Backwoods Adventurer, Endangered Cat Defender, Moose Expert

Heidi Kretser
May 14, 2014

Heidi Kretser had to go all the way to Nepal to realize that her dream job was back home in New York. She was working at Nepal’s Chitwan National Park when she realized, “Here I was, thousands of miles away from where I grew up. I had this epiphany that I really just wanted to work in a nice place, not a large city, and work in a park … and thought that I can do that in the Adirondacks, living essentially in my hometown.” So she packed her bags, earned her master’s degree in environmental studies from Yale, and began work with the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. At WCS, she started a career focused on the human dimensions of wildlife and conservation management. She currently holds the position of Livelihoods and Conservation Coordinator in WCS’ North American program.

Kretser’s approach to environmental management, guided in part by lasting lessons from her time in Nepal, is to work first from the lens of those closest to the land. She calls herself the “token social scientist,” asking key questions that lead to discoveries about what’s really happening on the ground. She looks for ways to make change that suit local challenges and realities.

I loved talking with Kretser because her projects and experiences are very diverse. A simple question of, “What kind of projects do you work on at WCS?” yielded stories from her U.S. Department of Defense project that aimed to reduce the amount of illegal wildlife products that U.S. soldiers stationed in Afghanistan brought back home. Living near Fort Drum, New York, Kretser has done a lot of work on training materials for soldiers who are set to be deployed to make them aware of what is illegal and what to avoid. Further, she is working on developing an app to aid military police in identifying, amongst other things, common endangered cat pelts that often frequent market stalls in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Kretser has also found herself to be the “go-to moose person” within WCS North America. How?

I was interested in how moose would react to land use in the Adirondacks, but in order to figure out how that might happen, we had to figure out what the population was, and in order to figure that out we had to do noninvasive techniques, so I had to learn a little bit about genetics, and it kept going on like that. So we have this little side project on moose. It’s actually very interesting!

She also works on several other, equally interesting and varied projects with the organization through its partnership with the National Science Foundation and public health organizations, among others.

As Kretser puts it, “I guess the point is that I get to do all kinds of different things because I was able to get the education that I needed in order to be successful in this career that I’m trying to create for myself.” Kretser received an AAUW American Fellowship in 2007, which helped free up time to finish her doctorate degree in natural resources management at Cornell University. With two small children at home, she used the fellowship to help cover child care costs so she could focus on finishing her dissertation without having also to work. Speaking on the application process Kretser told me, “I really strongly felt that I wanted to come back to the Adirondacks and contribute, and I felt too that as a woman working in this environment I’ve been able to mentor a lot of other women. For whatever reason, I tend to hire women. … I really wanted to be a strong mentor for them by having a Ph.D. and being able to help them with their own career pursuit.”

As for her career, we can’t wait to see what she’ll do next!

Heidi Kretser’s 2007–08 American Fellowship was sponsored by the AAUW Buffalo (NY) Branch Centennial American Fellowship and the Rachel Carson American Fellowship.


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