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Expedition Leadership | Leadership Types | Leadership Skills
Leadership in 30 Days | Leadership Profiles

Louisa Willcox

Louisa WillcoxLeadership Position: Wild Bears Project Director, Natural Resources Defense Council
NOLS Graduate: 1975 NOLS Instructor Course; 1976 Baja Sea Kayaking Course

Since climbing Wyoming’s Grand Teton at age 15, Louisa Willcox has been a self-proclaimed “wilderness wanderer.” She began instructing for NOLS in 1975 and continued leading students into the wilderness for the next decade. Today, Louisa still considers herself a “wilderness wanderer” but she’s known around the West as more of a wilderness advocate, fighting to protect the region’s last remaining wild places.

Willcox’s environmental career got underway while she was working for NOLS in the 1970s. Wyoming, she remembers, was then a hotbed for environmental debates. When she stopped to listen to the issues, she remembers hearing something very familiar. “When they were talking about threatened places,” Louisa says, “I thought, ‘I’ve been there!’” The West’s mountains, streams and valleys were her classroom, she could walk through many of these places with her eyes closed, and she wasn’t about to stand aside. “Having been on NOLS courses and knowing there’s a debate I found myself thinking, ‘I know these places and I can speak to their value.’”

Eventually, Louisa moved on from NOLS and received a degree in forestry from Yale University. After two years teaching in Jackson Hole she became the first program director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC), an environmental group in Bozeman, Montana. With the GYC she “helped make ecosystem protection a household concept.”

Today Louisa’s environmental efforts are focused on what she calls “an animal that’s a barometer for the health of a place.” She’s talking about bears. “When you’re working on bears,” Louisa says, “ you’re working on wilderness. The places where bears are left are the wildest places left.” Willcox is the Wild Bears Project Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an organization that works on myriad environmental issues all over the world. Since bears only reproduce every three years on average and have a very low tolerance for human development and interference, Louisa’s work to protect bears is really about making sure we still have wild places left.

According to Willcox, NOLS students, more than anyone, have the capacity to want to protect what’s left of our wilderness areas. “The physical experience of being immersed in wild places is, perhaps, the best way to inspire people to protect them. In a world of increasing asphalt, every acre that a NOLS course ever brought me into has that much more importance to me. NOLS students who see the track of a bear understand that our role is one of stewardship and that we have to give those creatures a place to be. In granting them a place we are granting ourselves a place.”

Grad Profiles in Alphabetical Order

Pete Athans
Janice Bloom
David Breashears
Diane Brinkley
Carlos Buhler
Caroline Byrd
Archie Clemins
Columbia Crew
Mike DiDonna
Chris Gergen
John Grunsfeld
Ryan Hughes
Bruce Jacobsen
Sebastian Junger
Tom Kiernan
Alex Matthiessen
Tori McClure
Kitty Phillips
Guy Santiago
Tom Scott
Kat Taylor
Terri Watson
Louisa Willcox

Expedition Leadership | Leadership Types | Leadership Skills
Leadership in 30 Days | Leadership Profiles


Baja Sea Kayaking - Practice makes perfect: Learning to surf along the Sea of Cortez coastline.
© Brien Sheedy

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