Although the word conservation suits the laws of physics and the prevention of waste, its highest calling is in the preservation of nature. Conservation is now synonymous with the protection of life outdoors. Yet a protector is now gone. Legendary scientist and conservationist Hubert “Hub” Vogelmann died Friday at age 84.
An educator, botanist, humanitarian and field naturalist, Hub was for decades the soul of the Vermont conservation ethic and its movement. He showed us, with wisdom and exuberance, how to love and protect places outside. He demonstrated that pollutants and acid rain were harming trees at sacred places – mountaintops. And although he lived and worked and loved outdoors, Hub was comfortable in the halls of power and in the public square. Among his talents was bringing science and conservation to policy makers and ordinary citizens who didn’t necessarily experience or truly understand wildlife and wild places.
Hub was a founder of the Vermont chapter of The Nature Conservancy, which went on to protect some of the state’s best natural places. He was a force behind Act 250, Vermont’s essential and inspirational law protecting nature from commercial development. And at the University of Vermont he created a graduate program to train the world’s future Darwins, Muirs, Browers and Vogelmanns: the Field Naturalist Program, where I teach writing.
I have watched birds with Roger Tory Peterson, enjoyed butterflies with Paul Opler, and discussed conservation with Paul Ehrlich – each encounter a great moment in my life. Although I had met Hub once, I never did spend time with him outdoors, which is among my great regrets. Nevertheless, in Hub’s passion and work and exemplary life, in the spark of his azure eyes, I found wisdom and inspiration.
As for his legacy, from a life well lived and now complete, Hub leaves us far more than he had ever taken. He leaves us an inheritance of conservation and a devotion to nature and what it means to be alive outdoors. Even in death, the conservationist lives. There remains a bit of Hub in the green all around us – and within us.