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Alumna's Career Changes But Environmental Focus Remains

Wildlife ecology class earns credit for her mindset
8/19/2016

More than 20 years after she was a graduate student at ESF, Christine Earley Strickland, M.S. '95, can identify the course that changed her thinking.

"My wildlife ecology class completely changed my perspective on wildlife management. Because of it, I was able to be neutral on hunting when I later worked with a land conservation organization," she said. "That course helped me understand the role of hunting as it relates to wildlife habitat and conservation."

On a broader level, her formal education, which culminated with a master's degree in environmental land use planning, gave her the skills to build a successful career with a prominent conservation organization and then launch a new endeavor as an entrepreneur.

"I believe that some of the most important things higher education can teach you in life are to ask questions, be a critical thinker, have an open mind, and question status quo," she said. "Sometimes I might question too much: Is this really the best product? Service? Way to do this? How can we further lighten our environmental impact?"

Last year, after 16 years in a variety of roles with Colorado Open Lands, which works to preserve open land through public-private partnerships and innovative conservation techniques, Strickland plunged into the retail world with her own line of environmentally friendly crafts. Dubbed Earley Bird Crafts, the business sells handmade soaps, accessories and household goods made from recycled materials, and edibles such as jams and shortbread. She sells some items online through her Facebook business page, and maintains a presence in Wilde Belle Boutique in Lakewood, Colorado, along with three other stores in the Denver area.

Strickland, a native of Connecticut, was drawn to the West because she loves the mountains.

When she graduated with her master's degree, she did a 5,000-mile tour of several western states, scheduling what were supposed to be informational interviews. One of those conversations led to a part-time job with the Center for Resource Management, where she worked until she moved on to a two-year fellowship with Colorado Open Lands. The fellowship developed into a full-time job with a series of responsibilities, including managing the Fellowship Program, doing conservation and land protection work, then fundraising, outreach and communications.

But her creative side was looking for some fulfillment so the craft business was born.

Strickland uses fabric from thrift stores to make accessories including hats and scarves, and home goods such as blankets and pillows. In her soap, she substitutes babassu oil in place of less sustainable coconut oil and water-intensive almond oil. Colorado's homegrown sunflower oil also makes an appearance in her products. She uses Colorado peaches and a neighbor's lavender in her jams.

"Whenever possible, I use local and organic and/or sustainably grown ingredients," she said.

Ten percent of her profits go to land conservation efforts in Colorado.

"I enjoyed that work immensely, I learned a tremendous amount, and it allowed me to directly fulfill my lifelong conservation ethic," she said of her former role with Colorado Open Lands. "But now I get to do something completely different that I have wanted to pursue for a long time and it's modestly successful. I am committed to making products that are as environmentally responsible as possible. The conservation of our natural world is still my greatest passion and the guiding principle in my life. I don't know how long I will run this business, but I know that connecting it to environmental sustainability will always be a top priority."