Bill Ulfelder began his career with The Nature Conservancy more than 18 years ago, but his love affair with nature started long before. “Growing up in Washington, DC, even the small, half-acre triangular park with a labyrinth of azalea bushes a few blocks from our home in the city was ‘wild’ to me,” he says. “Small or no, I loved every moment of that time outdoors.”
His love of nature was motivated by his father, who took Bill and his younger brother on hikes in parks throughout Washington, DC every weekend. Bill’s passion for conservation outside of the United States was inspired by his granddad, who had been stationed by the US Army in Rio de Janiero during World War II and had used early remote sensing technologies to map the Amazon. Bill’s granddad told his grandson, “If I could go anywhere in the world it would be back to the Amazon before it’s gone.”
As an undergraduate, Bill followed that advice and, as part of his Morehead-Cain Scholarship at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spent time studying conservation in the Peruvian Amazon. There, he conducted research on the ways settlers developed livelihood strategies based on indigenous practices to farm, hunt and fish depending on the water levels of the region’s rivers. From then on, his passion for global conservation was unalterable. Upon graduation Bill was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to undertake a work/study program with the Panamanian Park Service before earning dual Master’s Degrees from Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment in Resource Economics and Policy as well as Forest Management.
Bill joined the Conservancy in 1995, when he was awarded a Population and Environment Fellowship with the University of Michigan, which provided him with the opportunity to work with the Conservancy in Peru and Ecuador.
In 1997, Bill was appointed Peru program director, where he helped negotiate a $10.5 million debt-for-nature swap that provides income for Peruvian protected areas. In 2003 he moved to Flagstaff, Arizona where he served as the Conservancy’s Northern Arizona director overseeing landscape scale forest conservation efforts with the US Forest Service and conservation and community interests. As the Conservancy’s Eastern Colorado director, Bill oversaw grasslands conservation of the Western High Plains and led numerous partnership efforts within both the private and public sectors. Additionally, he served as the Conservancy’s Central Caribbean director leading conservation efforts in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and Puerto Rico for much of 2008.
Today Bill leads The Nature Conservancy’s New York program with a staff of 160 people and more than 70,000 members, including 150 trustees across the state. Though he’s traveled the world on behalf of the Conservancy—to the likes of Mongolia, the Dominican Republic, Northern Kenya and Tanzania—Bill finds himself most at home with his wife and daughter in New York City. “New York and New Yorkers played historic leadership roles in the creation of our modern American conservation consciousness, not the least of whom is Theodore Roosevelt. The New York Director of the Nature Conservancy is a role I have been preparing for my entire life.”