Faces of Conservation

Q&A with Barbara Vickery

When Barbara Vickery first came to the Conservancy in 1983, she was responsible for science and stewardship at 75 preserves across the state. Twenty-five years later, threats like rampant habitat loss and climate change have altered the playing field, demanding conservation that works at an even bigger scale. Nature.org spoke with Barbara about the experiences that first led her to a career in conservation and her work to help Maine adapt in the face of global challenges.
"I became entranced by all the little green things that unfurled when the harsh winter ended. Every chance I got, I was out identifying plants."

Barbara Vickery, director of conservation programs


Why are you a conservationist?

Barbara Vickery:

As it is for most people, I think, it began with a love for a particular place: Morse Mountain in Phippsburg, where I grew up. It’s amazing that so many of us do what we do because of our childhood experiences. Conservation was not my first career; I was actually a kindergarten teacher first. But over summers spent at Morse Mountain and at my home in rural northern Maine, I became entranced by all the little green things that unfurled when the harsh winter ended. Every chance I got, I was out identifying plants.

One summer, I was reading about the sexual life of ferns in my Peterson’s Field Guide to Ferns when it hit me: This was the work I wanted to do. I barely knew the difference between mitosis and meiosis, but I quit my teaching job, enrolled in a basic biology course at the University of Maine and started over as a freshman.

It also helped that I married a birder who is also a well-rounded field naturalist. Exploring the life found in wonderful natural places has been a central part of our 38-year marriage.


What's your favorite place in Maine?

Barbara Vickery:

When opportunities arose for me in other states over the years, it always came down to Morse Mountain; I couldn’t imagine being far from it. My grandfather purchased coastal land here in the 1930s, and about 30 years ago my entire family — parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins — took steps to conserve it. We donated an easement on 700 acres to the Conservancy.

Witnessing both the cycles of wildlife coming and going and the thousands of human visitors who come to enjoy Morse Mountain each season reminds me of why we worked to protect the place we love.


What current project are you most excited about?

Barbara Vickery:

We’ve done a lot of exciting work with the state on statewide wildlife and habitat conservation programs, such as State Wildlife Action Plans and Beginning with Habitat. The next step is to look at these programs through the lens of climate change. We need to plan for the impacts on habitats and natural communities. Everyone — including conservationists — must answer the question: How must we act differently?

We’ve finally broken down the notion that adaptation is in some way “giving up.” Climate change is happening: it isn’t prevent or adapt; we’ve got to do both. So we’re thinking about how to help our natural systems weather the changes.


Where do you find hope?

Barbara Vickery:

My hope is the resilient natural world itself — it’s my biggest source of wonder, love, learning and joy. And if it is that way for me, I hope it can be for others, as well.

Barbara Vickery, director of conservation programs in Maine, has managed the science-based planning behind Maine’s conservation projects for more than 25 years. Barbara also represents the Conservancy in state, regional and national partnerships such as Maine's Forest and Freshwater Biodiversity Project and climate change adaptation working groups. She holds degrees from Bates and Harvard Colleges.


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