Monadnock Profiles: A love of nature was a pathway to long career

  • Scott Hecker grew up as a lover of nature, creating art and capturing images of the natural world around him. And it has led to a long career in bird protection and land conservation. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

  • Scott Hecker grew up as lover of nature, creating art and capturing images of the natural world around him. And its led to a long career in bird protection and land conservation. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Scott Hecker grew up as lover of nature, creating art and capturing images of the natural world around him. And its led to a long career in bird protection and land conservation. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Scott Hecker grew up as lover of nature, creating art and capturing images of the natural world around him. And its led to a long career in bird protection and land conservation. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Scott Hecker. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 12/31/2019 3:41:19 PM
Modified: 12/31/2019 3:41:01 PM

Scott Hecker remembers the moment when he wanted to do more than just enjoy nature.

It was June of 1969 and Hecker was in the ninth grade in his hometown of Olmsted Falls, Ohio. Sparks from a passing train caused the badly polluted Cuyahoga River to catch fire, and while it only lasted about a half hour, it left a big impact on Hecker. He had taken a field trip on that river in the second grade and couldn’t fathom how something so devastating could happen to such a cherished natural resource.

It was at that point he realized that something had to be done to preserve the world around him.

“That made me think about protecting nature and not just observing it,” Hecker said.

Growing up, he was an amateur wildlife artist and photographer, using his natural surroundings to foster his creativity. His parents wanted him to focus on something academic. Turns out he was able to do both.

He first went to the University of Florida because it offered a major in biological illustration. The abundance of wildlife in Florida was also a draw, as was the existence of a natural history museum on campus.

Then Hecker decided to pursue his dream school, Prescott College in Arizona. He graduated with a degree in natural history and minor in biological illustration, which he essentially developed on his own. It was a bit of a risk going to Prescott, since it had actually gone bankrupt and closed the prior school year. 

But it came back to an article he read about the school called ‘Prescott Kids Go Wild’.

“The motto was the southwest is your classroom,” Hecker said.

After graduation, he started illustrating for books and trail guides for national parks, including the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, went on a 500-mile canoe trip along the Yukon River in Alaska and spent six weeks following the route of Don Quixote on horseback in Spain.

The latter came after being hired as the assistant director of admissions at Prescott, but an urge to return to his artistic ways led to a return trip to Florida and a period of time creating etchings of endangered species and producing his work in the printmaking lab at Hillsborough Community College. But Hecker knew there was bigger things out there for him.

“I felt I wasn’t doing enough to protect nature,” he said.

In the fall of 1984, he came to New Hampshire for a graduate program in natural resource management at Antioch University. He focused on the protection of tropical forests and birds in Belize and Central America under the guidance of Meade Cadot, who spent more than three decades as the executive director of the Harris Center.

Then his career started to take shape and it came by pure happenstance.

He was visiting a friend in Lincoln, Massachusetts and happened to find his way to the Massachusetts Audubon. He asked to speak with someone about his efforts in Belize and turns out the Audubon had just developed a program to support land acquisition in the Central American country.

Hecker was asked to be an intern and helped further the program to where 150,000-plus acres were purchased in Belize for preservation through donor support, all the while working to prevent Coca Cola Foods from developing land for a citrus operation. His work led to Coca Cola donating 109,000 acres to the program.

“It’s the largest private reservation in all of Central America,” Hecker said. “And in conservation, bigger is better.”

That work led to a summer job as a tern warden, protecting the nesting area of coastal birds on Cape Cod.

“I knew nothing about coastal birds,” Hecker said. “But that changed my life in a major way.”

He was responsible for 13 beaches and in another gift of good fortune, his internship was transformed into the director of coastal birds, focusing on the Roseate Tern and Piping Plover – thanks to funding from a private donor.

“It launched a whole new beginning of beach management in Massachusetts,” Hecker said.

This was in the late 1980s and conicided with a push to close beaches to vehicles to protect the species’s natural environments and nesting areas and with a tremendous amount of success, the mating pairs of Piping Plovers skyrocketed.

He spent 16 years with the Massachusetts Audubon, before going to work for the National Audubon in an effort to replicate the success of the coastal bird program along the Atlantic Seaboard and Gulf Coast. While it wasn't as well received, Hecker knew how important the work was.

“All this happened because of the protection of the Piping Plover,” he said.

In 2008, he helped create Conservian Coastal Bird Conservation and received money from the International Conservation Fund of Canada, a nonprofit based in Nova Scotia created to advance the long-term preservation of nature and biodiversity in the tropics and other priority areas worldwide, to protect the Piping Plover in the Bahamas.

When visiting a friend in Nova Scotia, he wanted to meet with Tom Welch and Anne Lambert, the founders of ICFC.

“When I left that day, I said if you need anyone to work with you on shore birds, I’d be interested,” Hecker said.

Two months later he was offered a job as the director of the fund’s shore bird initiative and since joining the nonprofit in January of 2016, he has also added the title of director of bird conservation to his resume.

“ICFC is one of the biggest protectors of the tropics in all of Canada,” Hecker said.

As he dove further into his work, Hecker realized that protecting habitats in North America was only part of the puzzle – considering birds migrate south for the winter.

“If you don’t pay attention to the winter habitats, the birds will suffer,” he said. “When you take away habitats, these birds don’t have any place to go.”

Through his time at ICFC, Hecker has traveled all over the world and helped secure funding for countless projects aimed at conservation and protection. Their Amazon program has protected 25 million acres.

“I’ve really learned a tremendous amount about global conservation,” Hecker said.

What started as a passion for creating art using nature as his inspiration turned into a career that even Hecker will admit is the benefit of things lining up just right.

“Some people say you make your own luck,” he said.

He still paints and has shown some of his artwork locally. He’s an avid bird photographer and has participated in the Christmas Bird Count since moving to the area almost two years ago.

Having spent time in Florida and Arizona, Hecker really wanted to come back to New Hampshire to live. He enjoyed his time in the region while studying at Antioch and found his way to Temple.

“The Monadnock Region was what I was attracted to,” Hecker said. “I wanted to be in a place that had seasons.”

Since landing in town, he joined the conservation commission, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, and was recently appointed chairman.

“People say you should think globally and act locally. Now I do both, act globally and act locally,” Hecker said.

He’s always had a love of nature and continues to mushroom forage, something he did with his grandfather.

“There are a lot of edible mushrooms here,” Hecker said. “I’ve been known to slam on the brakes whenever I see them.”

Hiking is a favorite pastime, so his work through the conservation commission to one day link trails in Temple to the Wapack Trail has a special meaning.

He has served on the board of Electric Earth Concerts for the last two years and is the music series’s official photographer.

But everything always seems to come back to birds and nature.

“Most of my life revolves around birds in some way or another,” Hecker said.

Right where it all began.




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