Laura Huggins has spent the past twenty years working in the environmental arena—from writing about global issues at a think tank at Stanford University, to generating free market solutions to U.S. environmental challenges with a group called PERC, to helping create a vast wildlife reserve in Montana with American Prairie Reserve. Laura’s current focus is on the intersection between non-profits and for-profits and seeing how business can do well by doing good for the planet. She has published several books including Environmental Entrepreneurship: Markets Meet the Environment in Unexpected Places.
Where do you live and how long have you lived there?
I live in Bozeman, Montana, and have lived there for the past 15 years.
How did you choose to live there?
I was lucky enough to get to do a graduate fellowship in Bozeman when I was 21. After that experience I always knew I would be back!
What do you find special about living there?
People choose to live here because they have a passion for mountain life—meaning we value outdoor experiences and time with family, friends and dogs over the hustle and bustle of city life.
Why is it that you value these experiences?
Time spent on the Big Hole River last summer comes to mind… Here, time slows down, the families’ iPhones disappear, ambient noise turns into just the water and your fly line, tense shoulders drop, and soon there is space for rich conversations, swimming with the dog, and, if you’re lucky, catching a big trout!
What is your favorite way to spend a day off in Bozeman?
In summer, float and fish the Yellowstone River, take in the views of Mount Cowen (the Grand Teton of the Absaroka Range), and top off the evening with music at the Pine Creek Inn.
In winter, get up early and eat bacon, hike The Ridge at Bridger Bowl with the family, and wind down the day at Deer Park Chalet.
What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve had to overcome living there?
Nine months of winter can be long—an annual pilgrimage to the desert to thaw out is a must. Also, our global cuisine options are limited. When I first moved to Bozeman, for example, sushi was hard to come by. The first roll I tried to order in Bozeman actually had beef jerky in it! Today, we have more options but steak and potatoes still rule the day.
What is unique about your community that you wouldn’t find other places?
Skiing days count as sick days, when the blue light is blinking on top of the old Hotel Baxter that means powder day (and lots of sick days taken), dogs are welcome in all places and most banks have treats for canines at the counter. Many consider Bozeman to be the trout fly fishing capital of America—although anglers try to keep that on the down-low!
The outdoor opportunities surrounding Bozeman sound amazing, but was is unique about the community of people that call Bozeman home?
Bozeman is often ranked high in best places to live surveys with the reasons rooted in the plethora of mountain activities, but it’s the community of people that really make our town so special. In part, I think this stems from Bozeman having a university that attracts a mix of tech entrepreneurs, conservationists, hipsters and actual cowboys. This recipe seems to make people extra friendly. Tourists often say they are surprised by the friendliness of the locals and that the eye contact and smiles from strangers takes some getting used to, but it’s these friendly faces at the farmers market, fishing takeouts, skijoring events, chair lifts at Bridger Bowl, sweet pea festival, etc. that I wouldn’t give up.
Do you have any defining childhood memories from the outdoors that have influenced where you are today?
I grew up spending the summers at our family cabin in Island Park, ID. Every morning my grandfather would wake me up at the crack of dawn to go fishing—he made it so much fun that I loved going out with him. The rest of the day I would run wild and free. I appreciated this time so much that I realized I needed a job where I could contribute to conservation. I went on to work at a think tank at Stanford where I got to study and write about environmental entrepreneurship and then later apply these ideas to the work I do with American Prairie Reserve and PERC in Bozeman.
How do you find balance between your professional career and mountain pursuits?
I have always tried to set expectations with employers and also people who have worked for me that time spent on mountain pursuits is valuable and a high priority. Those who work with me know that my fuel and passion for conservation work come from being in it.
How do you give back to your community outside of work and play?
I was lucky to grow up being exposed to lots of outdoor experiences with lots of amazing mentors. Now, it’s my time to pay it forward. Some of the community activities I’m currently involved in include the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program and the Bozeman Youth Cycling Club. There is nothing more rewarding than exposing underserved kids to the natural resources all around us--rafting, skiing, or fishing for the first time always bring big smiles. And the local mountain bike club, in my unbiased opinion, is one of the best programs in Bozeman! I volunteer to ride with high school aged girls because I want to help share the lessons I’ve learned—women can get after it, get dirty and sweaty, fix broken stuff, and have loads of fun while you’re at it!
Where does your career and personal path take you from here?
I find my path keeps taking me closer to home (the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem). I am excited to take the lessons I have learned from studying global environmental challenges to working on an audacious project with American Prairie Reserve and applying them toward solving local environmental challenges--in the places that I use and appreciate most!