My passion, our journey

Biologist and lifelong conservationist, Karla Guyn, named CEO for Ducks Unlimited Canada

October 03, 2016
My passion, our journey
Karla Guyn is DUC’s new chief executive officer. ©DUC

A first-person account by DUC CEO
Karla Guyn, PhD

If there’s ever a time to draw parallels with the wild, to feel connected to the species we love and to be humbled by their storied history, now is that time for me.

As fall settles in and the grand passage south begins, there will be many hatch year birds making the journey for the first time. They won’t know exactly what path they are going to take, nor where the end point might be. But they will fly south guided by years of experience from their forefathers and a passion to experience the journey.

All of this feels remarkably similar to the path I’m gazing down…

I’m honoured to be serving as DUC’s CEO. Thank you for instilling your confidence in me and for giving wings to such an incredible opportunity. It’s one I recognize as a great privilege.

I’m eager to begin working alongside DUC’s community of supporters in this new role. However, I thought it only fair to first give you a glimpse inside my life and history to show you why I am so passionate for conservation – and for DUC.

I was one of those lucky kids who knew what they wanted to do from a very young age. I knew I wanted to be a biologist my entire life, and I never deviated from that. Wildlife, conservation and the outdoors had captured my imagination.

I grew up in Calgary, but spent most of my summer holidays and many weekends at my grandparents’ ranch in southwest Alberta. It was here that I was able to roam the grasslands, to be awed by impressive mule deer bucks, relish in the smell of fresh mint as I walked along wetland edges and to hear the wind whistling through limber pines.  It was experiences like these that engrained the need for natural places into my soul.

I bounced around doing a variety of summer jobs, but knew I had found my calling when I landed on the shores of Lake Manitoba at a waterfowl and wetlands research station. It was here that I met key mentors in my life: Mike Anderson, Henry Murkin, Bruce Batt and last, but not least, my husband Jim Devries. I spent three summers there and totally fell in love with wetlands and waterfowl. I fell in love with the science associated with them, and most of all with the community of people engaged in this conservation work.

Karla Guyn
Karla knew she had found her calling when she landed on the shores of Lake Manitoba at a waterfowl and wetlands research station.

My first real interaction with DUC came in 1994 when I was hired to lead a research study on pintail ecology in southern Alberta. This was an amazing opportunity to study a bird I loved in my home province. Chasing radio-marked pintails around the prairies of Alberta only further instilled my passion for waterfowl.

Karla Guyn
Karla’s first interaction with DUC came in 1994 when she was hired to lead a research study on pintail ecology in southern Alberta.

Fittingly, this was the first time I was able to engage with the broader Ducks Unlimited community. I was given the opportunity to meet staff from both sides of the border and many key donors. And while I may not have realized it at the time, an exciting new chapter of my life had just opened.

Before I finished my PhD I was hired by DU in 1998, where I worked on regional and national conservation programs for the next 15 years before moving to National Director Conservation.  These years have been extremely special. They’ve introduced me to conservation projects and wetlands of North America like I’d never seen them before: through the eyes of incredible staff, volunteers, donors and directors from across the continent.

In sharing this background, I hope you get the sense that these experiences make up more than just my resume. They’re some of the most important milestones and memories in my life. Conservation has never just been “what I do.” It’s who I am. I know many of you feel the same way. This is what makes the DUC community so supportive – and also so successful.

I believe there’s never been a more critical or a more exciting time for conservation than right now. The pillars of our organization are strong, but it’s going to take focused, strategic and honest effort on our part to continue building them up.

As I listen and talk to others in the conservation community I keep hearing that “conservation is at a cross roads.”   Climate change. Biodiversity loss. Wetlands continuing to be lost at unsustainable rates.  All of this is true. But remember, as weighty and daunting as the issues may seem, DUC delivers hope.  We deliver hope to those who can’t see a way to stop the loss. Hope for wildlife and water and the precious resources entrusted in our care. Hope for a new generation of kids who go to bed dreaming of becoming biologists or conservationists and making a difference.

So as I assume the role of CEO, I accept it with great humility and responsibility. For 78 years DUC has sent a message to the world that we are an organization that leads by example. That provides solutions. That marches steadily forward because every single one of you embodies the spirit of a tenacious, passionate conservationist.

We have what it takes, and I couldn’t be more proud to help uphold this legacy.

Read the official announcement of Karla Guyn’s appointment as CEO.