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Alumni Working for Wildlands
Daryl Burtnett
Director of the Nature Conservancy, New Hampshire

Daryl Burtnett claims he wouldn’t be where he is today without the influence of NOLS.

“There’s just no way that I would be living the life I have today and have these opportunities to be making a difference on this scale,” he says. “My experience with NOLS had everything to do with my success at getting this position at the Nature Conservancy.”

It’s a position that Burtnett has held for a little more than four years, following his tenure as an employee at NOLS Southwest. Burtnett first came to NOLS in 1990 as a full-time field instructor. After about five years, he was hired to be the program supervisor at NOLS Southwest and later the director. For Burtnett, those years provided a plethora of instructive and informative experiences against an almost magical background.

“The Gila Wilderness is an important area to me,” he explains. “I loved being in the mountains and felt like the best version of myself when I was working with other people and on expeditions. I was reshaped and recalibrated because of the times that I had there. It became important to me to work with people and to teach them the skills of having little impact so that future generations would have similar opportunities.”

After a decade of working with NOLS, Burtnett began looking for another environmentally responsible organization to be a part of. As it turned out, the Nature Conservancy of New Hampshire was looking for a director. Now he finds himself in charge of the state’s chapter program, where he leads a 20-member team that seeks to protect and preserve land in and around the state and its borders.

“I’m the expedition leader here in New Hampshire, and we face all kinds of challenges and opportunities,” Burtnett explains. “My staff members are the most capable people I could imagine, and one of the main goals I have is that we talk about the challenges and the situations we face. Things that transfer from NOLS to the Nature Conservancy are things like perseverance, the ability to be creative, calm and prepared in the face of adversity. Those elements are directly related to the very best NOLS expeditions.”

While Burtnett and his team have realized great successes, as with the recently completed protection of 171,000 acres in northern New Hampshire, they have also faced numerous impediments.

“A big challenge has been the loss of wild places,” Burtnett says. “Many of our remaining wild places near urban and suburban areas are threatened by conversion as a result of sprawl. We also live downwind of the rest of the country here in the northeast, resulting in toxins in the wind and rain that pollute our land. On top of that, the economic climate is also a challenge. I would say that the incremental loss of our most important natural places, the degradation of areas not converted, and the challenge of trying to fund our programs are the biggest issues we face.” Burtnett says that when things become really difficult, he just goes outside.

“The product of my work is such that you can go walk on it. Whenever I find myself losing optimism, I make sure I go out to places that we have protected. Or I go to places that I’m still working on – it’s motivating.”

— J.L. Bibb


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