Winter is a time of transition in the waterfowl and habitat world so it seems natural that DUC’s newest manager would join the flock in January. Thorsten Hebben has taken over the reins as DUC’s manager of provincial operations (MPO) in Alberta. While his career with DUC is just taking flight, he has no shortage of experience in the wetland conservation arena.
Hebben comes to DUC after more than 15 years with the Government of Alberta, most recently as Alberta Environment and Parks’ director of water quality policy section. He also was instrumental in leading the development of Alberta’s Wetland Policy that came into effect in 2013, arguably the province’s most important and meaningful policy affecting wetland conservation in a positive way.
The folks at DUC have always made me feel part of the family. I’m pleased and proud to now join that family, to provide my support to both the Alberta team and the broader organization, and to do my part in advancing the conservation, restoration, and management of our natural heritage.
While he is DUC’s newest recruit, Hebben is no stranger to the organization.
“Over the past 20 years, I have had the distinct privilege of working with multiple members of the DUC team, in many different capacities,” says Hebben. “Each of these encounters left me with an overwhelmingly positive impression of the organization and the highly qualified professionals that work here. The folks at DUC have always made me feel part of the family. I’m pleased and proud to now join that family, to provide my support to both the Alberta team and the broader organization, and to do my part in advancing the conservation, restoration, and management of our natural heritage.”
Hebben holds a master’s degree in ecology and environmental biology from the University of Alberta – and he grew up hunting and fishing. He looks forward to leading DUC’s operation in Alberta, recognizing the challenges but also optimistic that his experiences and relationships can help take the organization to new levels.
“During the development of Alberta’s wetland policy, I had the opportunity to work with DUC and developed a strong sense of the organization and the people who work there—it was always a positive experience,” says Hebben. “Now I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work with them, executing on the ground many of the mechanisms I helped create during my time as a policy developer.”
Focus on partnerships
Hebben recognizes that partnerships are fundamental to the long-term success of wetland habitat conservation. “Through the collaborative process of developing the wetland policy, I had the opportunity to work alongside a wide range of interested parties, including representatives from the oil and gas industry, forestry, municipalities, irrigation districts, a range of conservation organizations and individual landowners, including ranchers and grain farmers. I gained a strong awareness and appreciation of the different perspectives on the land, including the pervasive misinformation that influences those perspectives.”
Understanding how the various constituents view wetland conservation, and why, will help shape our priorities, he says.
“We must bridge the gaps in understanding the benefits that wetlands provide to Albertans,” he says. “It’s easy to understand those benefits if you’re a hunter, birdwatcher, hiker or any other outdoor enthusiast but the benefits to producers are not nearly as well understood.”
A focus of DUC’s programming is retention and restoration of wetlands, predominantly on private land. Articulating the merits of those programs to those who own and work the land is an ongoing challenge, and only compounded by climate change.
“We need to be able to describe the benefits of wetland retention and restoration to landowners in terms that resonate with them, and that includes being able to describe the associated financial returns to their operation,” notes Hebben.
But Hebben realizes that in the current climate, there are additional barriers to overcoming this challenge.
Ready to face challenges ahead
“We’ve been experiencing a difficult economic period in Alberta in recent years, and I recognize that may influence our ability to pursue conservation work as we focus on restarting our economy. I worry that the protection of our environment may start to wane as we seek new opportunities for Albertans, but that only underscores the importance of us finding more meaningful ways to articulate the economic benefits of wetland conservation.”
DUC has always used sound science as a basis for making decisions about how and where to deliver habitat programs. This won’t change under Hebben’s leadership.
“I’m committed to, not only using physical sciences as the foundation in delivering our programs, but social science as well. It’s imperative we take into account the needs and desires of beef and grain producers in our program implementation. So, while we’ll always incorporate the latest available science in our decision-making, I believe it’s key to consider our landowner clients in design and delivery of programs.”
Hebben admits that while he wants to introduce some new perspectives in his role as DUC’s MPO, he recognizes the value in a “steady as she goes” approach.
“DUC is arguably the most prominent and effective habitat conservation organization in Alberta, Canada and even across North America. In my past work experiences, I developed a strong appreciation for the commitment to excellence of the staff, volunteers and members of the organization. Undoubtedly, I’ll learn more from them than they will from me but together I think we can continue to grow DUC as a successful, leading habitat conservation organization.”
When Hebben is not at work, he can be found in the outdoors with his family or puttering around his acreage north of Stony Plain. Camping, fishing, hiking, scuba diving, skiing, snowshoeing and hunting for fossilized teeth count amongst his many interests and pursuits. In 2016 —largely due to the promptings of his young son—he took up beekeeping. Hebben also enjoys cooking, although he isn’t overly fond of sticking to recipes. As his wife points out, none of his creations ever taste the same twice.
Please join us as we welcome Thorsten Hebben to his new role. He will be based in DUC’s Edmonton office post-pandemic.