Lucas Joppa, Ph.D.

Ecologist, Computational Ecology and Environmental Science, Microsoft

I come from the wilds of northern Wisconsin, where the rambling Nicolete and Chequamegon National Forests sprawl across the landscape. I spent my time watching the animals in those forests, obsessed with figuring out where they were, what they were doing, and the ‘why’ behind it all.

It was Aldo Leopold—led partly by his experience with culling wolves—who wrote “the key to intelligent tinkering is to keep every cog and wheel.” For the past forty years, the Endangered Species Act has ensured that we adhere to Leopold’s dictum.

No matter how hard I looked, there were some species I rarely saw. Bobcats and fishers are common in those woods, but resisted my attempts to intrude on their privacy. My failure to spot those species was a result of youthful impatience. But my failure to spot a single Gray wolf was not my fault—Wisconsin’s top predator had been exterminated twenty-two years before I was born.

Two years ago, my family reported sighting a Gray wolf trotting across the backyard of my childhood home. The story of how it—and nearly 800 others—returned to once again haunt the timbers of Wisconsin forests is an inspirational one, centered on the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Protected as an endangered species, the nation’s Gray wolf population was pulled from the brink of collapse, and slowly moved back into the forests I once roamed.

Today, I work as an ecologist for Computational Ecology and Environmental Science group in Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK. Our group is tasked with building predictive models of environmental systems. Microsoft is committed to the principles underlying the Endangered Species Act, and we are the first and only corporate partner to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List—the most comprehensive and important dataset on threatened and endangered species around the world. Actions like these are not just about corporate social responsibility; we are actively recognizing that intact and functioning ecosystems are good for all businesses.

It was Aldo Leopold—led partly by his experience with culling wolves—who wrote “the key to intelligent tinkering is to keep every cog and wheel.” For the past forty years, the Endangered Species Act has ensured that we adhere to Leopold’s dictum. At Microsoft we believe we should keep it that way.