Jeff Corwin at Defenders Annual Dinner 2009. Photo courtesy of Scott Robinson

A Measure of Leadership

Famed conservationist Jeff Corwin looks back on 20 years of leadership from Defenders of Wildlife’s retiring president Rodger Schlickeisen.

Jeff Corwin with a falconI remember when I first met Rodger.

It was 2003 and we were standing on the steps of the US Capitol building. The sun was shining but there was a distinct chill in the air. Beside us was an impressive assortment of environmental leaders and members of Congress. In front of us sat about 30 school children, equal parts nervous and excited. Our purpose that day? To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act.

And I remember how eloquently Rodger spoke about the Act – the bipartisan support it enjoyed, the creatures it had saved, the threats it faces – and I realized this man wasn’t just reading words on a page. He could have been working without prepared text at all, because this man was clearly moved. He felt what he was saying and he felt it deep and it was apparent to all. I have made the conservation of wildlife my life’s work and I knew right away, listening to Rodger, I had found a kindred spirit. It was the beginning of my proud association with Defenders of Wildlife and the beginning of what I hope will be a lifelong friendship with its departing leader, Rodger Schlickeisen.

Rodger isn’t just the head of one of the nation’s top environmental groups, he is the consummate hands-on, make-things-happen leader. He is as much at home in the Oval Office chastising the president as he is clad in a winter parka, releasing wolves back into Yellowstone. And you are just as likely to find him in a powerful Senator’s office as you are the wilds of Africa, tracking collared lions with Masai warriors.

And his brand of leadership has served Defenders well. When he joined the organization in 1991, it had 60,000 members. Now? The list of members and supporters tops one million. When he joined Defenders, the US Geological Service had no arm devoted to addressing the impacts of climate change on wildlife. Now they do. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wildlife conservation programs, public and private, that were not in existence before Rodger made creating them a priority for Defenders.

When Rodger got started, environmental conservation had Democratic and Republican champions alike. And he deftly maneuvered back and forth across the aisle, exhorting champions from both sides to support key conservation programs. A decade later, when wildlife conservation became a political hot potato, Rodger read the writing on the wall, formed the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, and began taking on some of the environment’s worst enemies at the ballot box. Richard Pombo, Sarah Palin, Steve Pearce, Marilyn Musgrave, all soon found that you cannot run roughshod over the environment without hearing about it from Rodger.

Leadership, foresight, flexibility, proven accomplishment, all things we look for in a leader, all things Rodger delivered.

But as Rodger moves on from Defenders, I find myself thinking back to that fall day in 2003. And I think about another leadership quality: dedication. On that day, I saw the intense dedication he shows to the cause he so clearly believes in and the organization he cares so deeply about. And I am left to ponder how rare such devotion is in many of the leaders we see today. Truly, lots of people run organizations, but few people actually lead with such dedication. Rodger did. And we − along with the natural world − are the better for it.

40 Responses to “A Measure of Leadership”

  1. Earl Roggeman

    Just wanted to wish Rodger a very happy and well earned retirement.

    Earl

  2. Scott Vayo

    Dear Rodger:

    I am writing to thank you for all of your years of dedicated leadership with Defenders of Wildlife. Your accomplishments and passion are amazing and enviable. I am sure you will be missed by all who have the privilege to work with you.

    To have dedicated so much of your time and energy to saving the lives of those who cannot speak for themselves is simply awesome. I have never met you, and yet I have the utmost respect for you. Those of us who believe so strongly in the value of life, no matter how immense or minute and regardless of species, must emulate your work.

    I hope that your retirement brings you as much peace as you have bestowed upon this world through your words and actions on behalf of all the critters that share this beautiful place with us.

    Kindest regards,
    Scott Vayo

  3. Lynn Ests

    I just wanted to wish Roger a happy, healthy retirement and thank him for all he has done for wildlife over the many years. We,as well as the animals will surely miss him. God Bless

  4. dani duran

    We will miss Roger greatly!
    He was our voice. We could only donate, but we knew he would fight the good fight for us!

    We wish Roger a peaceful retirement, but we hope he still keeps ties with Defenders of Wildlife!
    We do not see how he can be replaced!!!!!
    Roger is one of a kind!

    all the best to you Roger from “The Durans.”

  5. Debra Hadden

    It is an honor to be a member of this great organization, and a privilege to be a small part of Defenders passion, protection, and voice that culminates in his leadership. Thank you, Roger. Be well.

  6. Ron Lockwood

    We of course wish Rodger the very best in his retirement, but it would not be enough without also offering him our most sincere gratitude for all that he has done. Our world and our lives are so much richer for all his efforts, and it will be up to us collectively to honor that by continuing his spirit of dedication.

