Jerry Paulson

With Love for Our Wildlife

Jerry Paulson retired as executive director of the Natural Land Institute in 2013, but he’s still a busy guy.

“I’ve stayed involved with Natural Land Institute to help them get accreditation from the Land Trust Alliance, a national land trust group – going through old files and putting things together that they needed for that – and I’m working on a couple of watershed projects with them now,” Paulson says. “It’s always been my big passion, protecting rivers and streams, and wetlands like the Nygren Wetland Preserve, which was one of my biggest accomplishments when I was at NLI. We’re also working to protect Raccoon Creek, which is an almost pristine creek that comes down through the wetlands.”

In 2018, Paulson accepted a part-time position as executive director of Indian Hill Manor. “It’s a fascinating property, between the historical gardens, the historic buildings, the farm, and all the wild, wooded land along the Kishwaukee River. It’s really right down my alley, so I’m thrilled to be working with them.”

Paulson’s interest in conservation was cultivated on his family farm, where he currently resides.

“My father was one of the early practitioners of soil conservation,” he says. “He never talked about it, but I picked up on it by example. He was one of the first farmers in Winnebago County to put in terraces and grassed waterways, and to plant up trees for wildlife,” he says.

A lot has changed over time, including how people react when they learn of his dedication to conservation.

“I’ve been doing this work for over 50 years, and no longer do you get blank stares or people thinking you’re crazy when you talk about preserving wetlands, or that you’re planting prairie grass. It’s pretty much accepted by most people now.”

It’s working, too.

“Fifty years ago, the American bald eagle was on the endangered species list. Now, you can see them flying through downtown Rockford,” Paulson says. “A lot of other species have recovered because of efforts by conservationists to clean up the rivers. But at the same time, we’re still losing our songbirds, and a lot of our butterflies and other beneficial insects are in trouble. I’ve accomplished a lot in 50 years, but we still have a lot to do.”

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