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Alumni Spotlight: Desiree Beaudry

Alumni Spotlight: Desiree Beaudry

Below is Desiree’s bio and written responses to my questions about her life, her love for birds, and advice she has for those interested in environmental activism. The views expressed in this article represent Desiree Beaudry’s perspective and do not necessarily reflect those of the Environmental Humanities Program at the University of Utah. 

I was born in Houston, TX (pop. 596k at the time) to a Roman Catholic family and descendants of Italian immigrants who became staunch Republicans in their effort to secure their place in heaven in the next life and prosper on this Earthly plane in the name of God and free market capitalism. The stork must have had the wrong address when it delivered me because my values and worldview are the antithesis of theirs, and I was asked to leave the dinner table on more than one occasion. That’s what can happen if a woman is afforded a “liberal” education, but it may be by the critical theory class taught by Kathryn Stockton (UU English Dept) that nailed me to the cross later in life.

From a young age, the natural world was my refuge–the only place that made sense to me because the laws of nature are immutable while human laws are capricious. As a “baby boomer,” I came of age in the late 60s-early 70s on the heels of the industrial revolution and in the throes of the Vietnam War and the assassination of President Kennedy. 

I have always enjoyed the thrill of discovery in the classroom, when reading, and through direct experience outside in the natural world. I majored in Geology at Rice University where a course in anthropology revealed the shocking atrocities of early Catholic missionaries during Spanish colonization of Indigenous people throughout the Americas. From Rice, I matriculated directly into a doctoral program at UCSD and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. My dissertation was an investigation of the convergence zone between the northeast edge of the Indian Ocean plate and the Indonesian Archipelago–the plate boundary that ruptured and triggered the tsunami that claimed the lives of 230,000 people on December 26, 2004.

Upon graduation, I worked a short stint at Exxon Production Research Company, but that was decidedly not my cup of tea. I became a gradual student, that is, I went to school until I gradually tired of it, then I returned to work because (sigh) I must. After two years, I took a voluntary separation package offered by EPR to employees following a recession in the early 1980s triggered by the 1979 energy crisis resulting from a sharp rise in oil prices then a long steep decline in the price of oil causing a rise in unemployment.

I enrolled in the University of Utah and received an MS in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism followed by a 20-year career as the Research and Planning Analyst for the Parks & Recreation Division of Salt Lake County. It was a great job with great people during a great time in Salt Lake County history. I initially arrived in Salt Lake City in 1987 (pop. 160k and declining). Just my cup of tea. climbing, skiing, hiking, and exploring Utah was extraordinary. 

But all good things came to an end and in 2008, I left employment with Salt Lake County and entered the Environmental Humanities Program at the University of Utah. Failing to find employment in environmental conservation, I returned to Houston (pop. now over 2 million) to care for my aging mother. I worked various jobs, and in 2021, my mother passed away from complications due to Covid-19, and I became gainfully retired (pop. 2.3 million).

With Earth's environment in decline and Houston’s population pressing in, I decided to spend my remaining years observing wild birds in their natural habitat. I landed in the city of Ingleside TX (pop. 9,387) souls many of whom are veterans or families thereof on the Coastal Bend adjacent to the longest barrier island in the world and key stopover for migrating birds.

Unable to bear witness to the inexorable destruction of prime oak motte habitat and the inevitable decline of the bird and wildlife population to meet the insatiable demand for oil and gas, I now reside in Kanab Utah (pop. 4,680) where I intend to explore the Colorado Plateau with my canine companion, Peeves. Given a choice, I prefer to take my chances near uranium mines than live in the shadow of oil and gas refineries that emit CO2 and noxious gasses into the atmosphere and hence, everyone’s backyard. We can run, but we cannot hide. In the words of poet Mary Oliver, I intend to fight the good fight and live my “one wild and precious life” deliberately.


What have you been up to since you graduated from the Environmental Humanities Program?

I returned to Houston, Texas [gasp!] to reconnect with family and care for my aging mother. I became a docent at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and became a certified teacher in Texas where I taught science to 7th and 8th graders for two years—the hardest job I ever had. After that, I tutored students in math and English; then landed work as a proofreader and editor of papers for publication in peer-reviewed journals written by scientists whose native language was not English. This experience exposed me to the broad sweep of environmental problems across the planet from pharmaceuticals found in the waters off popular resort destinations to the inexorable destruction of coral reefs by the crown-of-thorns starfish. 

During this time, I discovered another group of enthusiastic and like-minded individuals who regularly banded together under the auspices of the Houston Audubon Society and the Ornithological Society. This group of bird fanciers were a group of mostly retired professionals (intrepid adventurers) with an intellectual bent who got up before dawn to brave icy weather and tromp through muddy bogs in search of elusive avian species––my kind of people. I was hooked and my desire to study wild birds in their natural habitat grew.


