Taking Care of Wild Places
It's a big loop from the mountains of Montana, to Indonesia, to Massachusetts, back to Montana, but that's the full—and still-spinning—circle of Ted Smith's life.
A true product of the Northern Rockies, Ted grew up wandering the mountains and valleys of western Montana. “Even when I was ten, twelve years old, our parents would drive us to the wilderness at the end of the road and say, okay, pick you up in a few days.”
As a young man he worked as a smokejumper for the U.S. Forest Service, fighting wildfires out of Missoula and Fairbanks before going on to get his PhD in political science from the University of California-Berkeley in the 1960s. Highlights of his ensuing international career include 12 years with the Ford Foundation which began and ended in Indonesia, six years as president of the Agricultural Development Council focused on Asia and Africa, 25 years on the Council on Foreign Relations, and trusteeships with the National Parks Conservation Association and Alaska Conservation Foundation, among others. And finally he served 15 years as Executive Director of the Kendall Foundation.
After three decades in far away domains, Ted returned to live in the mountains of Montana in 2009. As he says, “My roots put me in awe of Nature,” he says, “and that's Nature with a capital N.” Out of those early experiences grew a sense of appreciation and commitment for the natural world, in the Rocky Mountain West and beyond.
“There's only one landscape,” he says. “And the only way to take care of it is to treat it as a whole.” That outlook made Ted an easy target one day back in 1995 when a fellow from Calgary grabbed hold of him at meeting in Bozeman where people were talking about conserving the Yellowstone ecosystem. Ted recalls the moment with perfect clarity. “He said, this isn't big enough!” The fellow was Harvey Locke. “And I said, you're right.”
As a result of that encounter, the Kendall Foundation came to be the first philanthropic contributor to the seminal Y2Y organization. Under Ted's leadership, the Kendall Foundation was a great ally, supporter, and advisor to Y2Y as well as many other conservation organizations. Ted continues to guide Y2Y but this time in his role as a Board Member.
Reflecting on the concept of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Ted muses that it's hard for people to visualize, let alone fully understand, a vastly diverse, fully integrated landscape reaching 2,000 miles from Yellowstone all the way up to the Yukon Territory. It's too big for the human mind to easily embrace, he says, reflecting that it's something more readily comprehended as myriad little stories.
“At the same time,” he says, “it seems to me we must embrace something larger than we can actually understand if in fact we are to serve the long-term needs of nature.” The very same needs, he offers, that serve our own human interests over the long run as well.