Stephen Brown ’95, Natural Resources
If you were to corral all of the wetlands in the lower 48 states together, you’d end up with a tract of land 110 million acres in size—about as big as California. This sounds pretty impressive, until you consider the fact that wetlands are estimated to have covered twice that in the 1600s. Centuries of drainage and conversion—not to mention those degraded by pollution—have stolen millions of acres. But it’s not all gloom and doom. The rate of wetlands loss has come down tremendously compared to where it was in the middle of the twentieth century, and that’s due in part to the hard work of researchers like Stephen Brown.
Brown has spent his career working to preserve wetlands and the bird species that call them home. Because of his dedication, he was appointed lead author of the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, a multifaceted strategy for the preservation of wetlands and the bird populations who use the habitat both as migratory layovers and permanent home bases.
It’s a struggle that’s taken him far from the Vermont farm where he grew up, and where he first learned to love the outdoors. His work has taken him to the frontlines of the fight to preserve wetlands: from the Alaskan oilfields to a Hurricane Sandy-ravaged Jersey Shore, where he worked with the National Fish and Wildlife Association.
Currently, he serves as director of the Shorebird Recovery Program for the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences in Plymouth, Massachusetts. But the charge to educate the public is clearly one he takes seriously. He recently edited Arctic Wings, a book of photos and essays about the migratory birds of the Arctic. He also maintains a detailed blog that gives the public an inside look at the work he and his team are doing in the Arctic with the semipalmated sandpiper, a shorebird whose population has mysteriously plummeted in recent years due to unknown causes.
Despite the harsh conditions, Brown is committed to working for the birds and habitats that he loves. According to his Manomet colleague Charles Duncan, “His scientific skills, his warmth, his integrity, his ability to turn a difficult human interaction into a successful outcome, and above all, his dedication, are unmatched.”