Eric Dinerstein is so elusive that even his PR people can’t find him. But between flying in from Borneo and flying off to Ontario to monitor birds, Dinerstein stopped at Huxley, his alma mater, to make a speech about his job as lead scientist and vice president of the Conservation Science Program at the World Wildlife Fund.
Eric saves the tiger and is a rock star of wildlife protection.
Dinerstein’s mission is to bring back a struggling global population of only 3,200 tigers by protecting their habitat. By 2020, the next Chinese year of the tiger, he hopes to see a doubled tiger population. And that’s just one campaign. In 2009, he and his team mapped the earth’s ecosystems to identify and conserve the 200 areas with the richest plant and animal life on the planet.
One of these ecosystems surrounds the Upper Missouri River. It’s the largest area of untracked grassland in America and was once home to more than 60 million bison; a lost Serengeti that Dinerstein hopes to revive.
In an attempt to create the American Prairie Reserve, WWF is buying land equal to twice the size of Yellowstone National Park and partnering with surrounding conservation organizations and American Indian reservations. The land is being set aside for bison, wolves, grizzlies, grassland birds and other species.
Simultaneously, Dinerstein is undertaking what he said is the most exciting project of his career, the precise mapping of carbon-dense trees in the world’s rainforests. Lasers attached to planes allow Dinerstein and his team to document how much carbon is stored. Eric hopes this technology will create a new economy to help combat climate change.
“Money would flow from the developed countries that produce a lot of the greenhouse gas emissions to the tropical-forest-rich nations to pay them to keep those forests standing,” he explained.
The huge tasks may seem daunting to some, but Dinerstein says it’s the best way to rescue ecosystems. “Simply focusing on a single national park, like the North Cascades in isolation, wouldn’t really do very much,” Dinerstein said. “So how do we think about conservation on very large scales? A lot of my work has been focused on creating whole networks of protected areas.”
While his global outlook is inspirational, he was a late bloomer as a naturalist. He studied film at Northwestern University in Chicago before being inspired by nature and moving to Bellingham to attend Huxley. After graduation, he joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Nepal, where he became the first tiger biologist in a new reserve.
“I knew what I was going to do [with my life] when that happened,” Dinerstein said.
After returning from Nepal, Dinerstein got an advanced degree at the University of Washington and went to work for WWF, where he has labored for the last twenty-two years.
“I have the best job in the world,” he said.