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Saving species in the Year of the Environment

spring2020 | By By by Paul Robbins, Dean, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

Dean Paul Robbins

Saving species in the Year of the Environment


It is a big year for the Nelson Institute, one we’re calling “The Year of the Environment.” The 50th anniversaries of Earth Day and of the Institute provide a platform for me to highlight our roles as global environmental citizens, addressing a global challenge: extinction. The numbers tell the staggering story— one-third of North American birds have vanished since the first Earth Day was observed in 1970, and one million species are disappearing worldwide. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a world leader in so many areas of environmental research and engagement, from climate change and energy innovation, to water resources and global health. But conservation, preservation, and restoration are surely among our strongest suits. If this campus can more fully contribute to addressing the crisis, real gains may yet be made. I’ve laid out one vision for what we might do together, with support from our alumni and friends, in The Ark.

What will it take? At the Nelson Institute we address conservation challenges and create solutions by starting with people and communities. Our conservation research and training, whether in the Brazilian Amazon or Guadalajara Mexico, protect species, landscapes, and waterways by building networks. UW-Madison based projects, whether in land change science, hydrology, environmental history, or energy analysis, are all rooted in partnerships. Restoring and creating habitats and ecosystems, while listening hard to local needs, will be the foundations of the work needed to turn the tide.

As noted by the cover profiles, “Champions of Conservation & Justice,” recently-arrived Nelson Institute Assistant Professors Zuzana Burivalova and Grace Bulltail bolster these strengths in exciting new ways. Burivalova’s groundbreaking bioacoustics research brings new understanding to conservation efforts, while Bulltail’s focus on water quality in tribal communities amplifies the need for addressing urgent human needs. Similarly, the theme for our 2020 Earth Day Conference, Aspiring for Sustainability, Striving for Justice, Crafting the Planet, is a celebration of UW-Madison’s environmental roots and strengths, but also our cutting-edge work in ecological and technological innovation, our mandate from the world’s youth to do better, and our dedication to environmental justice.

We don’t know what the next five decades will bring, but the Nelson Institute is positioned to lead. Your support and engagement strengthens our resolve and energy. By supporting our Environmental Futures Fund, you can help provide the resources for new programs, new research, and new students. Join us as we work together to build a future of hope.

Paul Robbins

Paul Robbins Dean,
Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

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