The newest member of Y2Y’s small but mighty U.S. team has what it takes to think big for wildlife and people

Accomplishing Y2Y’s mission — connecting and protecting habitat from Yellowstone to Yukon so people and nature can thrive — is a big, bold undertaking that spans national, state and provincial borders. This work requires a varied toolbox of skills, experience, and backgrounds, and we are proud to say that our growing team is well-equipped!

In June 2021, we welcomed Robert Petty to the Y2Y team as United States program director. Based in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley of western Montana, Robert joins Y2Y’s U.S. team of three employees living and working in Idaho and Montana. He will lead our work in the southern anchor of the Yellowstone to Yukon region.

Before joining Y2Y, Robert led conservation and education programs in the U.S., Mexico, and South America. He began his career in conservation working for The Nature Conservancy of Montana on the Front Range of the Rockies, and he worked for The National Audubon Society for nearly two decades at the state, regional, and national levels.

Most recently, he held the role of vice president of education for Yellowstone Forever: the official non-profit partner to Yellowstone National Park. He has also been on the founding boards of several conservation education organizations including the Montana Environmental Education Association and the Montana Natural History Center.

Robert has spent his career as a conservationist, naturalist and educator. Through these experiences, one common thread is his dedication to connecting people with the natural world to inspire conservation action.

Q&A: Getting to know Robert Petty

Our content co-ordinator, Katrina Bellefeuille caught up with Robert to learn more about this and his journey in conservation. Here are some snippets from that conversation — read on!

Robert and his son Jackson on one of their many trips through the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River in Montana.

Inspiring conservation action

KB: When you talk about connecting people to nature to inspire action, why has this been in important in your work?

RP: Ultimately, conservation does not happen without people, whether it is a landowner who wants to preserve their land in perpetuity, a voter who is inspired to vote for candidates who support conservation, or a young person who will grow up to be a steward of the wild places we leave to them.

One of the most powerful ways people become inspired to live a life that supports conservation is by having direct and frequent experiences in nature. This has been the foundation of my work throughout my career. The work we do at Y2Y, and my role supporting the U.S. team, will depend entirely on working with people to engage them in helping achieve our mission. This includes elected officials, private landowners, agency and business partners, and individuals who want to support our work through the donation of their time, talents, or financial resources. It is necessarily a collective effort to inspire whatever conservation action each can take to preserve this magnificent, vast, Rocky Mountain ecosystem.

Our meaning as a species is defined not only by the remarkable things we create, but perhaps even more by the magnificent things we refuse to destroy. The work of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative is a great testament to that legacy. And I am honored to be a part of this important work.

Robert Petty

“Our meaning as a species is defined not only by the remarkable things we create, but perhaps even more by the magnificent things we refuse to destroy. The work of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative is a great testament to that legacy.”

— Robert Petty, Y2Y’s U.S. program director

KB: Speaking of connecting with nature, what’s your favorite way to do so?

RP: I grew up in the woods of Indiana and have always loved exploring the natural world. Birdwatching has long been a passion as well as hiking, backpacking and spending time on my land working to restore habitat with native plants; but among my favorite ways to experience the natural world is navigating the rivers, either kayaking or canoeing. I just returned from an annual river trip through the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River — a five-day, 50-mile float through the White Cliffs section of the river. This national monument remains relatively unchanged and has spectacular geologic features and a wonderful array of wildlife species.

The “art” of science

KB: I hear you are a scientific illustrator! Do you still do this work in your spare time?

RP: I worked for five years as a scientific illustrator at the University of Montana’s Division of Biological Sciences where I was able to support the faculty by providing drawings and photographs that illustrated their research projects. Over the years, I have continued to do occasional drawings or paintings, some for research publications, some for personal expression.

This is a painting I did of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and the story behind its creation:

In fall 2004, I had a dream about a painting I needed to create — a view looking down on a museum specimen, a study skin of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilis principalis). Study skins lie quietly in the dark drawers of collections, scientifically essential to understand what we have or what we have lost. In the dream, however, the eye was alive and looking out. Extinct, extant? Alive, dead?

Ivory-billed Woodpecker painted by Robert Petty

I know it sounds preposterous, but the dream occurred about six months before the news of the purported rediscovery of the species in Arkansas. The question of its existence hasn’t been satisfactorily answered for many. Some still search; we all still hope. Whether the bird exists or not, I recently finally got around to creating that painting, freeing it from the dusty recesses of my memory and giving it some sort of life on paper.

Welcome to the Y2Y team, Robert!

Header photo: Y2Y staff members in the field in summer 2019 (Jessie Grossman)