In recent years, the Illinois chapter of The Nature Conservancy has celebrated a number of conservation milestones, from bringing bison back to Nachusa Grasslands to reconnecting Emiquon to the Illinois River. None of these accomplishments would have been possible without Jeff Walk.
Hired as a conservation planner in 2007, Jeff was promoted to director of science in 2010 and was named director of conservation in 2016. In this role, he is tackling some of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time.
“What happens in Illinois reverberates throughout our region and across the country, from how we manage our lands to how we protect our freshwater resources,” Jeff said. “We are in an incredible position to make a positive difference when it comes to threats such as degraded water quality, habitat loss, and climate change.”
As director of conservation, Jeff is leading a team of scientists to confront these challenges head on. His focus in the coming years will include collaborating with the farming community to protect water quality in the Illinois River and other tributaries that feed into the Mighty Mississippi, using natural solutions to prepare for and mitigate the effects of climate change, and building on the Conservancy’s long tradition of land stewardship and restoration.
“We have some ambitious goals set for ourselves, including reducing Illinois’ nutrient pollution by 20 percent by 2025, ramping up prescribed fire and invasive species removal, and implementing nature-based climate solutions,” Jeff said. “With our team and our incredible partnerships around the state, I’m confident we can make a big impact for both people and nature in Illinois.”
Jeff has the experience to make these conservation goals a reality. As the chapter’s director of science, Jeff oversaw research and managed on-the-ground projects at Illinois Conservancy preserves. He expanded water quality work along the Mackinaw River into a comprehensive water quality program for the entire state. He grew science and monitoring program at Nachusa Grasslands to better understand the impact of bison on restored and remnant prairie habitats. And he had a pivotal role in designing the water control structure that has reconnected Emiquon to the Illinois River for the first time in almost 100 years.
Jeff served on the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board and the Board of Directors for the Illinois Audubon Society, and is past president of the Illinois Wildlife Society. Before joining the Conservancy, 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.
A life-long Illinois resident, Jeff grew up on a family farm, where he developed a strong connection to land and water that led him to his current career. Jeff received his doctorate and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.