Louis Provencher, 43, is director of conservation ecology at The Nature Conservancy. He moved to Reno in 2002 and has a Ph.D. in ecology. During his academic career, he specialized in bio-control, which is using insect predators and even spiders to control pests in crops. He says that early in his career, he was “a theoretical geek,” but he appears to be happier doing more work outside. For more information about The Nature Conservancy, call 322-4990.
What does The Nature Conservancy do?
I’ll state you our mission, which is probably the best way to tell you: The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.
How did you get involved with the group?
Oh my goodness. I was in academia in Kentucky back in 1994, and I wanted to go into conservation. I applied for a position of research ecologist on Eglin Air Force Base, and that was a project of The Nature Conservancy. It’s in the panhandle of Florida, near Pensacola. I wanted to do research and conservation, restoration and fire ecology, too. I was very interested in fire. So the position was advertised, and I applied for it, and it became an eight-year job, working very closely with the military on one of the largest Air Force bases in the world. We did restoration of longleaf pine systems. I did that for eight years, did a little stint in the Orlando area working on the wetlands there in central Florida, and then applied for the position here as director of conservation ecology. I’ve been here since then. Working a lot on different things, from riparian systems (the ecology of rivers), and I’ve worked a lot on fire ecology.
Is it a big difference going from the wetlands to the desert?
My job is to provide science supports to all our projects throughout the state. My responsibility even exceeds the state now because of other fire projects that are national-level projects. So I provide support if the project is aquatic (riparian), or if it’s associated with land, more terrestrial systems like sagebrush—like we have in eastern Nevada for example. I provide support for projects that are more planning and modeling for fire, vegetation and fire. So, I’m the jack of all trades.
When you say “fire,” do you mean repairing after a fire?
No. Most of the land, most of our properties that we manage are riparian—Truckee River, Carson River, Upper Muddy River down in the South, Amargosa River—and those rivers typically do not have much fire associated with them. When we talk about fire, we’re talking about the uplands, and most of them are public lands—the BLM, Forest Service. So I work a lot with federal agencies on fire planning. What we’re trying to do is to determine where to burn and, when they do prescribed burning, it’s how do you monitor it before and after to make sure that you are actually doing the best thing. We test different methods of treating fuels on the ground, prescribed burning or mechanical methods. The question is, “Well, you are putting all this money to these alternative methods of treating the landscape to kind of imitate the past, historic fire regimes; they don’t cost the same amounts, they don’t have the same ecological benefit. They may not achieve the same management goals, so which one is the best?” We go out there with ecologists and actually measure the vegetation, and we determine which is the best treatment to apply on the landscape.
We also do national-level planning for fire. We try to determine where throughout the United States is the best place to put our money for fire planning and fire-fuels management. Someone has to allocate funding, and I’m involved in that. We’re also involved in projects that provide support in certain areas throughout the Intermountain West. Or we’ll try to help the federal partners, sometimes at the state level, to implement fuel management on their properties that they’re responsible to manage.