Naturally wonderful

Biodiversity expert Heady wins Mohonk Consultations award

by Erin Quinn
June 16, 2011 02:30 PM | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Front (L-R): Cathy Law, Laura Heady, Kitty Brown. Back: Brad Berg and Willie Janeway.
Photo by Lauren Thomas.
Front (L-R): Cathy Law, Laura Heady, Kitty Brown. Back: Brad Berg and Willie Janeway. Photo by Lauren Thomas.
To know her, is not only to love her, but to be left in awe at her extensive knowledge of, passion for, dedication to biodiversity and the natural world -- both human and non-human. Laura Heady can translate her championing of the environment to almost anyone and leave them excited about all of nature’s wonders, critters and ways they can help foster and protect the ecosystem.

To this end, Heady, 38, was presented with the prestigious 2011 Mohonk Consultations’ Environmental Distinguished Achievement Award, which she received at Mohonk Mountain House to a standing-room-only crowd.

According to the Mohonk Consultations’ board, Heady’s “outreach and educational skills, coupled with deep scientific knowledge and her love of the ecosystems around her, make her a true “force of nature.”

Since 2006, Heady has been the biodiversity outreach coordinator for the New York State DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program and Cornell University. In this capacity she helps planning boards and volunteers with information on how best to protect natural diversity, to integrate biodiversity and habitat protection into conservation plans, smart growth strategies, environmental planning and preservation -- all of this, on top of being in the field, researching, collecting data, taking samples and ensuring the rejuvenation of the Hudson River and its estuaries, as well as the myriad of valuable habitats in and around the Hudson Valley.

“I can’t think of anyone more worthy and appropriate to receive this award,” said Willie Janeway, the director of the New York Department of Conservation Region 3 in New Paltz, who formally nominated Heady. “She is the biodiversity queen and she has that rare quality of deep, scientific knowledge, as well inter-personal skills that is so critical.”

Janeway pointed out that when the DEC was created, and the First Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, “the Hudson River was an abandoned sewer. We had lost so much wildlife, habitat, fish. There were dead zones with no oxygen … and look where we are now. The estuary program was founded in 1987 and through efforts of the state, grassroots organizations, Clearwater, Hudsonia, Scenic Hudson, we have come so far. We have striped bass again, the bald eagle is back, the peregrine falcons are nesting again. We have swimmable, fishable water and the Walkway Over the Hudson, riverside parks and walks.

“When we talk about protecting the environment, we are also talking about protecting and generating a greater local economy. Eco-tourism in the Hudson Valley is huge. They come here for our natural resources and it not only behooves us to protect our environment, our ecosystems, habitats, waterways and wetlands, because it’s good for all of us, but it’s also critical to sustaining our economy.”

He went on to note that Heady, above and beyond her role as outreach coordinator, has started an e-newsletter, a BioDiversity Round Table, a “Green Team Staff” and so much more “that has taken developers right back to the drawing board and re-design their project because of Laura’s input on the critical areas that need protection, but she also has inspired at least 200 Laura disciples.”

Glenn Hoagland, executive director of the Mohonk Preserve, was there to honor Heady as well and all of the work she had done to take the regional Shawangunk biodiversity data, digitize it, put it into Adobe format and then peddle the “Green Assets” program from town to town and planning board to planning board, environmental commission to environmental committee creating “greater municipal partners.”

“She has boundless energy, and is one of the smartest people I know,” added Hoagland. “She can really bring people together on the very complex topic of biodiversity and make them see how relevant it is to their daily lives.”

“To say I’m overwhelmed is an understatement,” said the young Heady, with tears in her eyes as she looked out over the room filled with so many friends, family, mentors, co-workers, other pioneers and stewards of the environment.

“I’m so deeply honored to receive this award and so moved that so many of the people I admire and respect are here tonight.”

She said that seeds are planted both in the ground, but in people themselves, and she noted that her parents had planted a critical seed in her by taking the family to a small, TV-less cabin by a lake each summer where she was left to adventure and wander through the woods and pastures and lakeside and “had no room to get ‘nature deficit disorder.’”

She talked about always having a love for an inclination to go into environmental science, and pointed to her high school newspaper that she helped publish and write for and one of her stories, “Our Inheritance: A Dying Earth.”

“Thankfully, I’m no longer filled with doom and gloom,” she said with a laugh. “And I think we have a lot more to inherit, despite the challenges we face.” Heady mentioned a college professor who encouraged her to apply for graduate school, something she had never considered, and in doing so wound up at the University of Idaho pursuing a masters in ecology and biology.

“My other dream had always been to be a DJ,” she admitted. “I was in school, broke, looking for extra work and I applied for and somehow got a DJ slot on a classic rock station, which I loved. I was told by my boss that a woman with a low voice was ‘golden’ in radio and was offered a full-time job.”

Heady said she struggled with the decision, as she had planned to return back East, and was contemplating this when, at sundown, in the plains of Idaho, with rich colors streaking across the horizon she saw a herd of antelope. “I realized then that although I loved to DJ, I knew what my calling was.”

To that end she returned back east, worked for the Nature Conservancy, Hudsonia and eventually took the job as Outreach Coordinator for the DEC Estuary Program, “which is actually the perfect combination of my two passions: the environment and DJing as I get to talk all the time.”

Recipients of this award are asked to name an organization they’d like to see any contributions provided to and Heady picked Hudsonia -- a non-profit organization that conducts environmental research, education, training and technical assistance to the natural heritage of the Hudson Valley region. Mohonk Consultations provided Heady with a $250 check for Hudsonia.

“Knowing that there are people like yourselves, dedicating your lives to making this a better place through sustainable land-use, environmental protection, research, stewardship and conservation on so many levels, helps me stay committed to what I do despite some of the many, depressing obstacles in our way.”

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