When she wasn’t working, she was developing a network of friends in the environmental field, including some of the giants in the worlds of ecology, geology and conservation. During those years she befriended, among others, Luna Leopold, an ecologist and son of Aldo Leopold; and geologist Dave Love, who was immortalized in John McPhee’s book “Rising from the Plains.”
“They were from a different generation, but they were very inspiring,” Willcox says. “And it was also very humbling to be in their company and to see how curious they remained as older men.
“I realized that there was just a huge amount that we still didn’t know — and may never know — about how these ecosystems are put together. So I got really interested in following in their footsteps and taking up what I could in a field sense.”
Despite her passion for the natural world, Louisa Willcox never imagined that she would be ever be a professional “advocate” for conservation when she was younger.
It wasn’t until she started reading stories about proposed oil and gas drilling projects in places she’d grown to love — (“When they were talking about threatened places,” Willcox told one interviewer
, “I thought, ‘I’ve been
there!’”) — that she poured herself into the work of conservation.
As she worked on more campaigns, she began to view herself as a “bridge-builder” between the worlds of advocacy and science, and she enjoyed cultivating skills in political organization, research, communications — even some legal expertise.
fter teaching at the Teton School for two years, she became the Montana-based Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s first program director. And for a decade she worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council, leading the fight in a cause particularly important to her: saving the threatened grizzly bear populations of the American west.
Protecting bears, she says, remains her most important fight, and will be the foundation of a new conservation initiative she will announce in the coming months.
“I continue to work on grizzly bears, largely because I love them,” she says, “but also they really are the most sensitive barometer of the health of the northern Rockies ecosystem. If bears are healthy, so tends to be the rest of the ecosystem.”