Betsy Gaines Quammen–Real Women Interview

Betsy Gaines Quammen is taking an innovative approach to conserving and protecting ecosystems around the globe. As Executive Director of the The Tributary Fund Quammen recently worked with Buddhist monks and local leaders in the rural Eg-Uur Valley of Mongolia to restore habitat for Taimen—the world’s largest salmonid—and to rebuild a monastery destroyed in 1937. The monastery is now home to a center where monks teach environmental education from a Buddhist perspective.

“When people work within their religious beliefs if gives them more personal motivations,” Quammen explained. And she should know. The energetic 38-year-old is a PhD candidate at Montana State University in Religion and Environmental History.

“I’m a spiritual person and interested in all religions,” noted Quammen, “The majority of the people in the world are religious and the only way we can protect the environment is to work with religious leaders.”

Quammen moved to Bozeman in 1997 to open a field office for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. She has served on the board of the national Sierra Club as well as working for American Wildlands, Montana State University’s Center for Native American Studies, Wallace Stegner Program and many other conservation groups.

After working with so many traditional environmental groups, Quammen came to the conclusion that working within religious and cultural frameworks was the best way to integrate conservation into a society and make it stick.

A pivotal moment in her transformation from conventional activist occurred at a rally in Louisiana. There she met a retired schoolteacher who, along with many others, was protesting refineries that were leaking dioxin, which is believed to be the cause of a locally high rate of cancer among children. “It was like a revival,” Quammen enthused, “It was so powerful and so fun.”

This summer Quammen and The Tributary Fund are entering a research phase to decide where to go next. They are considering projects in Louisiana, India and Latin America. Quammen said, “Our goal is to work with the world’s major religions and build bridges between belief systems and conservation science, so we’ll go wherever that takes us.”

What do you consider your greatest strength?
I don’t take myself too seriously and I know how to have fun!

What do you consider your greatest weakness?
I have discipline binges, sometimes I’m really disciplined and sometimes I’m all over the place. I can be pretty unruly, but I’m unruly with conviction!

Who are your heroes/role models?
Jane Goodall is definitely one of my heroes. And Margie Richard who is this wonderful woman in Louisiana (who is working on fighting a refinery she believes responsible for the high number of local children with cancer). Also, Wangari Maathai who started the Green Movement and was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

What is your favorite book?
I have a million favorite books, but I’d have to say Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh) and My Antonia (Willa Cather).

What is the key to balancing your roles in personal, family, career, and health matters?
I’m so lucky, I never really feel like I have to balance my job with my free time, with my hobbies, with my husband. My avocation is my vocation; I’m so blessed.

What is the best advice you’ve ever used?
Be compassionate in all aspects of life: Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car, of course this advice extends to practitioners of all religions.

What is your dream job?
I have my dream job; I love what I do! But I could be tempted by a position of “Boss of the World.” Or maybe a career as a sommelier/country western singer/dolphin trainer.

What do you most want to change about yourself?
I wish I were better disciplined; I’m not disciplined at all. I’m lucky that I love what I’m doing and I’m lucky that I love my school program so much because I really lack discipline.

What do you love most about yourself?
I think I’m pretty even tempered and I always have fun. I’m usually the one that has the best time.

What do you do to relax?
I don’t know if I’ve relaxed in five years. I’m not a relaxed kind of person. I love to read and take the dogs out, but I’m the most jittery, energetic person.

Balance
May 22, 2007

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