Getting To Know Mojave National Preserve’s Superintendent Stephanie Dubois

This story appeared in the September 2013 issue of Desert Report.

Mojave National Preserve’s Superintendent Stephanie Dubois believes that building a relationship with the land is the best way to help save special places like the Mojave National Preserve, but that it’s also important to engage with people who may not share your views or love of nature. Jane Goodall, in her book Reason for Hope, said she was devoting the rest of her life to education, and she implored us to talk about what’s important to us with people that are not like us.

Stephanie Dubois’ life work has been shaped by her passion for learning and experiences in nature. “The more you know the more you know there is to know,” says Dubois when reminiscing about her childhood and education. She grew up in an air force family that moved around the country, but was shaped by her experience living in South Dakota’s Black Hills. In the remote Black Hills, Stephanie remembers cutting her first Christmas tree, collecting rocks and seeing wild bison.

Superintendent Stephanie Dubois, MNP | National Park Service
Superintendent Stephanie Dubois, MNP | National Park Service

Dubois’s love of learning, the outdoors and the environment blossomed into a career with the National Park Service after earning a degree in botany. “I wasn’t really cut out to be a scientist, but what I loved about botany and ecology was the wonder of it,” says Dubois. She developed her wanderlust after reading John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie.

Mojave National Preserve’s fourth Superintendent has worked in a variety of national parks, including Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Chaco Culture National Historic Park and Glacier National Park, where she has held leadership positions. Most of her background is in education and interpretation, but she also spent three years working in law enforcement, which taught her valuable lessons about keeping visitors and park staff safe.

Dubois’s work at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area was particularly important in her development as a leader in the National Park Service. She sees a lot of parallels between that park and Mojave National Preserve, which were both about 20 years old when she arrived. “What delights me is that Mojave’s staff is so willing to explore what needs to be done without worrying about whose job it should be,” says Dubois. “Our staff examines an issue and then asks the question, ‘What do we need to do to get there?’”

Dubois is drawn to the big stories of place. Glen Canyon’s story, according to Dubois, was really about how much are we willing to sacrifice to live a comfortable lifestyle. The Canyon was a beautiful and remote desert area that was flooded in order to develop energy and water resources. Dubois sees a parallel between what happened years ago at Glen Canyon and the decisions we are making about renewable energy in the California desert today. “We are moving forward to reduce our carbon footprint as a nation, but it doesn’t seem like we are very good at reflecting on when it’s worth it and when it isn’t.”

Another formative experience was her work as Superintendent of Chaco Culture National Historic Park, which enhanced her respect for all cultures. Dubois was fascinated with the deep cultural history of Chaco Canyon. “Every one of the tribes had a different view of the importance of Chaco Canyon for their culture,” states Dubois. While archaeologists say there is evidence that tells the story of the Ancestral Puebloan people one way, Native American tribes have their own distinct views.

Superintendent Dubois thinks that Mojave National Preserve’s most important resources are its vastness, water resources, and the rich history and cultures of the people who have called the Preserve home. She believes strongly that we are all responsible for protecting these values from threats that are present in the desert Southwest such as the drawdown of water resources, encroachment by renewable energy projects, other forms of external development, climate change and ever shrinking park budgets.

Dubois would like to see the Preserve’s education programs expand and continue to and involve school kids by teaching them about the unique ecology and history of the region. She’d also like to have an internship program that could house interns in the Preserve and bring on budding college students from Barstow, Victorville and Las Vegas who want to gain real-life experience about resource management and interpretation.

Dubois hopes that such a program could build connections between the new generation and the Preserve. Remembering a trip to Macedonia Canyon that introduced her to the wonders of the Mojave Preserve, Stephanie recounts, “It was a rediscovery and I was enchanted by the canyon’s rock walls and barrel cacti. One thing I like about the desert is that it is much more than it appears.”

Seth Shteir is California Desert Field Representative for the National Parks Conservation Assn.