Stacy Cachules; Operations Director; Central Indiana Land Trust

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The National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders Career Center is celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. We’re calling this group of change-makers and rising stars “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”

Interviewee: Stacy Cachules
Operations Director
Central Indiana Land Trust

Interviewer: David Corsar, NWF

Stacy is an Operations Director at Central Indiana Land Trust, where she helps protect the remaining natural areas left in the region. As a 2004 NWF grassroots communication Intern, Stacy worked on a variety of legislative issues and initiatives.

David Corsar: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how has participation as an NWF Intern help shape your career path?
Stacy Cachules:
For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to do something to help the environment. Starting my career with an internship at NWF gave me so much exposure to the possibilities of what one could do in this field. Going to Washington, DC alone is such a culture shock but then to be dumped into all these different legislative issues, initiatives, and getting exposure to all the affiliate groups, it was overwhelming in the best way possible! It not only shaped me by giving me the professional experience to build my resume and making contacts but it really showed me that there’s more possibilities out there than I ever knew.

DC: What was the top thing that you learned in your professional development with NWF?
NWF was my first entrée into a real world career teaching me every day work etiquette. The top thing that jumped to me right away, in the nature of the policy work I was doing, was the up-and-down nature of legislation and advocacy. There would be one bill that we worked hard to push and it didn’t pass and then the next day you’re shifting gears to something else. It taught me not to give up and keep working because for every let down you have, you’re going to have successes as well. We’re in this field to make a difference and we need to just KEEP GOING. I was so amazed to see these strong leaders that I was working with at NWF. They were putting their heart into these things and they were just so dedicated and they didn’t give up.

DC: What are you up to these days? Where are you working now, and why did you choose to work there?
I am the Operations Director for the Central Indiana Land Trust. As our name would describe we work to protect land in Central Indiana. We are focused on protecting the best remaining natural areas left in the central portion of the state. Before working here, I worked in Seattle for the Cascade Land Conservancy. I’m originally from Indiana so after being out on the west coast for a while my husband and I decided that we were ready to come back home to be with our family and start our own. It worked out perfectly that the land trust here was hiring at that time. Now I am happy to say that I get to work every day to protect special places in my home state! I’ve been here over five years now and I’m also a board member for the Indiana Wildlife Federation, an affiliate of NWF here in Indiana.

I have now been in the land trust field for over ten years now. If you would have asked me just out of college what a land trust did, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you but just getting involved and learning more is what developed my interest in this work. You can see the results of your work pretty instantly. We recently protected the last unprotected old growth forest in central Indiana. In our line of work you can directly see the result, you can walk on it, it’s real, it’s protected forever, it’s the reason I choose to continue doing this work.

DC: Can you tell us a little more about how land trust works?
There’s different ways to protect land. The Central Indiana Land Trust, where I work, we own and manage 26 natural preserves. For these properties that we own it is our responsibility to protect and care for them forever. That’s our mission. We have an endowment for stewardship of the properties that we continuously work to grow so that we can ensure the land we protect is kept in the best and highest conservation value forever. We also work with land owners on conservation easements. Those are transactions in which the land owners can retain ownership but the land trust holds an easement over a portion of the property that states certain restrictions to protect the natural landscape of that property. We take our obligation to defend these easements very seriously. The Land Trust Alliance is the governing umbrella organization for all land trust and they provide a lot of resources to assist in things. We have an insurance policy with them so that if anything ever did happen with a property and we need legal help defending it, then they could bring in their attorneys to help us defend those lands that can’t speak for themselves. A growing field within land trust is stewardship positions, someone on the ground to protect, maintain and defend the land.

DC: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
SC: I have two young boys (4 and 2 years old). I think once you become a parent you realize that you’re molding these young people to go out in the world and interact and do things. If there’s anything I could do right, I think it would be to instill the importance of taking care of this planet. I would like for them to do what they can personally to recycle or take care of the land and appreciate the beauty and natural landscape we have. In my everyday work, I just think about my kids and how I can carry that on to future generations, specifically for those two.
DC: What motivated you to begin this path?
I don’t recall any certain moment in time but I do go back to my childhood. When I was in the 5th or 6th grade, I grew up in a very fast growing suburb of Indianapolis and remember observing the changing landscape. My neighborhood was once surrounded by a lot of forested areas and farms and year by year things were changing and the landscape turned into subdivisions and strip malls. Nobody told me if this was good or bad but my take was that this can’t be right and we should slow down. As I started my studies in college, I begun focusing some of my classes towards the environmental realm and then obtained a degree in Environmental Management from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. After graduating I moved to Washington D.C. to become an intern at NWF.

DC: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
SC: I’ve had so many wonderful influences in my career. When I was in college at IU, I was enrolled in a class about conservation ethics and it was such an amazing turning point for me. One of our readings for that class was A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold and getting to read this life-changing book and have a professor that was so involved in the conservation movement was such a strong influence to my career path. In that class, the light bulb turned on for me and I was inspired and knew it was our responsibility to respect and protect this landscape we’d been given.
DC: Did you have any mentors or career coaches assist you in developing your career path?
I’ve been really lucky at NWF and my jobs since then, I have always worked with very strong and amazing women. Seeing these really strong, successful, determined women just rising up the ranks and making such a difference in this movement was so inspiring. I felt like if they could do it, then I could do it.

DC: If so, what made those mentorship relationships work?
Having a strong respect for people that you consider a mentor is important. Moreover, I don’t feel like someone can be a mentor unless you feel respected by them too. Keeping the contacts alive, keeping those connections and keeping in touch with people is important as well.

DC: How important do you feel obtaining project-based leadership experience is when entering the workforce?
SC: Very, very important! I have worked with a lot of recent grads or interns and sometimes I’m shocked when people don’t come in with any project experience and it’s just all education. Project-based experience is so important. I think back upon my internships and how I was able to troubleshoot around issues related to legislation and projects. Troubleshooting and managing projects gives you so much experience that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life and you’ll pull from them as you go along.

DC: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability in your sector?
Get the experience! It may not be a formal internship but it could be volunteering, going around to places and getting your foot in the door and finding out where you want to be and what you want to do. My two internships got me where I am today. Without those internships, I firmly believe that I would not be in the environmental field. I’m a strong advocate of internships. I think they are great and especially the work NWF is doing to build careers with young people.

Another thing I’d recommend would be to not limit yourself or be too set in your ways. I always thought I had to have a certain job or title in order to be happy starting out. If you don’t limit yourself you may be pleasantly surprised. I know non-profit salaries are not that big but don’t chase a salary, chase what you think will be the best experience to grow where you want to be.

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Date Added: May 12, 2017
Date Last Modified: May 15, 2017