It is the circle of life.
After 18 years as executive director of the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust, Dexter Mead is stepping down from the organization this year, leaving behind a legacy of extensive preservation across the city.
Filling his shoes – presumably a well-worn pair of hiking boots – is the aptly named Nicholas Wildman, a newcomer to the organization with a background in ecological conservation and restoration.
Wildman has been a resident of New Bedford since 2006, where he lives just across the border from Dartmouth. As a result, he has been roaming DNRT properties for years with his wife and children.
Although he said he’s still getting to know the terrain, he’s excited to get to work building on the success of his predecessor.
“I’m always putting my feet under me,” he said. “My number one goal is to really build on the momentum and the tremendous work that Dexter, the staff and the Board have done over the past 18 years Dexter has been here.”
He added that he sees himself as “standing on the shoulders” of their work and is trying “to extract as much institutional knowledge from Dexter” as possible during the transition period while Mead is still working with the organization.
Wildman said he was curious about the executive director job as soon as he learned Mead was retiring.
“For me it was an opportunity to do something good, something tangible, something on the ground right here in my backyard,” he said. “So I said, that’s a wonderful thing – I think I have to throw my hat in the ring and see if I’m okay with it.”
Wildman is a graduate of the University of Maine at Machias where he earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and performed field work to protect Atlantic salmon populations.
He said it wasn’t until he graduated that he realized he was “more of a people person than a scientist”.
When he returned to school to earn his master’s degree at Duke University, Wildman studied economics and politics. While there, he focused on working with agricultural landowners to preserve certain types of trees that provided critical habitats for endangered species.
In his professional work with the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration — part of the Department of Fish and Game — Wildman has worked in a similar capacity to restore wetlands by removing old dams whose environmental impacts have outlived their usefulness.
Wildman said his experience has helped him understand how to approach landowners who may be more motivated by public safety issues than purely green arguments.
“We really want to see the big picture,” he said, explaining that landowners are often happy to get rid of a cumbersome dam or outdated culvert as long as they don’t foot the bill. themselves.
He said that by researching the public benefits such a project can create — such as resilience to climate change or the protection of rare species — conservationists can often secure funding from nonprofits or government agencies to reduce the cost of the project to the landowner.
“Working in partnership is really 100% of my background,” he said.
Wildman said he hopes this spirit of cooperation will help DNRT strengthen its relationship with Dartmouth farmland owners.
He said one of the organization’s most exciting new projects grew out of that kind of relationship.
The project, dubbed Phase II of the Russells Mills Land Conservation Project, would be based on the acquisition of a 25-acre parcel of land located between Russells Mills, Fisher and Woodcock roads.
Although it may not be a jaw-dropping amount of land, the plot is significant as it would complete a ‘protected corridor’ of conservation land stretching from the River Slocum to UMass Dartmouth.
“What’s great is that it’s the result of many years of discussions with landowners in this area,” Wildman said. “When we think about climate change resilience, and we think about species preservation, and we think about landscape connectivity, that kind of opportunity is so critical.”
Wildman added that restoration work in Massachusetts, like other parts of the country, typically requires a “dispersed” approach to protect individual properties when opportunities arise.
“Conservation people really need to take advantage of these opportunities,” he said. “When those opportunities can combine into a bigger result like this, it’s really exciting.”