Staff Bio

Helen Taylor

State Director

Conservation is constantly evolving, and no one knows that better than Helen Taylor, state director in Michigan for The Nature Conservancy. With more than 25 years of experience working in the environmental field and the Great Lakes, she has witnessed first-hand both the evolution of the conservation movement and the Conservancy itself. We asked Helen about the past, present and future of conservation in this Q&A and also in a short video.

Q: How have things changed since you started working in the environmental field? Where do you see the conservation movement headed today?

A: When I started working in conservation, much of the focus was on pollution, targeting environmental “hot spots” where clean-up efforts were needed, when Superfund sites were springing up across the country. What was missing from the dialogue was the holistic approach to conservation. Today, we don’t think about targeting one area for conservation and then moving on to the next. Instead, we consider the health of an entire system—the land, the water, the plants and the wildlife—and working to conserve it in perpetuity. We realize that everything is connected and for conservation to be truly effective, it has to take place at a system-wide level.  

Q: How has The Nature Conservancy evolved to fit into this new framework?

A: The Conservancy’s work today reflects this movement from “sites to systems.” We used to only focus on setting aside natural areas for preservation—we measured our success in the number of acres we protected. Today, we still protect natural areas, yet we are expanding our reach by working with partners at the watershed, coastal, and forested landscape scale, as well as across large natural systems like the Great Lakes. Additionally, we continue to develop and demonstrate the policies and land use practices that assure sustainability for future generations, for both people and wildlife. The ultimate goal? To assure the health and resiliency of these natural systems to ensure that they can provide for future generations.  

Q: What do you think is today’s most pressing environmental threat?

A: The growth of our population is putting tremendous pressure on natural resources, and nowhere is that more clear than when we talk about freshwater. It’s estimated that there will be 9 billion people on the planet by 2060 and scientists predict that, if we continue to use water the way that we do, two-thirds of the world’s population will face water shortages by 2025.  

In Michigan, The Nature Conservancy is surrounded by the world’s largest freshwater system and it’s our responsibility to protect and manage it in a way that’s sustainable. Unfortunately, there are a wide range of environmental pressures that are threatening the Great Lakes. Nothing has more fundamentally altered the health of the lakes than aquatic invasive species, so it is a very significant threat; yet there are other things that are throwing them off balance as well: nutrient loading and degraded water quality, climate change, and loss of forests and coastal habitat. We are working with partners across the region to address these threats and protect this important natural resource at a system-wide level.  

Q: What makes The Nature Conservancy unique in its approach to these big global challenges?

A: We have a science-based, non-confrontational, applied approach to conservation. What this means is that we are constantly out in the field, getting our hands dirty and working directly with others to forge solutions to big environmental threats. At our local projects, we’re testing ideas and finding new methods of conservation and sustainability that can be shared and scaled up to decision-makers, leaders, across the globe. 

Q: Why is protecting nature important to you personally?

A: I was raised to leave the world a better place than when I came. Before I entered the conservation field, I worked in several fields, including the arts and social services. Over time I realized that all of my other interests were fundamentally dependent on the natural resources of the world, and the best way that I could make a difference was to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends. The next generation depends on us. 


Reset the new year, and take a walk outside

March 21, 2014

Part of the "Brunch with Bridge" series written by Helen Taylor. Scroll down to see previous articles.

They say 80 percent of those who make New Year’s resolutions have failed to keep them by the end of January. And that would include me. But I have a new proposal, and for anyone else in my boat.

I am going to make April 22 my “new” new year’s resolution day. With spring weather (hopefully) emerging, this date will inspire a resolution that’s better for me, better for others, and more likely to stick. The date is Earth Day, and I invite (beg) you to join me, for everyone’s sake.

My resolution will be to increase my time outside, walk in the woods and bring someone with me each time.

Here’s why: I recently learned an alarming new statistic – the new daily national average for kids is seven hours of “screen time” and 10 minutes outside. We are utterly losing our connection with nature, and with it, the most deeply healing and inspirational source of energy in our lives.

Note that Richard Louv, who wrote about “nature-deficit disorder” in children (“Last Child in the Woods”) has now written a book for adults (“The Nature Principle”). It’s not just the kids I am worried about – it’s all of us.

Could we create a statewide goal to have a much higher average than 10 minutes a day outdoors for our Michigan kids? Adults too? We have so much more to work with than most states to remedy this worrisome trend, and so much opportunity to keep a new year’s resolution.

Three thousand miles of shoreline, over 2,600 miles of developed hiking and biking trails, more than 7 million acres of state and federal working lands and parks that are accessible to the public.

We have an amazing network of wild places, both urban and rural, that are literally right out our door in the vast network of nature preserves assembled by the state’s non-profit land conservancies and nature centers. Find the land conservancy nearest you through Heart of the Lakes’ directory of land conservancies or go to The Nature Conservancy’s website and look up preserves near you.

I am going to create some goals to keep me moving, like walking the shores of every Great Lake around Michigan, from the sand of Lake Michigan’s dunes to the cobblestones of Lake Huron. I’ll pick agates along Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Peninsula and wade in the marshes on Lake Erie. I will go to the Michigan trails website to map out my hikes and bike rides; and go here for water trails to plan a canoe or kayak route; or here to plan places to visit along the great migratory flyway in Michigan.

Some days I’ll keep it simple, and just walk my two basset hounds around the neighborhood. That always takes way more than 10 minutes, at their pace.

April 22, Earth Day. Make it a personal day of commitment. I am much more confident that this is a resolution I can carry through on. Be accountable for reconnecting with nature, and connecting others. Help a child average higher than ten minutes a day outside. I believe our future, and that of Michigan and the Great Lakes, depends on it.

Previous Articles by Helen


February 14, 2014
Michigan could grow into a rich, green future, if it continues to wisely manage its abundant gifts. The proposed state budget suggests Gov. Rick Snyder understands this.

January 10, 2014
I love winter for a lot of reasons – the beauty of snow, going sledding, and because I’m one of those late bloomers that waited until my 50th birthday to learn how to downhill ski. Another reason is that winter allows me to take a break from my annual warfare with the invasive plants in my lawn and flower beds.


November 22, 2013
This is a bit of a different take on a Thanksgiving column. While I appreciate the writers who inspire us to pause, reflect and be thankful for all we have, the good food of the holiday is a close second n my Thanksgiving thoughts.

September 13, 2013
With 3,000 miles of shoreline on four of the five Great Lakes, there are so many places in Michigan to explore that it would take a lifetime to discover them all.


Stay Updated

Learn about the places you love and find out how you can help by signing up for Nature eNews.

I'm already on the list Read our privacy policy

Thank you for joining our online community!

We'll be in touch soon with more Nature Conservancy news, updates, and exciting stories.