The Don Aldrich Award
Jennifer Ferenstein - 2012
From the local to national level, Jennifer Ferenstein has been a consistent advocate for the public land and the people who live, work and enjoy our country’s natural heritage. As a biologist, educator and campaigner, her multifaceted work reflects a dedication and sometimes dogged pursuit for solutions that provide meaningful protections without ‘burning bridges’ with partners.
Born in Berkeley, California, Ferenstein’s passion for the outdoors grew from the time she spent on her family’s ranch in central Oregon. She earned her B A at Reed College before moving to Missoula in 1991, where she earned a Master’s in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana. Working closely with the Craighead Wildlife-Wildlands Institute, her thesis explored ways to develop a vegetation classification system for monitoring and maintaining healthy, native biodiversity in Montana and Idaho.
After her academic career, Jennifer worked for nonprofits, including the Montana Environmental Information Center, Ecology Center, and Alliance for the Wild Rockies. She also did a stint working for the state of Montana helping to develop an old growth policy for Montana’s school trust lands. In 1998, she was elected by the membership to serve on the Sierra Club’s National Board of Directors where she served two consecutive terms on the Board and two years as the Club’s president. As president, she worked on addressing the fossil fuel-based initiatives of the George W. Bush administration, advocating for reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and commercial logging industries and investing in renewable alternatives. Her method, as she once put it, was to emphasize what Sierra Club stands for, as opposed to what they are fighting against, aware that running on an “anti-” message is less likely to garner support across stakeholders.
Based in Missoula, she continues her conservation work holding dual roles at The Wilderness Society. As a senior manager in conservation, she has worked more than 16 years to safeguard the public lands along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front where she develops conservation strategies garnering local support from various stakeholders, including ranchers, business owners, tribal members and community leaders including passage in 2015 of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. Over the years she has supported the Blackfeet tribe’s ongoing decades-long battle to protect the Badger-Two Medicine region from oil and gas development which has included the permanent retirement of thousands of acres of oil and gas leases within this area. Jennifer also assists The Wilderness Society in the Native Lands Partnerships program to build durable and meaningful partnerships with Native Nations and Indigenous community members.
Jennifer’s activism, informed by her interdisciplinary knowledge in conservation and politics, demonstrates the importance of understanding not just the hard ecological facts of the land, but the deeply personal relationships with the land of those who live upon it.
Biography by Kalle Fox