Kate Dempsey ’88 is the state director in Maine for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and works closely with Bowdoin friend Nick Wolff ’89 headquartered in the Ft. Andross Mill in Brunswick.
The Penobscot River Restoration Project opened thousands of miles of the river to migratory fish and recreation and helped to further the treaty reserved fishing rights of the Penobscot Nation. It took years of work, partnership and lots of near misses, but the results have been immediate. Last year alone, two million fish migrated into and up the river to spawn. The Penobscot has helped people see that you can have renewable energy while ensuring that the natural world continues to thrive.
I see people in Maine (and around the world) making a difference in their communities every day. Whether it’s working with fishermen in Port Clyde to use new technology, with forest land owners and communities in the Katahdin region to find new uses for wood, or with a Bowdoin fellow during the summer who has an idea of how to design more sustainable cities, I have the chance to see how people are acting to make this world thrive. That inspires me every day.
What makes me fearful? Shutting down conversation—we must listen to a diversity voices -it’s the only way to find innovative solutions.
I am an unexpected conservationist. My path from Bowdoin was into affordable housing, community development, and public health. Whether I was in a comparative politics, utopian communities, or a community health seminar (with professors Rensenbrink, Springer, Karl, and Bell), I was always thinking about what role healthy communities play in thriving societies. I became a conservationist when I started connecting the dots between environmental health and community health.
Whether here in Maine or in any of the seventy countries we work (we are all one organization) our approach is similar: we ask ourselves, “What does nature need to thrive and how can people help use nature to solve challenges for society?” We need to figure out how we can reduce climate emissions, have clean water, feed people, and more, while ensuring that nature thrives. We work with government, communities, resource users, business, and indigenous peoples around the globe to find the answers together.
I have two favorite natural spaces in Maine: one is Popham Beach. It’s my place to go and relax. The other is The Nature Conservancy’s Debsconeags Lakes Wilderness Area outside of Baxter State Park.
I was so thrilled when Nick was offered the job with TNC. Now that he is back in Maine, I feel a sense of pride—he is forging new thinking about climate change and how the impact on people can help the world see how we need to act now or the cost will be too great. At TNC we are always learning from each other so, Nick’s work in Indonesia might be transferable to our thinking in Maine.
An abbreviated version of this profile first appeared in Bowdoin Magazine, spring/summer 2018.