The Arnold Bolle Award

Vicki Watson - 1996

Vicki Watson

If there was a single individual that best reflects Missoula’s recent decades of success in stewardship, conservation and community, Vicki Watson is who comes to mind. Born and raised on a creek in a Texas blackland prairie farm, she earned a B.A. in Biology at the University of Houston, and an M.S. and PhD in Aquatic Systems Ecology at the University of Wisconsin, studying the lakes & rivers of Wisconsin.

Hired as a public interest scientist, Dr. Watson served as a professor at the University of Montana for 35 years where she taught over 20 different courses, including environmental science, applied & pollution ecology, impact assessment, watershed conservation and sustainability science. Her former students have gone on to make waves as public interest scientists, educators, stewards, policymakers, and non-profit organizers throughout the US.

With grants from the USEPA, Forest Service and Geological Survey, Watson researched the fate of heavy metals and cyanide leaching from abandoned mines and environmental fate of herbicides used in roadside weed control. Additionally, she assisted Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality in characterizing Montana lakes and streams, while also working with other scientists to develop nutrient criteria guidance documents for the EPA and nutrient standards for Montana – some of the first in the US. And she served on state and local task forces where she advocated for watershed CPR (conservation, preservation & restoration).

Now ‘retired’, Vicki continues to serve her Missoula community – leading community dances, producing newsletters & jobs notices for UM Environmental Studies students, organizing volunteers for service days, and continuing studies of the Clark Fork River and other streams. Her generosity and kindness extends beyond the planet to people, often offering housing or needed equipment to current and former students, providing local events with home-baked goods or produce from her garden, and contributing regularly to local fundraising.

Vicki’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. During her time at UM, she received UM’s Distinguished Teaching Award (1992), Service Learning Fellowship (1998), Greening UM award (2006), and Outstanding Service to Students Award (2015). Other accolades for her service include the Clark Fork Coalition’s Dedicated Conservationist Award (1988), Missoula YWCA’s Professional Woman of the Year (1991), Missoula Conservation Roundtable’s Arnold Bolle. Conservation Professional Award (1996), MT Natural History Center’s Environmental Educator of the Year (2007), and Missoula Sustainable Business Council’s Sustainability Advocate of the Year (2011).

In her own words: “I retired from the university but not from watershed keeping. I thank all these rivers for helping satisfy my thirst for life.” Those that benefit from the watersheds she has helped conserve for decades, have her to thank.

Biography by Kalle Fox


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