“Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1960’s, there were days where we couldn’t go outside for recess because of smog,” explained MCC’s Board of Directors Chair, Martha Kauffman. “I would sit at my desk and draw pictures of machines that could essentially eat the smog—just so I could go outside and play.”

And that’s how it all began for Kauffman. She’s been involved in conservation and environmental stewardship ever since. Most recently, she’s kept her plate full by serving six years as a volunteer on MCC’s Board of Directors and leading World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Northern Great Plains Program as Managing Director. 

“The Great Plains has been identified by WWF as one of the four grassland ecosystems that remain intact on the planet,” Kauffman said. “It’s one of the 35 ecosystems globally that are most threatened and in need of conservation.” Through her work with WWF, Kauffman is building a movement for grasslands in the region. She calls the plains, “a special and vanishing resource of global importance.” Despite the urgency, Kauffman will be the first to tell you she never goes into any project alone. 

“Collaboration is infused in everything the WWF does. With so many varied interests, it’s a necessity to have everyone at the table.” State land agencies, tribal interests, private land owners, local cooperatives, and so many others all have a legitimate interest in the plains. Part of Kauffman’s role with WWF is to identify the shared goals of the groups and create a long-term vision based on compromise.

One such effort, led by the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, aims to create the first Tribal National Park and restore bison to targeted areas of the reserve. Kauffman says the park has the potential to create economic, cultural, and ecological benefits for the Oglala Sioux. Simultaneously, it will promote biological diversity in the area.

Outside of her professional work, Kauffman has another goal—to help develop the next generation of land stewards. To understand why she serves with MCC, you need not look further than her daughter.

“Jenny was a Youth Expedition member with MCC her sophomore year of high school. On her college entrance essay she wrote about digging a latrine while working in Glacier National Park,” she laughed.  “She wrote when you’re a kid, you always dream of digging a hole to China. You never fully appreciate how much work goes into digging a latrine, let alone a hole to China.”

The awakening her daughter had is precisely why Kauffman says she support MCC. She describes the programs as a transformative experience for young people. Working hard while in nature helps creates a one-on-one connection with the land and an appreciation for the hard work it takes to make an impact. It’s that connection, she says, that will inspire the next generation of stewards.

“Expeditions and MCC’s Leadership Development Program give young people the confidence to realize they are capable of much more. They recognize the value of service in their communities.”

Kauffman recalls one such project where that realization was achieved. Over the last three years, WWF has tapped 34 crew members from three MCC regions to help restore the black-footed ferret in areas of Montana. With only about 500 individuals in the wild, the ferret is considered the most endangered mammal in North America. The WWF’s goal is to restore that number to 3,000 breeding pairs. It’s a high stakes project that can create a lasting connection.

“When young people are involved in the recovery efforts, they soon learn they are essential—they matter. It gives them a sense of mission and purpose in the effort. Then when they read an article about the ferret years later, they will already understand the issue. It’s more likely that they will get involved.” 

Collaboration, commitment, and a passion for conservation have undoubtedly helped Kauffman achieve many of her goals with MCC and WWF. However, she says it’s the willingness to pursue what inspires her that has moved her forward in life. 

“My experiences have helped me build a sense of confidence and an ability to trust my gut. Experiences that build upon that confidence in decision making and leading will serve you—no matter what you do.” 

Visit the following link to learn more about WWF’s efforts in the Northern Great Plains: http://worldwildlife.org/places/northern-great-plains


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