The Nature Conservancy in Illinois' Director of Science Jeff Walk has a longstanding loyalty to nature and Illinois' natural areas. A life-long Illinois resident, Jeff grew up on a family farm, where he developed a strong connection to land and water. Jeff joined the Conservancy in Illinois in 2007 as a conservation planner and was promoted to director of science in January 2010. Previously, he was a research scientist with the Illinois Natural History Survey and a professor of biology and environmental science at the University of Dubuque in Iowa. Jeff received his doctorate and master degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Following his passion for grassland birds, Jeff and a team of six authors recently published the book, Illinois Birds: A Century of Change, which uses information from bird surveys completed in the 1900s, 1950s and 2000s to document how Illinois birds and landscapes have or have not changed in the last 100 years. Repeated at the same locations, these surveys combined make up the oldest standardized survey in the United States. For their work on the book, Jeff and his co-authors received the 2010 Conservationist of the Year Award from the Illinois Audubon Society.
As the Director of Science, Jeff oversees research and manages on-the-ground projects at Illinois Conservancy preserves. Freshwater preservation and climate change are among environmental issues Jeff works to address. With his knowledge regarding farming, Jeff is avidly involved with the Franklin Demonstration Farm on the Mackinaw River, in that the goal of the Mackinaw River site is to operate wetland ponds on working farms to increase water quality and to continue economic stability for farmers.
Jeff also serves on the Board of Directors for the Illinois Audubon Society, the Illinois Ornithological Society and is past president of the Illinois Wildlife Society.
Through his involvement with local land trusts and other conservation agencies, Jeff finds joy in being a part of so many conversations that are guiding the direction of conservation in Illinois, from planning and strategy to measuring effectiveness.
With his book now published, Jeff is looking forward to beginning research on models of grassland conservation. He aims to identify a way to scale-up grassland conservation with economic tools and collaboration with the agricultural industry.