    We also wish to thank Jeff Corwin for all that he does, and for his eloquent tribute to Roger.

    Ron & Mary Lockwood

  7. Mary Emmons

    Roger you will be missed, but I am sure we will still see you out there somewhere. We will never give up the fight to save our wildlife. I can’t imagine a hike into the enchantments or any forest and not seeing the likes of our beer, moose, bobcats, wolves, elk, eagles,and more. Thank you for all the hard work you have done. We will keep working hard to save our wildlife you can bet on that!

  8. Joyce Grantham

    I am broken-hearted to learn that Roger is retiring. I have been around a long, long time, and I have learned that noone is more passionate about wildlife and the environment than Roger. I am an armchair activist (because I’m not very active anymore!), and I don’t give a lot of money to Defenders, because I don’t have a lot to give, but I find it nearly impossible to resist a plea for the animals when it comes from Roger. It is often said that noone is irreplaceable. I don’t think that is true. There will be a new President for Defenders, and that person will be passionate and dedicated, and will do wonderful things. But that person will not replace Roger – noone ever will.

  9. Paul Skurka

    Defender’s has always been at the forefront of attacks on wildlife, whether it is the endangered species acts, or wolf hunts. The numerous attack updates I see in the newsletters leads me to one conclusion, political agendas have precidence over the earth.
    Wildlife, nature, the very ecosystems that enable mankind to exist, are now unimportant, irrelevant, and thrown under the bus, all for the wiles of the devil. Just like mankind, the devil, has a God. He too has to answer to His God in the day of judgement. His fate is never changing, as it was written in the Book many, many years ago. He thinks he can outrun, change, and alter his future, but still God’s Word will prevail. Every human being on this earth has a duty to see to her needs, no matter how big or small. If we fail in this task, then how can we expect to be given even greater tasks & duties to manage in our future.?. I hope that Roger’s replacement is as dedicated, sincere, and genuine about his commitment to Wildlife, as this organization to which he is entrusted to lead.

  10. Peggy Kincaid

    Thank you so much for your service and your dedication to animals but especially the devotion to our wolves. You always spoke from the heart and with the knowledge needed to get the job done. I hope your retirement is a good one and I hope that the American people may yet show you and the rest of us members that our wildlife really does matter and we won’t allow our wolves to be destroyed and we will make the Endangered Species Act strong enough to withstand any attack. You inspired so many and I know Defenders will continue leading the way but we will miss you deeply.

  11. Janet Gardiner

    I am very sad that Rodger is retiring–in the last couple of years that I’ve been a member of DoW, I’ve readily gained a lot of respect for him: he is passionate about the organization’s mission, he is articulate and intelligent, and he knows how to reach out to people to get their support.

    And now having read Jeff Corwin’s tribute to Rodger, I also now know objectively how very effective Rodger has been as the leader of DoW. Many congratulations on your retirement, Rodger, and so many thanks for all the terrific work you’ve done!!

  12. felice berenson

    A most eloquent and deserved commendation to a man who has changed the course of environmental history.
    We will all miss him, but I do not believe he will stay retired totally..we need more leaders of his ilk in the world!
    And more people like you to write as you have with such admiration and love…

    felice berenson

  13. Mark

    We will miss you Rodger! Have a great retirement. You’ve done an excellent job.

  14. Bob Goldman

    Dear Rodger,
    If the wildlife you have championed for so long could do so, they would lovingly escort you from Defenders, to the next chapter of your life. For sure, they are with you wherever you go.

    Many of us who devote ourselves to defending wildlife, direct our respect, gratitude and love to you, as you move on to your next challenge.

    Thanks so much, Rodger. Thanks for helping all the wonderful animals out there. Thanks for being there for me, too, as I have become a devoted wolf and wildlife advocate. You are truly one of my heroes in this wonderful, yet heartbreaking world that needs so many heroes like you.
    Your devoted wolf friend from Maine,
    Bob Goldman

  15. Edith Hokin

    Farewell from the “Land Down Under” to a wonderful person who was not intimidated by political disinterested people who hold the power to assist the animals who can’t speak for them-selves. God bless you friend of all animals. Don’t cry Wolf just weep for them.

  16. Lynn A. Marinelli

    Dear Rodger, You will surely be missed by me as I feel that your honest sencerity and love of wildlife, especially the plight of wolves, had such an impact on my decisions to vote for so many pleas of help to protect this magnificent creature.I will miss your informative and steady wisdom and dedication to all creatures, and I wish you all the best!!!!!!

