Bill Kleiman’s career didn’t begin in conservation. It took some enthusiastic high school students and neglected tract of land to help him find his true calling.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and biology, Bill went on to receive his master’s in science education. He then taught high school science for five years. Although Bill had been a member of the Nature Conservancy since his undergraduate days, it wasn’t until he began teaching high school students in the Chicago suburbs the he found his niche in land management.
Next to the high school, Bill discovered some fallow ground owned by the Park District. The land was completely overgrown with trees and brush, and covered with litter. But Bill was optimistic, and saw an opportunity to adopt the land for a volunteer stewardship project for his school.
“We ended up getting hundreds of students a year out on that tract doing habitat restoration work. We visited local prairies and got permission to pick seeds to plant on our site. We had experts come in and help us figure out what to do and were able to do some prescribed fires on a portion of it. I loved stewardship and took a year off from teaching to do an internship with the Conservancy in Colorado and my career went another direction.”
Today, Bill serves as the project director for Nachusa Grasslands. Working closely with Cody Considine, restoration ecologist, the two oversee all aspects of the Nachusa Grasslands preserve and partnership work in the middle Rock River Valley.
Since Bill’s change in careers, he has found plenty to help him explore the world of land conservation and restoration. Most recently, Bill and Cody have been preparing the preserve for the reintroduction of bison to Nachusa Grasslands. With their natural grazing behavior, bison will play a key role in the further restoration of the prairie, helping certain plants and animals thrive and contributing to the overall biodiversity of the preserve.
Along with Bill’s current position as the Conservancy, he also serves as a director with the Illinois Prescribed Fire council. The council is working to create a statewide assessment of prescribed fire that would tell restoration workers what should be done to increase safe and effective fire programs. Additionally, Bill is a leader in the Grassland Restoration Network.
“I like to see the health of the land return when we do prescribed fire, or thin brush, remove weeds and plant seed,” Bill has said of his work. And the results of all his and Cody’s efforts speak for themselves—restoration studies at Nachusa Grasslands have been published in numerous scientific journals, and Chicago Wilderness recognized Nachusa Grasslands in their 2012 Conservation Leadership Awards.