through integrating environmental education with hands-on restoration in public schools throughout Wisconsin.

In 2002 he helped establish River Crossing Environmental Charter School in Portage, and since then has volunteered more than 20 hours each week to this endeavor, raising more than $200,000 to fund student environmental projects, helping to launch the Wisconsin Green School Network (now involving more than 30 schools), and mentoring students to apply classroom learning to solving real world environmental issues.

Nania has won numerous local, state, regional and national awards including: a Career Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association, Conservationist of the Year from the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, and the Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Award from the UW Fish and Wildlife Service.

He was honored by Outdoor Life magazine as one of the 25 most influential conservationists in the United State. Nania was also the first person from Wisconsin to receive the National Wetlands Award from the Environmental Law Institute. When presenting the award, they said, “In all his endeavors, Jeff is an effective wetland advocate and lobbyist, a pioneer in historical wetland restoration, and a leader in wetland outreach.”

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.