Jan Glendening is completing her first year as director of the Iowa field office of The Nature Conservancy, but she has been on the clock with the nonprofit conservation organization since 2001. Glendening coordinated the state organization’s first capital campaign, raising $18.1 million by 2008. She grew up on a Benton County farm, and says that at first she was skeptical of working for an environmental group. “I now proudly call myself a conservationist,” she said.

What attracted you to The Nature Conservancy? 

In college, I decided I wanted to help people with my business degree and I really wanted to do fundraising. There was an opening for a philanthropy assistant at The Nature Conservancy, and I got the job, not knowing much about the organization. I grew up on a farm in Benton County and have always had a real connection to the land, but I was a bit skeptical of working for an environmental group. Shortly after I started working here, I realized that this work is my passion. I love Iowa and I love The Nature Conservancy’s non-confrontational approach.

What are the signature accomplishments of your first year as state director? 

Over the past year, we’ve more than doubled our land ownership in the Lower Cedar Valley. This area is an extremely important flood plain along the Cedar River. Protecting and restoring the land helps to reduce flooding for towns south of the preserve. We’re trying to increase the scale of this work to achieve greater impacts on flood reduction and are about to finish a project that will identify other key places for protection of flood plain and restoration of wetlands along the Cedar River. We’ve also greatly expanded our Boone River project. The goal of our work along the Boone River is to improve the environmental performance while maintaining agricultural productivity. In the last few weeks, we’ve been awarded $300,000 for this project, which we will use to continue partnering with farmers, ag companies and associations to get conservation practices on the ground. 

What have been the key frustrations?

I think one of the biggest frustrations for anyone working in natural resources is that the problems we are working on are long term. Our conservation challenges were not created overnight, and there are no quick fixes. When you look back over five years, you see progress, but over six months, that is harder to see. 

What role does The Nature Conservancy play in the state’s conservation community?

We are the non-confrontational, pragmatic problem-solvers. Most people think the issues we deal with are either-or situations. You are either for clean water or for farming. The Nature Conservancy disagrees with this and is really looking for those win-win solutions. How can we have clean, healthy water and a healthy, vibrant ag economy? What are the solutions that will allow us to have both? 

If you weren’t with The Nature Conservancy, where would you be working right now? 

It’s hard for me to imagine myself working anywhere else. I guess I’ve always said that if I didn’t love my job so much, I would be a stay-at-home mom. I love my children, but I also take great pride knowing that the work I do is significantly impacting the quality of life for my kids in the future. 

Why can’t the state clean up its rivers and streams?

It’s not a hopeless situation. At a small scale, we are starting to make a real difference. We’ve been working in the Boone River watershed for 10 years. We’re using science to show farmers the amount of nitrogen they are losing off their individual fields. With this information, farmers are becoming increasingly interested in implementing practices that will reduce runoff and improve water quality. This is good for the farmer’s bottom line and for our water quality. This isn’t happening at the scale it needs to yet, but Iowans are a can-do bunch, and I think you will see significant progress made on this front over the next five to 10 years. 

Where do you turn for inspiration?

My kids inspire me. Spending time with them outside, even just in our backyard, and seeing how amazed they are by a bug or a plant is really inspiring to me. When my daughter was 3, she told me she wanted to be a zookeeper, but not a zookeeper in the zoo. She wanted to take care of the bison on the prairie. Seeing her inspired by the work we are doing at such a young age pushes me to achieve more.