poses with Huckleberry, one of several rescued equines she
As director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Arizona, Holly Richter has spent years bringing together people with disparate agendas: ranchers, environmentalists, scientists, politicians and regular people.
It's an arduous task, but she
'll do whatever it takes to protect the things she finds most precious: nature and animals.
On a rainy December night in Southern Arizona, Holly Richter
faces a conflict.
It's not the usual environmental conflict fueled by competing needs for diminishing water supplies or frail landscapes, the kind of conflict she sees as the Arizona chapter of The Nature Conservancy's director of conservation.
On this night, Richter
faces a clash within herself, and it centers on a neglected donkey.
probably shouldn't rescue another equine - the corrals on her
property bordering the San Pedro River are already full of expensive-to-maintain horses and donkeys she's
either inherited or rescued, and she
also owns two dogs, a cat and several parrots.
Still, this donkey will surely die or be slaughtered if she
doesn't step in, and she
doesn't know how she
could live with herself if she
just stood by and let it happen.
Weakened by hunger, the donkey struggles to lift his
head, as though he
can read her
When Richter walks away, the donkey lets out a long, mournful bray.
Of course, Holly Richter
takes the donkey home.
This pre-flight check-in involves Richter
putting Louie's nose into the halter while she's
still outside the corral.
pulls the halter behind his
into the corral.
gives him a treat.
"Head up, head up," she
says in her
lifts up his
Louie's ready for takeoff.
A tall, strong woman with long brown hair and piercing dark eyes, Richter
leads Louie out of the corral and onto a dirt road linking the corrals and her
"Step up, step up," Richter tells Louie.
walks him, stops him, walks him, stops him.
gets Louie comfortable with his
new world, she
hopes to hop on his
back one day.
job is to ask, "So, what are we going to do about it?
There are pictures of Richter
as a baby and small child at home in rural New York.
mom died unexpectedly when Richter
father remarried and forged a blended family that Richter
valued and loved; she
"ability to develop productive working relationships with conservation partners" stems in part from the "values and support I inherited from my family."
happiest when everyone else is happy with an environmental solution - such as when stakeholders forged an agreement recently to replenish the San Pedro near Palominas.
The project explores new ways to capture storm water so it can sink into the ground and bolster dwindling groundwater that feeds a river threatened by drought and overuse.
There is much that's been done, a lot more to be done and a certain urgency brought on by the "prolonged drought.
takes action in the face of huge environmental odds because, she
says, if you let the enormity of a problem overwhelm you, it becomes paralyzing.
got an office in Tucson, her
house and her
relentlessly driven to rescue what she
holds most precious: nature and animals.
Before I leave, I ask her
drive, and she
says, "That's hard to answer, but I guess, at the end of the day, you want to know you made a difference."
A few months later, Louie's out in the pasture with Richter's beloved Huckleberry, a hardworking, gentle donkey she's
owned for years.
Out of the blue, Louie attacks Huckleberry, who is much smaller.
With Louie riding on his
back, Huckleberry runs to the barn for help, and Richter
has to whack Louie with a rope to get him off Huckleberry.
Huckleberry survives, but Richter's
faced with another internal conflict.
Louie is a threat to her
other, good-natured equines.
forced to make a heart-wrenching decision.
gives Louie to a friend of a friend, someone who has a much larger donkey, named Peacemaker, at a ranch near Sonoita.
Peacemaker doesn't put up with Louie's kicks or bites, and Richter
says Louie is happy there.
In the end, she
says, "rescuing and managing equines" isn't all that different from tackling complex environmental problems.
You can't always make everything perfect, but at least you can make a difference.
rescued Louie, and he's
Of course, he's
not living on her
ranch, as she
'd hoped, but she knows things don't always turn out as expected.
"Fix what can be fixed," she