Executive Director, Great Old Broads for Wilderness

Durango, Colorado

Inspired by her mother, a biology teacher, to love nature, Shelley Silbert worked for the Nature Conservancy and Northern Arizona University before looking for an organization where she could do more activism around issues relating to public lands and climate. Today, she is the Executive Director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a 30-year-old national grassroots organization led by women with the purpose of engaging and inspiring activism to preserve and protect wilderness and wild lands. The Lewis Family Foundation is proud to host the organization’s annual training program at its Alnoba headquarters this spring.

Foundation: How does Great Old Broads for Wilderness go about fulfilling its mission?

Shelley: We focus on empowering women to become knowledgeable advocates for our public lands. We train them to lead chapters across the country and to work in a very concerted way, with our support, on protecting public lands through policy, stewardship, and education.

Foundation: Why the focus on empowering women’s voices in particular?

Shelley: I believe women have something unique to contribute to the protection of our lands and waters. I think that women’s voices have not been heard enough, and we have not been in leadership roles in conservation policy. And yet we have such an important role to play. We have a different view, in general, of how to interact with Mother Nature. We take the long view—for generations and generations to come.

Foundation: What does your training program consist of?

Shelley: We have a training program every spring that teaches women about public lands, wilderness, and policy, and about leadership skills and active listening. From that point, we support them individually as chapter leaders. Also, every fall, we have a gathering of our leaders to network and learn from each other. And throughout the year, we have monthly conference calls for our leaders and webinars that are opportunities to learn more about issues that are affecting public lands.

We have 40 chapters across the country, but not all of our members live in areas that have chapters. They can join us in events every year called Broadwalks and Broadworks. Broadwalks are five-day advocacy and stewardship events focused around a particular landscape or a particular issue. Broadworks are stewardship projects on public lands.

Foundation: How did you connect with the Lewis Family Foundation?

Shelley: The connection began about two years ago when the Lewis Family Foundation came out for the opening of the Bears Ears Visit with Respect Education Center. We’re so thrilled to have Lewis Family Foundation support for public lands and wilderness. It’s exciting to see a Foundation that understands the importance of the environment and the importance of involving women as leaders.

Foundation: What is your vision for the future of your organization?

Shelley: We have a big agenda for the future. We’re at a point in the history of our planet where we have major impacts on our environment, our lands, our waters, and our climate. We hope that, by engaging women as leaders in this effort to conserve what is so important to the future, we’ll be able to transform society’s interaction with our environment, because we are very dependent on our environment—and right now, the environment is dependent on us.

Foundation: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

Silbert: I love being out in nature! I love to hike and backpack, and any time I can be near a stream, I’m very happy. I also enjoy writing and reading and teaching people about the wonders of the outdoors.

Foundation: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Shelley: They might be surprised to know that I come from an immigrant background. I’m a result of my grandparents’ coming to the U.S., so I care very deeply about what’s happening with immigration across the world. A lot of immigrants are having to flee their homes because of impacts from climate change and environmental destruction. I see a real connection between immigration issues and the environment.

Tell us a little about yourself. Which do you prefer?

Chocolate or vanilla?

Oh, dark chocolate—the darker the better!

Reading a book or seeing a movie?

I like both, but I read more books than I see movies.

Going for a hike or sitting by a fire?

Going for a hike—but I love winter when I can sit by the wood stove and read a book.

Talking or listening?

I’m a listener more than a talker. I’m a bit of an introvert.

Dogs or cats?

Definitely favorable to dogs—but I like cats, too.

Being interviewed or having a tooth pulled?

[laughing] I probably would choose the interview.