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Wharton: Conservancy director has helped save Utah's natural heritage

Published January 24, 2013 11:40 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Perhaps the biggest reason Dave Livermore has been so successful as the Nature Conservancy's Utah State Director for the past 32 years is that he always deflects a conversation back toward others.

Getting him to talk about himself is as about as difficult as getting the environmental organization to approve a strip mall on a piece of land it helped preserve. He seldom uses the words "I" or "me," preferring to deflect credit to others.

But since moving to Utah from California in 1986 to join Chris Montague in opening what was first a Great Basin field office to protect Utah and Nevada, few Utah conservationists have had as much success as this friendly, unassuming man.

In a long afternoon interview in which Livermore kept trying to turn the conversation back to me, he talked mostly about partnerships with people and other agencies. I had to look at his written biography to learn exactly what the conservancy has accomplished under the only Utah state director it has ever known.

The record shows it has completed 180 conservation projects protecting more than 950,000 acres of public and private land, including major projects on the Great Salt Lake, the Dugout Ranch near Canyonlands National Park, along the Colorado River Corridor and in Washington County.

Working in Utah and Nevada, Livermore helped lead four statewide campaigns and two ballot initiatives raising more than $150 million for conservation. The Utah staff has grown to 18, including four in Moab.

The group is working to save sage grouse habitat, protect land for California condors, eliminate invasive tamarisk and Russian olive trees in the Escalante River drainage, present a lecture series on environmental ethics and change irrigation methods in northern Utah.

That's quite a record for a former high-school teacher and Jackson Hole wrangler who majored in American history. Of course, Dave neglected to tell me that he also had been awarded a Loeb Fellowship in advanced environmental studies from Harvard University in 1995. I had to dig that out of his written biography.

Livermore and his wife, Salt Lake City artist Rebecca Livermore, had just finished visiting their daughter Jennifer in Australia, where she was working on a school project, when I caught up with him at the conservancy's office across from the Governor's Mansion on South Temple.

The Nature Conservancy in Utah has three major goals: conserving waters, caring for public lands and connecting people and nature.

A key new component of that is using the Dugout Ranch as the home for the Canyonlands Research Center, designed to study climate change and its impact on the region's land, water and community.

Livermore lists as his biggest disappointments the failure of a 2004 bond initiative, which would have set aside $150 million to preserve open space in Utah, and the fact the Utah Legislature has not funded the LeRay McAllister fund the past two years that helps protect parks, wildlife and recreation.

Mostly, he remains positive. And he feels what happens to Utah in the next 10 years with major decisions on land and water use could affect generations to come.

"A key concept comes from Wallace Stegner, who was on our board for several years," he said. "Stegner said he would like to see the West both prosperous and environmentally healthy with a civilization to match its scenery. That captures what the conservancy's mission will be."

That means finding a delicate middle balance between preserving quality of life and economic growth, a tricky formula if there ever were one.

"Like many people, you never know where life will take you," said Livermore. "I was fortunate to sign up with the conservancy in the early days of making its mark on the West. I was blessed to be assigned to Utah and, in those days, Nevada as well. It was a time where we could make a difference."

Indeed, few Utahns have made as big a difference in protecting the state's quality of life as Dave Livermore.


Twitter: @tribtomwharton






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