The Arnold Bolle Award

Sarah Bates - 2020

Sarah Bates
Sarah Bates

Sarah Bates worked for 35 years as a conservation advocate, educator, writer, and volunteer, most of it from her home base in Missoula, Montana. Growing up in Northern California, Sarah developed her connection with the outdoors while horseback riding in the coastal foothills and hiking in the Sierra high country. She moved to Colorado in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and Political Science from Colorado State University and a J.D. from the University of Colorado Law School, where she subsequently returned to work in a research faculty position and enjoyed close collaboration with her mentors, David Getches and Charles Wilkinson.

Her first book, co-authored with Marc Reisner, was Overtapped Oasis: Reform or Revolution for Western Water, published in 1990; she subsequently co-authored/edited six additional books. Sarah’s early conservation advocacy positions included the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now Earthjustice) and the Grand Canyon Trust. She moved to Montana in 1995 and started a family with Josh Van de Wetering, a Missoula native and fellow graduate of the University of Colorado Law School.

While her children were young, Sarah worked part-time with the Northern Lights Institute and then joined the Center Natural Resources and Environmental Policy at the University of Montana. Through her university affiliation she taught classes, supervised graduate student practicum projects, served as an interim director of the Indian Law Clinic, and produced a variety of applied research publications. After several years of legal consulting with tribal and nonprofit clients, Sarah joined the National Wildlife Federation in 2014, where she developed and expanded NWF’s Western Water Program, including a broadly collaborative beaver restoration initiative with partners throughout western Montana and beyond. She now serves on the board of the national nonprofit Beaver Institute.

Throughout these diverse professional experiences, Sarah pursued a consistent theme of collaborative conservation, practical solutions, and inclusive public engagement.

Now retired, Sarah enjoys hiking, skiing, boating, reading, and community service. Over the past several decades, she’s been an active volunteer with the Clark Fork Coalition (including four years as board president), Great Burn Conservation Alliance, CASA, St. Patrick Hospital’s No One Dies Alone program and other local agencies and nonprofits. She’s hosted professional fellows from Vietnam and Laos through the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative and traveled to Southeast Asia several times in conjunction with that program.

Sarah is especially proud of having co-parented Mayah and Noah, two thoughtful and compassionate young adults who share a deep environmental ethic and social conscience.

Biography by Sarah Bates

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