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Alumni Working for Wildlands
Bert Fingerhut
Wilderness Enthusiast

Over the past thirty years, Bert Fingerhut guesses he’s spent more than 400 nights in the Grand Canyon, plus an additional 200 nights in southern Utah, backpacking, rafting and canyoneering. Beginning in the late 1960s, he would leave his office in New York City on a Thursday night and be in the canyons and slickrock country of Arizona and southern Utah by the weekend. “The first day your head is still back at the office thinking about what you should have done back there,” Fingerhut says of his trips. “But by the second or third day your mind changes. You know you are in the right place.”

Those long days in the canyons left a strong impression. As he spent more time walking through the Colorado Plateau’s stunning landscapes (he retired in the early 1980s), Fingerhut began to learn more about the threats facing his favorite places. He noticed indiscriminate oil and gas development in pristine wilderness areas (undesignated yet as federal wilderness), extensive and damaging off-road vehicle travel, haze from coal fired power plants, overgrazing, a proposed coal mine in the center of Utah’s redrock country, and other assorted regional and individual threats.

In canyon country, Fingergut became involved with two of the most significant regional organizations that have emerged — the Grand Canyon Trust and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). Each organization today supports a staff of over 20 people and multimillion dollar annual budgets. Fingerhut has been continuously on the board and intimately involved in both of these organizations almost since the founding of each. He served as Chairman of SUWA for six years.

Fingerhut has also worked with national conservation groups. He has been on the governing council of The Wilderness Society since 1989, serving as chairman from 1998 to 2002. He’s also focused his attention up north, serving on the board of the Alaska Conservation Foundation, the largest conservation organization in Alaska, for the past 10 years.

A graduate of the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS, Fingerhut’s connection to the wild places he fights to protect is physical as well as spiritual. He’s a long-time member of his local Mountain Rescue team in Colorado, is a wilderness EMT, and still leads national backpacking outings for the Sierra Club in Utah and the Grand Canyon. “I’ve always enjoyed the physical side of experiencing wild places,” he says. “For me, it’s enjoying special places as well as having a physical experience, that feeling of long, long drawn out days that are different from what you’re doing most of the time.”

Recently, Fingerhut has delved into the educational side of conservation, joining the NOLS Board of Trustees in 2003. He says he supports the NOLS experience for many reasons, but most importantly because many graduates have turned out to be great champions for wilderness. “A lot of my friends in the conservation movement have greatly benefited from a NOLS education, going on to achieve premier leadership positions,” he says.

Fingerhut continues to get out and enjoy the places he’s worked so hard for. “It’s very renewing for me to visit and be involved with others in trying protect these lands. I know what the wilderness does for me, what it does for others, and what I wish it would do for lots more people for generations to come.”

— Kerry Brophy

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