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Alumni Working for Wildlands
Jennifer Pitt
Senior Research Analyst with Environmental Defense

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Jennifer Pitt became interested in landscape history. Specifically, she became enthralled with the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, the co-designer of New York City’s Central Park, and she began to study parks and their impact on urban settings. So it only made sense that after graduation Pitt moved to New York and signed on to work for the city’s park department.

“But I found out it had to do more with maintenance than anything else,” she says with a smile.

Fortunately, Pitt met an employee of the National Parks department while she was working in New York. He suggested that she become a park ranger. So, during the summers of 1990 and 1991, Pitt served as an Interpretive Ranger at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. It was during that time that Pitt attended a Semester in the Rockies with NOLS.

“I dove head in,” she says. “It was an awful lot of fun and a really good challenge. One of the most memorable feelings I took away from the course was getting into my sleeping bag and curling up and just feeling at home. It was a feeling I had never had before — being that exposed and without possession and yet feeling that comfortable. I don’t know that I’ve been able to preserve it as working professional, but the treasure of that memory I try to preserve.”

The following fall, Pitt entered graduate school at Yale and earned a M.E.S., while focusing her studies on water and river management. After earning her degree, Pitt served as a biological technician at California’s Sequoia National Park. The next year, she worked as a legislative assistant for Office of U.S. Representative Mike Kopetski in Washington, D.C. Afterward, she was hired to be a program manager on the Rivers, Trails and Conversation Assistance Program for the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., from 1994 to 1998.

Now Pitt works full-time for Environmental Defense in the Rocky Mountain Regional Office, focusing her efforts on the restoration of the Colorado River ecosystem, an ecosystem that affects seven states and Mexico and supplies water everywhere from Denver to L.A. to Tijuana, irrigating millions of acres of agriculture and generating large amounts of hydropower annually. For Pitt, dealing with large, complicated issues is part of the fun of her work.

“I like to look at complexity and unpack it to see what real issues are,” she says. “It allows me to keep my head on straight and to get into the intricacies of each situation. The biggest dread of a job I would have is being bored. The complexity keeps me on my toes and learning something new every day.”
Pitt says that open communication and the example of expedition behavior that she learned at NOLS are critical to the success of her job.

“In order for me to be an effective advocate for protecting and restoring the river environment, I need to understand the needs and interests of all river users,” she explains.

Environmentalists generally don’t get asked to have a seat at the table. I have to find a way to gain the ear of all these other stakeholders who generally have the upper hand in the decision making. I also try to keep environmental non-profits together on various issues. I manage an annual meeting between U.S. and Mexico non-profits where we gather together, listen to each other and allow for organization around issues. Using a facilitative style of leadership is key to that process.”

— J.L. Bibb

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