Can you share more about your experience studying and observing birds in the Coastal Bend of Texas and how it led you to become involved in environmental activism against the construction of ammonia plants along the Gulf Coast?

Upon retirement, I pursued my obsession with wild birds and landed on the Coastal Bend--the last “weird” place in Texas and took up residence in Ingleside TX, a bedroom community on the north shore of Corpus Christi Bay. It is a key rest stop for migrating birds traveling between summer breeding grounds in northern North America and warmer climates in Central and South America–the original climate refugees. The Texas Gulf Coast is vital to bird migration and is known for the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. I finally found my vocation and was about to fulfill a lifelong dream as an ecologist.

I joined the Ingleside Garden Club not knowing they were movers and shakers in the community. Through that group, I hooked up with the editor of the local newspapers and began publishing articles in the Ingleside Index and Aransas Pass Progress.

While covering a story for the paper, I met Patrick Nye, president of the IOBCWA (Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch Association). The IOBCWA was two years into a fight to stop the buildout of an ammonia plant on the shoreline. I joined the group and began to study the issue. Each time I searched for a fact, a dozen more questions arose. What were the risks, costs, rewards, and purpose of ammonia production facilities? As pieces fell into place, I discovered plans to transform San Patricio County into a dumping ground for industry to be exploited and abused in the name of so-called “clean” hydrogen.

Martha Habluetzel––longtime resident of Ingleside–and I helped spread the news of industry’s plans to unsuspecting residents, and on February 16, 2024, in accordance of the residents’ mandate, the City Council denied the request for an “objectional use” permit by Enbridge (the largest pipeline company in North America) and Yara (the world’s largest manufacturer of fertilizer) to build an ammonia production plant on the shores of Ingleside. While this was a small victory, I am not naïve enough to believe that 10,000 residents can stop a multinational corporation from seeking fame and fortune, and while the issue has subsided in local circles, the wheels of “progress” are moving inexorably forward on the national and international stage in support of hydrogen and ammonia production along the Texas Gulf Coast from the Port of Corpus Christi to Port of Calcasieu in Louisiana with empty promises of “well-paying” jobs,  “clean” hydrogen, and “blue” ammonia. 


Given your experiences and insights into various environmental and social issues, what advice would you offer to individuals interested in becoming more involved in environmental activism or advocacy within their communities?

Find a community of people interested in the thing you love and join its cadre of members. Most clubs and associations begin with enthusiasts and morph into environmental activism. Only a deep abiding love of the natural world will motivate you and only a cadre of like-minded people will sustain you through the nonsense of the rapacious bullies (bent on ruining the environment for everyone) and the naysayers you will encounter along the way. The path is fraught with small victories and big setbacks, and it is easy to become discouraged. A recent phenomenon now recognized by psychologies as “ecoanxiety.” explains my chronic depression and bouts of melancholy. Symptoms are present in a range of people from the general population who experience grief, anger, and depression over the fate of life on Earth––a true existential crisis.

Gain knowledge and grow in understanding of the Really Big Picture—the ecological framework and cyclical nature of ecosystems and how we as homo sapiens sapiens interact. Gradually, people who grasp a larger ecological picture and the vital role of wildlife and climate in creating and maintaining ecological health of our physical environment. 

The EH program gave me a solid foundation on which to build a lifelong vocation. The field of ecology is broad and one of the most successful branches is that of Citizen Scientist. Composed of a cadre of misfit scientists, outdoor enthusiasts, and nature aficionados, apps such as eBird, iNaturalist, and others allow anyone with a smartphone to contribute to the global database. They provide training and allow individuals to upload observations from the field. Caveat: you may become hopelessly hooked on the practice and utterly engrossed in observation of the natural world. 

Pay attention to the environment you inhabit, including the many microcosms of habitat and the creatures that live there. Identify allies and predators within the web of life that includes water, rocks, plants, insects, birds, mammals, and humans.

Focus on the facts and the Truth behind the ecological principles that sustain life. If interested in this topic, I recommend the journal “Inside Climate News.”, a Pulitzer Prize winning publication. Also, check out Sharon Wilson (methane hunter) on LinkedIn and those she follows. She is an activist featured in several documentaries on the subject.

To allay ecoanxiety, I remember a thought put forth by the late Dave Foreman––founder of Earth First! and the Rewilding Institute. In his book Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, Dave describes environmental activists as “antibodies” here to heal the wounds caused by the damage humankind has inflicted on Earth the source of things needed to create and sustain life and protect it from future harm.


I’ll leave you with this blessing from Edward Abbey: 

Benedicto: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you -- beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.

Alumni Spotlight: Desiree Beaudry

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Last Updated: 5/8/24