Action for Trout Conservation with John Zablocki
John is the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Conservation Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. Trout Unlimited is a USA based NGO with about 180 professional staff and 150,000 grassroots members whose mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds.
Why do you work in conservation?
As a young student in school, I used to do landscaping to earn money. It always felt rewarding to return to a site after it was finished and see how much better things looked than before. I think of conservation in the same way. Conservation is an inherently challenging field to work in, but it’s worth it. It is tough to beat the sense of personal fulfilment and reward that come from knowing that the world is a better place to live in because of your own work. No amount of money or fame can ever buy that feeling. That is a good thing, because don’t expect a lot of money or fame as a conservationist.
What are the main activities in your work?
My work is focused on trying to recover a threatened species of native trout, the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, in the western United States (California, Oregon, Nevada). I work with Native American tribes, ranchers, state and federal agencies, sportsmen, mining companies, and many other groups to develop and implement conservation programs aimed at recovering Lahontan Cutthroat Trout.
The great thing about my job is that I am always working in different fields (e.g., designing educational programs, conducting scientific studies, implementing on-the-ground field projects), and I get to spend a lot of time outdoors in places that I love.
What are you most proud of achieving through your work?
I feel proud knowing that things we are doing now are helping these inspiring fish persist for future generations to appreciate. I am also proud that what we are doing is also benefiting people. While conflict is everywhere in conservation, sometimes there really are ways to do things differently that are across-the-board better for people and the environment. As a conservationist, you have the opportunity to spot these opportunities and help make the social changes that make them a reality. This leads to a better life for all species, Homo sapiens foremost among them.
What’s the best part of the job?
I am always learning about cool things. Whether it is about fish biology, geography, the culture of Native American tribes, or about the history of ranching families, I am in constant contact with a stimulating environment that always challenges me to learn and grow.
What’s the worst part of the job?
One of the things you have to be aware of working in conservation is that not everybody thinks like you do. Sometimes it gets tiring having to exercise the patience and persistence required to bring diverse groups of people with their own interests together for a common cause. But I find that if you focus on issues, not philosophies, it is much easier to find common ground.
What key steps in your conservation career you have taken?
If someone were to trace the steps I took to get into a conservation career, they would not come up with a straight line. I bounced back and forth studying different things, going different places, and trying to figure out ‘what I was supposed to be when I grew up’. I think for most people, myself included, that is the wrong question to be asking yourself; you never know what path life will take you in, and trying to guess doesn’t always do you much good.
The important questions to figure out are a.) what motivates you, and b.) what are you good at. Those are the only two questions you ever need to worry about answering, not what you ‘want to do in life’.
Fortunately, conservation is a field that cuts across all levels of society and demands diverse skills and ways of thinking to come up with solutions. So, there is room for just about anybody to make a valuable contribution to conservation. For me, the key steps in my career were taking a lot of missteps. It took a lot of rambling for me to figure out what really motivated me and what I really cared about. Another key step was never giving up on my education, even when I felt ‘lost’. I always read books. And I always took my informal education as seriously as I took my formal one.
One important step in my career was going back to university for a MSc degree in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management. My informal education had taught me enough to know what I wanted a formal education to do for me.
Never be afraid to learn from people who know more than you, no matter who they were and what the topic is. And just be happy to be alive. Appreciating life, including your own, is at the heart of conservation. In the end, conservation is about looking after something you care about. It’s a way of life. You don’t have to be employed as a conservationist in order to be one.
What advice would you give someone wishing to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t follow in my footsteps or anybody else’s. Blaze your own trail. The people that do well in conservation are the people that don’t wait for opportunities to come to them, but instead do everything they can to create their own opportunities.
As an undergraduate, I studied chemistry and Spanish. Given my background, there was no way anybody would hire to work on trout conservation, even though I figured out that that was what I really wanted to do. So, on my own initiative I came up with a research project to study trout in the Balkans and applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to do so. That single scholarship allowed me to transition into conservation and changed my life, but had I not come up with it on my own, I might not have gotten a similar opportunity.
Read books. Write to people. Apply to jobs. When you get rejected (everyone does), learn from it and figure out how to improve for the next time. Work hard, very hard. Be humble but assertive. Conservation is a rewarding field to work in, but it is also a competitive one. Learn to balance depth with breadth.
What’s your favourite song?
In My Life by The Beatles
John Zablocki is an Action for Conservation Guru and has delivered career focussed conservation workshops to young people across the UK as part of the Action for Conservation school workshop programme. To find out more about Action for Conservation, to get involved or to donate to their vital engagement work please visit their site here: www.actionforconservation.org.