Sometimes there’s no more passionate form of advocacy than sound and rigorous science. Dominick Dellasala explains to Matt Kettman why.
Though he got his start working on the ground with some of the most headline-grabbing endangered species battles of the past quarter-century, Dominick Dellasala admits that today he is an “armchair biologist,” having been out of field work for years. The chief scientist of the climate change-focused Geos Institute grew up in Brooklyn, where he admits there weren’t many trees. Trips to the Catskills with his parents sparked his passion for the outdoors.
“My whole background is very improbable in terms of where I wound up,” Dellasala told me over the phone from his office in Ashland. “I wasn’t raised in an outdoor environment, but it became my passion because, once I got out there, I knew how special it was.” Teachers in high school and college recognized that passion early on, and pushed him to study nature while at Adelphi University on Long Island and then Wayne State in Detroit, where he got his Masters. He then went to University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for his Ph.D.
Once a professional, he ran headfirst into the northern spotted owl, the most challenging species he’s ever had the opportunity to study and, eventually, protect. “It’s just become the symbol for the battles over the forests of the Pacific Northwest,” said Dellasala. “That species has shouldered all of the conservation burdens, and you either hate it or you love it, depending on your approach to the issue.”
Many scientists try to straddle the divide between strict observation and passionate activism, but Dellasala has set a strong mold for how to do both without undermining one’s career and respect.