Ellen Jacquart started a career in conservation with no roadmap. While she was following her interests in higher academia, she never could have imagined that one day she would have founded a land trust, managed stewardship for The Nature Conservancy in Indiana, or worked successfully to ban the sale and trade of invasive plants.
Ellen recently was awarded the Carl N. Becker Stewardship Award from the Natural Areas Association, in recognition of doing all that and more.
But back then, short of becoming a professor, she had no idea what to do with her education.
For context, around the time she began her undergraduate work in botany at the University of Wisconsin, women had barely begun to be accepted into the school’s wildlife ecology department. There were no women role models and few people taking an interest in her future.
“When I was in college, and even when I was going for my graduate degree,” she says, “no one showed me the jobs that were out there. I was unclear as to what I would do with this degree. I just knew I really liked plants and working outdoors.”
But after graduating she found a short-term internship in New York that was interesting, if not exactly her ideal. Then she reconnected with a classmate who’d been working for the Indiana DNR Division of Nature Preserves. She heard him talk about walking around in bogs looking for rare plants, and wondered: How do I get a job like that?
Her friend was able to connect her with an opportunity to inventory rare plants on a naval base. Ellen had trained as a physiological ecologist, not a botanist, but she jumped at the chance. “I couldn’t have told you ten common plants in Indiana, let alone rare ones,” she laughs.
The experience turned out to be completely lifechanging. She learned quickly over the nine months of that internship, and she connected with all the people who would go on to hire her after that. She built mentoring relationships, including with current CILTI board member John Bacone (whose career as the head of the Division of Nature Preserves spanned four decades).
“It defined my whole life,” she says. “And I met my husband who worked in the Division of Nature Preserves, and we’ve been married for 30 years.”
One of the highlights of her career happened at Kankakee Sands in northwestern Indiana. At the time, she was in the final phase of her work life with The Nature Conservancy, where she was director of stewardship. Her team had spent many years fundraising and planning for the release of bison.
In fall of 2016, as Ellen’s retirement loomed, the day had finally come. The bison were being trucked in from South Dakota, with an estimated arrival time of 5am. Ellen had planned to arrive mid-day for a celebration.
But in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, she jumped in her car and drove from her home in Ellettsville to the preserve. “I got there right as the truck was pulling in and the sun was rising,” she recalls. She jumped out of the car, and someone handed her a shovel. “The ramp did not reach the ground,” she says. “We all had to shovel sand to get a smooth ramp for bison to come down.”
When all was ready, she stood behind the truck as the doors were opened to turn the bison loose. “They’re 10 feet from me, and I’m seeing all these huge bodies rush off the truck and gallop away. My heart was pounding so hard. That was so amazing.”
Since her retirement, she is still actively working on behalf of nature. She was the driving force behind the statewide Terrestrial Plant Rule, which makes it illegal to sell, gift, barter, exchange, distribute, transport, or introduce 44 invasive plants. She is still advocating to amend the rule to include species like Callery pear and burning bush.
She also volunteers as president of the Indiana Native Plant Society and as leader of the Monroe County Identify and Reduce Invasive Species group.
Her earlier volunteer work extended to a small but mighty effort here in Central Indiana as well.
In the late 1980s, Ellen began meeting with a small group of passionate folks concerned about the rapid loss of natural areas. She went on to spearhead CILTI’s formation as a nonprofit organization, a process that took three years. By 1990, the land trust had nonprofit status, bylaws, and a mission statement, and was on its way to becoming the robust organization it is today.
The need has never been greater, she says, referring to stripping of wetland protections, the rate of development, and loss of habitat. “There’s so much progress that we still need to make,” she says.
It’s the tireless work of dedicated people like Ellen that makes that progress possible. Congratulations to Ellen on this well-deserved award!
Join Ellen for Indiana Native Plant Society’s annual conference, of which CILTI is a sponsor. It is happening Oct. 22 in Carmel. Details here.