Syracuse University Magazine

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Nicole Rosmarino '93

Environmental Advocate

Nicole Rosmarino has fought for the protection of more than 800 species of plants and animals. They haven’t been exotic species in far-flung locations. Instead, she focuses on the complex ecosystems of the United States, especially in the plains near her Denver home. “We worry there aren’t enough tigers in the world, and elephants are in trouble,” Rosmarino says. “It’s important to have that global vision, but it’s also important to take it seriously when the extinction crisis is unfolding in our own backyards. And it usually is.”

For more than a decade, Rosmarino has worked as an advocate dedicated to the conservation of native species and their habitats. Since August, she has directed the Southern Plains Land Trust, which has established a network of short-grass prairie reserves and promotes respect for the region’s ecosystems. The trust purchases land as habitat for plants and animals whose living space is dwindling due to farming, ranching, and urban development. Rosmarino oversees many aspects of the trust, including fund raising, land acquisition, and land restoration.

Rosmarino’s passion for conservation is rooted in her Central New York upbringing. Growing up in the countryside near Cazenovia, she was taught by her parents to treasure nature. But her first act of environmental advocacy did not come until graduate school in Colorado, when her sister brought her to an event organized to save the area’s threatened prairie dogs. From there, she became a career conservationist—analyzing federal environmental policy, conducting scientific evaluations of imperiled species, and overseeing conservation programs. Her career draws on her political science and international relations studies at Syracuse University, as well as research she did to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in political science and public policy at the University of Colorado. Rosmarino credits SU with teaching her analytical skills and the importance of addressing injustices in society, which she calls the foundation of her conservation work. “As a society, and really as a species, we’re not being fair in terms of providing our non-human neighbors with enough space to live and breathe and eke out a living,” Rosmarino says. “Syracuse was an important part of teaching me that.” 

In 2001, Rosmarino began working for WildEarth Guardians, ultimately serving as wildlife program director. Her time at the environmental organization culminated in May 2011 with what she considers her most significant achievement—reaching an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to obtain federal protection decisions for 250 plant and animal species that have waited decades to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The deal requires USFWS to determine within the next five years which species to list, and whether more than 600 other species will become candidates for listing. “These species will get the final ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer they’ve been waiting for, and for some of them, a ‘yes’ can’t come soon enough,” Rosmarino says.

Rosmarino’s recent switch to the Southern Plains Land Trust has brought her career full circle. She helped found the trust in 1998 when she, her sister Bettina Rosmarino ’02, and colleague Lauren McCain purchased 1,280 acres of prairie after learning about the plight of the black-tailed prairie dog, whose population had fallen to 2 percent of historic numbers. Today, the trust’s network includes almost three times as much land, and certain species of flowers have been seen blooming on it for the first time in decades. “Conservation is a delicate dance between safekeeping what is left and restoring what was lost,” Rosmarino says. “If you can take solace in that first part, what is left, there’s a lot around us to celebrate. I really cherish what is left, but also seek to bring back what was lost.”     —Sarah Jane Capper