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  • Gregory Zeigler

An Interview with Amy McCarthy: Executive Director, Teton Raptor Center

By Gregory Zeigler

Following a childhood in upstate New York and upon graduating from Hobart and William Smith Colleges with a dual major in economics and environmental studies, Amy quickly made her way to Wyoming. She participated in the inaugural year of Teton Science Schools' Professional Residency in Environmental Education program and earned a Master's degree in Forest Resources and Natural Resource Policy from Utah State University. These experiences left her with a substantive foundation for understanding the natural history of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a deep appreciation for the community of Jackson Hole, a commitment to sustainability and wildness, and a thirst for ongoing discovery.

Amy has served as Communications and Development Director for The Murie Center in Grand Teton National Park, explored the world of documentary filmmaking, as the associate producer of Don’t Fence Me In (a production of The Equipoise Fund), headed operations for an independent investment advisory firm and experienced a season in Antarctica as a recycling specialist. Amy feels she truly landed in 2010 when she was hired as Teton Raptor Center’s first Executive Director. McCarthy lives in Victor, Idaho with her husband Forrest and three furry family members --- felines Marshall and Lhakpa and canine, Tasman, a mountain-mutt.

Amy with Hunter at Teton Raptor Center.

You have been the Executive Director of Teton Raptor Center for eleven years now. That is quite an impressive run for a leader of a non-profit. What has held you there?

Passion, challenge, opportunity, name just a few elements that have captivated my interest over the last decade. Add to that the opportunity to work with a deeply dedicated team of colleagues who I continue to learn from, coupled with the chance to interact with charismatic avifauna on a daily basis, all in the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem...why would I want to be anywhere else? You came into the community of Jackson Hole through the Teton Science Schools. We have that in common. Can you tell us how that path has shaped you personally and professionally?

Teton Science Schools not only offered me a fine foundation in enhancing my understanding of the ecology and geology of Jackson Hole, but was a key catalyst for my connections with many community members and other conservation organizations. TSS is also where I was introduced to Roger Smith, Teton Raptor Center's founder. Roger is one of the finest and most compelling educators I've ever encountered. Roger had a dream to help people understand the GYE and wildness through the eyes of birds of prey. It is a privilege to help him achieve this dream. And, TSS is even where I met my husband! I’m aware from knowing you for many years you feel a commitment to sustainability and wildness. Please comment on that passion.

I credit my grandparents for instilling in me a love of nature...from the simplicity of watching birds at their feeder and harvesting blackcaps raspberries in their backyard, to that one day when I was in a grove of evergreens harvesting these perfect little round pellets from the ground. I brought my treasure trove of pellets in to show my grandmother, who quickly informed me that I should take the rabbit droppings back outside. In reflection, there were many little moments like that contributing to an overall curiosity about the natural world. Fast forward to 1992, I landed a job at the CM Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming, and that forever changed my trajectory. My eyes widened to the vast landscapes of the Wind River Mountains and the Absarokas and I quickly uncovered what has ever since been my main pursuit...walking in the wilderness. My husband calls me a "peak bagger" and I wouldn't dispute that descriptor. I find enormous invigoration and inspiration while exploring wild places. And, because of that, I deeply desire to see those places, and the creatures that inhabit them, sustained.

What would you like people to know about Teton Raptor Center?

Teton Raptor Center is an organization that truly makes a difference in the lives of birds and humans. We're nimble, responsive, and innovative and we approach raptor conservation in a unique way, bringing together education, research, and rehabilitation. We have the special and impactful benefit of bringing what happens in the clinic and in the field into the classroom. And, we're learning as much as we are teaching. Attempting to understand what is happening in the natural world is dynamic. Teton Raptor Center is an innovator of conservation solutions --- our Poo-Poo Project* and Sporting Lead-Free initiatives are just two examples of ways that we are not only conserving wildlife, but also saving wild lives. How is climate change affecting birds of prey?

I don't think we know all the ways that birds of prey are being affected by climate change. We do know that the climate is changing and in different areas and for different species that could mean changes in migration patterns, nesting locations, prey availability, and greater competition for territories. The challenges of climate change make the work of Teton Raptor Center even more important, especially in the realm of research, where our scientists are out in the field monitoring nest sites, evaluating prey populations, understanding habitat, and studying seasonal movements. Long-term datasets are crucial to helping us understand the effects of climate change. Ultimately, we want to be able to help any species in decline and strive to keep common birds common.

What is your favorite book? What author has influenced you the most?

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George is a classic and it takes place in the Catskills, where I grew up. The Craighead and Murie families have given us many books to treasure, so it's hard to choose just one. I also love Frank Craighead's For Everything There Is A Season. That book is one I go back to year-after-year, as it is a great reference for the natural history of our valley and a touchstone for changes that we are seeing right before our eyes.

What is your favorite bird of prey?

I'm captivated by Hunter, TRC's resident Peregrine Falcon. We've had him since he was a very young bird and it was magnificent to watch him morph into an adult falcon and realize all the precision and adaptation that went into creating the fastest species on the planet.

Adult osprey feeding a fish to its nestlings.

Photo by Paul Sihler

*Providing vent screens to prevent birds of prey from getting trapped in pit toilets.

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