  17. Judy Phillips

    I admire greatly people like Roger. His main tenet is that we SHARE this planet. His dedication and loyalty have saved many lives and ecosystems. His shoes will be difficult to fill, but not impossible. Good luck and may G-d bless him.

  18. Cherie

    Who will lead now? I want to get more involved. It is time for all of us to stand up and be counted!

  19. Kathryn Mazaika

    Thank you for this fitting tribute to Roger and his work. We’ve been very fortunate for his leadership. Thanks, Roger, and all the best in your retirement.

  20. Kathy

    Dear Roger,
    Thank you for your most compassionate heart and invaluable service to animals and Defenders of Wildlife. I will miss your messages, alerts, comments, and smiling face, and I know you will still be there fighting for those who cannot speak for themselves. Wish we could teach the world to stop all the insane cruelty….we’ll all keep trying as long as we breathe!

  21. Catherine Jennifer Fusco

    I’ve been a “DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE” Supporter if only bt signing EVERY PETITION asked of me! Your story & Tribute to Mr.Roger Schickeisen’s Relentless quest to Save our Wildlife ,his selfless dedication & Integrity shall endure forever as he has been the strongest inspiration to all of us indeed His “Spiritually Enlightened” persona & all that he is as and will always continue to be the well respected,man,is saying the lesat My Grandfather a Sicilian,brick layer {long gone] always said.. “Tell me who your Friends are and I’ll tell you who you are” Need I say more,Mr.Corwin you are also a special person,there must{also] be a special place now.. and after we’ve gone in the next world where “Truth,Justice,& The Persuit of All Happiness will prevail I’m afraid our efforts against evil have fallen on those who are Spiritually devoid but I still pray everyday that the Beloved Wolf& All the preciaous animals that are suffering at the hands of evil men will be held accountable in the next world {and sooner!} that we will Win their “Freedoms”and have thier final opportunity for the territorial rights they were meant to have ,if I didn’t believe that I’d no longer have Hope but being a non religious person but I will add We are All God’s Childrfen including animals God created them too if we believe in “HIM” we must Believe in the creatures HE LOVED “These are “OUR ANIMALS TOO!” and they BELONG to ALL OF US! to all of those who are fighting for them] OUR DAY WILL COME WHEN ALl THIS SLAUGHTERING WILL STOP I HAVE SENT ALL OF YOU MY HEARFELT FAREWELL TO A MAN IN EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD HE HAS INDEED EARNED OUR{MY} DEEPEST RESPECT & AFFECTION AS ALL Of THE MEN & WOMEN THERE AT “DEFENDRS” THERE MUST BE A BETTER PLACE! THANK YOu LOve Catherine Jennifer M.FUSCO

  22. Michelle

    Goodbye Rodger and happy retirement! You sure deserve it! I will miss seeing my e-mails signed by you but I am confident you leave Defenders in competent hands. I know you will still be fighting for wildlife your usual 1000% from behind the front lines. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all you have done and will continue to do.

  23. Meg Dugan

    Thank you Roger for your years of unselfish service, for inspiring my family and I and for keeping the important issues in the spotlight. The world would be a better place with more people like you in it. You will be missed. Enjoy a well deserved retirement.

  24. Joan Birch

    Having just read what Jeff Corwin wrote about you in “A Measure of Leadership,” I want to send you a note of heartfelt gratitude for all you have done in developing Defenders of Wildlife into the thriving, influential organization it has become. Thanks to your deep love of wildlife, and your great and selfless leadership and activism, you leave us all with a legacy of finding ever new and better ways to help us all . . . people and animals alike . . . to yearn to know each other better, and love and care for each other better. I am an unabashed wolf lover, and do thank you especially for all that you and Defenders have done to advocate for wolves and for better communication among people about wolves. I am dedicating myself right now to becoming active as an advocate for the wolves now being hunted in Montana and Idaho. There is much to be concerned about regarding how the 2011 wolf hunt in Montana is being managed by MT FWP. The great love I feel for wolves is based on all the things I have read and learned about them, that is, on knowledge about them. Right now I am intent on getting into contact with other people who do and/or want to become active in advocating for wolves.
    You will be my inspiration, Rodger Schlickeisen !!! And I thank you for it, and will think of you often. May you have the best and brightest and happiest of all possible retirement years!!!
    With deep admiration,
    Joan Birch

  25. Jane McCann

    Enjoy a great and well deserved retirement Rodger knowing you have really made a difference – something which many of us aspire to but rarely have the opportunity to do on this scale. I sincerely hope we (as humans) finally come to appreciate what we have before it’s too late and we’ve slaughtered and killed and tortured every animal in sight. I also hope your replacement is equally as committed and dedicated as you.

