Q&A: Former Head of NRCS Joins Nature Conservancy

This summer, Arlen Lancaster returned to his roots, to the West’s wide-open working landscapes. He landed in Lander, Wyoming where he’ll serve as the Conservancy’s Conservation Initiatives Director.

In his new role, the former head of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and one-time advisor to Idaho Senator Mike Crapo will help shape the Conservancy’s programs to protect Wyoming’s most valuable natural resources. He’ll also oversee management and stewardship of the Conservancy’s five preserves and ranches in Wyoming.
talked to Arlen about his return to the West, fostering Wyoming’s future land stewards, and why the Conservancy needs to have a seat at the table in order to make a difference.

“Our ranches and preserves provide a great opportunity for a strong integration between science and on-the-ground work. By leveraging our properties, we can have an effect bigger than just the acreage we own.”

Wyoming Conservation Initiatives Director Arlen Lancaster

Why Wyoming?

Arlen Lancaster:

I have always been a Westerner and love being in the outdoors and enjoying nature. Although I grew up all over the world (my father spent his career in Air Force), wherever we went we were always outside camping and fishing.

So when my wife—another Westerner—and I were deciding where to live after Washington, DC, Wyoming was at the top of the list. It’s a beautiful state with a rich heritage, spectacular wildlife and a long history of stewardship.

Also, my wife and I wanted to live in the type of rural community we’ve always admired. Places with wide open spaces, where we could live, work and recreate.

You spent several years in Washington, D.C. working on policy…how will that translate into your new position with the Conservancy?

Arlen Lancaster:

I think that knowing the background and processes behind the policies that impact conservation will certainly help, but the real benefit is the experience working effectively with diverse groups and interests.

I know that common ground can be found despite seemingly opposing viewpoints because I’ve been part of finding solutions at the national level and been exposed to countless others as I traveled the country.

One of your priorities is a new Rangeland Institute. What’s this all about?

Arlen Lancaster:

The idea behind the Rangeland Institute is that to protect grasslands, we are best served by the ranches, ranchers, and land managers who steward those lands.

I am a firm believer that if you give people the right information and present it in the right context, they will do good things. The goal of the Institute is to create a forum to foster learning opportunities for current and future land stewards so they will protect our grasslands.

While the Institute will have many focus areas, one rewarding aspect of this has me working with landowners, universities and agencies to provide young people with opportunities to experience ranch life and learn about management of the land, including the Conservancy’s network of properties around Wyoming.

We need a network of operations in place so students can get on-the-ground experience. The Institute sets up internships where students work alongside ranchers and scientists while learning to solve the complex challenges facing today’s land managers.

What are your goals as you oversee the Conservancy’s preserves and ranches in Wyoming?

Arlen Lancaster:

Our ranches and preserves provide a great opportunity for a strong integration between science and on-the-ground work. By leveraging our properties, we can have an effect bigger than just the acreage we own.

We can use these properties to answer the questions that are relevant to the people of Wyoming, and I want to make sure our properties are available as places for research. 

We can also use our properties to try practices and facilitate technology transfer to other landowners in the state, region and globally. Wyoming has tremendous things in common with grasslands in places like Argentina, Mongolia and Africa.  

Conservation practices and science are just words until you have someone willing and able to implement and apply them. I want to make sure we are getting relevant information in the hands of people on the ground that are stewarding the land on a daily basis.

I also think that it is important that we work closely with our local communities. Although we’re a non-profit, we pay property taxes. Even though we’re private landowners, we allow public access. My hope is that the public will use these properties and learn more about the Conservancy's goals and see us as a partner.

What are you most excited about in your new position?

Arlen Lancaster:

There’s such a strong conservation ethic in the state. I am excited about working with the people here.

I’m also excited to ask, ‘how can we help?’ Because if people are effective in implementing their conservation goals, I know that biodiversity will benefit.

I don’t have all the answers. But the Conservancy can be a catalyst. This means developing strong and deep connections and having a seat at the table as a helpful partner.


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