Ohio Women in Conservation: Crystal Courtney

After a quick internet search of issues and challenges in conservation, it would be easy to feel overwhelmed by all that we face today. However, for Crystal Courtney, this discovery led to a lifelong passion to preserve and protect the urban environment here in the Tri-State. For over a decade, she has put her head to the task of improving our urban environments through work as an urban forester and now as Natural Resources Manager for the Cincinnati Parks. Crystal graciously donated a bit of time to chat with us a bit about what motivates her, how she navigates a male-dominated field and how you can get involved in local conservation efforts. 

Meet Crystal Courtney (she/her)
Crystal Courtney

Great Parks: How and why did you get into the world of conservation-

Crystal Courtney: The key reason I got into conservation was to do something that was bigger than myself. I started as a sociology major in school, studying how civilization developed over time. Through those studies I realized how deeply entrenched these conservation issues are and how difficult it would be to make an effective change within my lifetime. The one place that I thought I may be able to make an impact, was on a local level. That encouraged me to shift gears a little and begin work for the Center for Environmental Restoration (CER) at Northern Kentucky University. The work was very hands-on; once I got started, I wanted to continue learning more. Through work on a volunteer project, I caught the eye of the leadership for the City of Covington, who then took me on as an urban forester. 

GP: Did you have someone who was a specific inspiration?

CC: At the CER, our field leaders were Mark Leopold and Devon Shank. They took (and continue to take) young and budding ecologist, sociologists and liberal arts students, and teach them about field work. For sure, they were my key inspirations. 

GP: Did you experience any barriers in this field? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

CC: Some of my greatest challenges stemmed from being a young, female, leader in my field. Being a female urban forester, I have often been the only woman in many trainings on both national and local levels. Very early in my career, I learned a few important lessons that help me overcome these challenges. Often, I try to not think about the fact that I am a woman, but instead focus on what was best for the environment. I was taught to use the best job practices possible, and to speak to everyone in a respectful manner. I would speak to a council member in the same way as someone from the public. The result is that people tend to look past both my gender/age and hear me for what I am truly saying. If there is someone who still challenges me on these bases, I just try not to carry it with me. 

GP: What value do you believe parks and other public green spaces have in conservation efforts?

CC: To me, these spaces are held for the public good and the benefit of the community overall. They are designed to connect us to nature and all things green and good. I believe that, by far, parks are the greatest gift that we have as citizens in our country.   

GP: What would you recommend to someone who wants to get involved in the world of conservation?

CC: Whether you are an after-work conservation champion or looking to find a career, start with local nonprofits. Find the organization that best represents your interest. Volunteer your services where you can. While it may not pay, it will build both your knowledge base and your network of people in the field.

Crystal referred to parks as the greatest gift that we have as citizens in our country. One could expand upon that to say that nature in this country is the greatest gift we have. From the National Parks, all the way to the flowers that bloom in the cracks of our sidewalks, there is beauty that is worth preserving all around us. Crystal hopes to ensure that nature is the gift that can keep on giving by working hard for future generations. “My goal is to build systems and operating procedures that the next generation can step into and pick off where I left off.”

You can join in Crystal’s efforts by getting involved in your community! Crystal recommends exploring volunteer opportunities through the Northern Kentucky Urban & Community Forestry Council and Cincinnati Parks.

(Of course, you can also check out the Great Parks’ volunteer page as well.)

Will Buelsing
Nature Interpreter, Miami Whitewater Forest