John’s career in conservation fell from the sky, so to speak. As an undergrad pursuing a degree in aeronautical engineering, Sanderson realized his true calling was the great outdoors. A post-college stint in the Peace Corps working on a forest program in West Africa sealed the deal. He attended the University of Vermont where he received a master’s degree in botany. It was also during this time that Sanderson developed a little-known love affair with mosses and lichens, particularly those that grow in wetlands.
Now armed with a Ph.D. in ecology from Colorado State University, Sanderson co-directs the Center for Conservation Science and Strategy. In that capacity, John manages a staff of scientists and project directors to deliver conservation outcomes that range from ensuring adequate streamflow for endangered fish in the Yampa River to keeping hundreds of thousands of acres on the Great Plains intact to support native wildlife from prairie dogs to antelope.
Although he might be trying to understand how energy development can be compatible with sage grouse one day and discussing a new location of a globally rare cliff-dwelling plant the next, John spends most of his time working on rivers. Much of John’s energy over the past few years has been focused on a statewide planning process for meeting the water needs of Colorado’s growing population while maintaining healthy rivers. This planning process has produced a map of important streams in Colorado as well as a tool to evaluate how water management puts rivers at risk. Plans and tools are valuable, but it’s not where to conservation happens, so John also works on several on-the-ground projects. Among these projects is collaboration with municipalities to explore new ways to design and manage water supply systems and efforts with land managers to restore streamside (riparian) ecosystems.