by Rosemary McKinnon and Linda Winnie

Photo Credit: Connie Cohen

Linda de Kort was presented Flathead Audubon’s Lifetime Conservation Achievement Recognition at the March 9 FAS meeting. Linda is an extraordinary science educator who has instilled in thousands of students and adults in this Valley, and far beyond, an understanding and appreciation of the natural world, and inspired in many of them a commitment to the conservation of this natural world – and especially to the conservation of the birds we share it with.

Linda De Kort – Photo Credit: Frank De Kort

Linda was a biology teacher for over 30 years, 24 of them at Flathead High. Her enthusiasm and open friendliness made her a favorite among the students. Her signature teaching strategy was to get her students outside to learn through direct observation of nature, and by doing scientific studies. As they learned through experience and experiments, they came to understand and appreciate – and value – our local natural places and our native plants and wildlife. Many have become supporters of conservation in the Flathead, and one is pursuing a career in sustainable energy.

Flathead Audubon recruited Linda when she retired. She served on the FAS board for 12 years and in 2003-5 as President, and shaped a new FAS education program. She chaired the Education Committee that organized Flathead Audubon’s first teachers’ workshop, and also organized a volunteer program that provided assistants to help these teachers and lead birding field trips for their students. Linda and her Committee received Montana Audubon’s “Environmental Educator of the Year” award for developing this budding education program.

The Committee also produced educational trunks for classroom use by Flathead Valley teachers. Linda designed bird puppets for the trunks, and a bird costume with interchangeable parts to teach bird anatomy and identification.

When this education program outgrew its volunteer base, Linda enlisted the Sustainability Fund to partner with Flathead Audubon to hire a part-time program manager, the precursor of our current FAS Conservation Educator.

Linda and Frank live in West Valley where Linda actively promotes nature education and conservation in her community. She has assisted with nature studies at West Valley School, and helped students design and plant a native plant garden there. She also organized the West Valley Naturalists Group, which brings community members together for presentations and discussions.

Over the last 15 years Linda has taken nature education beyond the Flathead. While she and Frank worked for Habitat for Humanity in Mexico’s Copper Canyon she introduced bird education there. She brought Spanish language books and education materials, old binoculars donated by FAS members, and a bird costume donated by Flathead Audubon, and several years taught local students about their local birds and bird habitat and how to conserve them.

Linda with students in Copper Canyon – Photo Credit: Frank de Kort

As they traveled to new places, Linda and Frank sought out new volunteer opportunities to connect local young people with their natural surroundings. In Panama, they spent 4 weeks at the Smithsonian marine laboratory training university students to be nature guides. While visiting Hawai’i they volunteered 2 weeks at Kokee Park on Kauai teaching school kids to recognize their native plants, and helping them remove invading exotics. In Ecuador, they brought bird education (and more FAS donated binoculars) to a local village in the Andes.

They also found opportunities to volunteer for conservation biology field projects. In Puerto Rico, they helped gather seeds in the native plant garden at a National Wildlife Refuge, and transplanted shoots from the garden to expand native plant coverage in the refuge, and monitored nearby turtle nests.

At a research station in Cost Rica, they collected caterpillars to determine which species of caterpillar transforms into which butterfly. They also participated in research to find new species of microbes for pharmaceutical use. The research succeeded in discovering a new yeast species, which the project leader named Metschnikowia dekortorum.

Flathead Audubon is proud and honored to recognize Linda de Kort for her life-long dedication to educating students of all ages about the natural world, and to getting them outside to experience the natural places where they live – and the birds they live with. THANK YOU for sharing your commitment to conservation and you deep appreciation of science with so many people.