  26. Tracey Rauhala

    Best Wishes Roger. Thank you for all you’ve done for the animals. What a legacy you’ve left. Congrats on your retirement.

  27. Mary Smith

    Thank you so much for speaking for all animals and ACTING on their behalf. Your dedicated, hard work for animals and the environment is very much appreciated and will not be forgotten.

  28. Carol Coyle

    Thank you Rodger for keeping Defenders a strong, viable, energetic and creative organization. Enjoy your retirement. The environment thanks you, this country thanks you and I certainly thank you for making this world a better place. Peace and love.

  29. James Degner

    Thank you for everything, Roger. Enjoy your retirement! We will miss you!

  30. Margaret Pickett

    I wish Rodger all the best in his retirement. We need a few people
    like him in South Africa, especially for the Rhinos!

    We thank him for his dedication in the fight for wild life and environmental protection, especially for the wolves.

    You will be missed

  31. Jim and Ruth Cousino

    Good Luck, Roger,

    On behalf of all those who will come after us: “Thank You!”

  32. Morona Madsen

    I wish you a a long and happy retirement. Whatever you do, stay healthy for many years. Find a purpose you love and hang onto it. I still need you in the world. I still want you to be here for a long time. I bet the wolves will howl in mourning.

  33. Stephanie

    I can only thank such a devoted spirit for the wonderful works done on behalf of ALL the species he so dedicated his life to.

    He has brought me into the world of animal “activism” and I am so forever thankful.

    I will miss his emails as I always knew who “Roger” was. Thank you so much for bringing to the forefront all that is needed to be done now and in the future. You will be truly missed and I hope we have a leader such as you guiding us to all that needs to be done.

    I wish you weren’t retiring, but we all know the depths of drain that is required and we thank you for ALL that you have done. Please, enjoy your retirement.

    With the utomost gratitude,

    Stephanie

  34. Daniella Lednicer

    Thank you for all the years of dedication, commitment and back-breaking work, which has saved countless numbers of species on this fragile planet. Defenders of Wildlife is not just a great organization of which I am proud to be a longtime member; in politics we are a force to be reckoned with, thanks to Roger.
    You are such an inspiration to me and everyone else who cares about wildlife. You will be greatly missed.
    At the same time, I wish you a happy, healthy and fulfilling retirement.

  35. Mitzi

    Dearest Rodger,

    When I first started this journey for wildlife, I was about 24. My passion has always been wolves, tigers, polar bears and the birds of pray. I adopted a wolf and stayed informed of his progress and life until he passed of old age about 15 years ago. I am now 47, and there have been several forces for wildlife, but only a very few ever touched my heart, soul and love for the creatures we share this awesome planet with. Most are faded into the background, just blips on the screen. The ones I remember most, in my mind’s eye, have not only put thier voices out the to be heard, but stayed there and have not faded into oblivion. You sir are one that will not fade. To my young son and myself, you are a force to be reconned with, a howl on the winds of a thunderstorm. You are louder then the politicians and softer then a whisper. In our book, Jeff Corwin, Steve Irwin, Joan Embry and Roger (you) are our champions.
    You have shown us the direction, coached us on what needs to be done and guilded us there. Now it is up to the rest of us to pick up and work on it in anyway we can contribute.
    Whom ever is handed your position will have some very big shoes to fill. We will be watching.

  36. Jade

    I am a newer member to Defenders of Wildlife but I must say, I am going to miss seeing Roger’s smiling face on the emails I received. Knowing he and the other team members were hard at work motivated me to take the time to do what I could to take action … I will continue with the organization thanks to his inspiration!!!! Thank you so much for all your dedication and hard work!! You will be missed!

  37. Connie Brady

    I just returned from a trip to Alaska – had put this trip off for many years due to their aerial hunting of wolves but since I’m not sure just how many more trips I’ll be able to take in the future, I found it necessary to do now while I’m still able. Then, in catching up on reading my emails I reached this email notification of Roger’s retirement and burst into tears. I’m at a loss for words in describing what he had meant to me and the wildlife I love so very much. On days that I was in total despair when reading about our wild horses, Yellowstone’s bison and my one true love – wolves, I knew he was out there fighting for their survival and it has given me strength to continue my own fight for what I consider to be my/our wildlife. I will miss him dearly and so will the land and the wildlife of this country. You Roger, will never, ever be forgotten.
    “Each moment of the year has its own beauty, a picture which was never seen before and which shall never be seen again”, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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