Lisa McGee looked out across the landscape on a recent summer trip she took with her son, Dylan, on the Wyoming Range National Recreation Trail, a 75-mile trail that runs along the spine of the mountains. If things had gone differently, she realized, they could have been hiking through an oil and gas field instead of enjoying a backcountry experience.
McGee is executive director of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. The statewide conservation organization counts among its long list of “concrete wins” its work facilitating the buyout of oil and gas leases that were grandfathered in after the Wyoming Range Legacy Act protected 1.2 million acres.
“They’ll never be leased again,” McGee says. “It’s amazing to say that the work I’ve done with my partners and colleagues around the state has protected this place.”
McGee joined the Wyoming Outdoor Council in 2003 as an intern when she was still in law school. The nonprofit hired her in 2005 as a staff attorney and, in January 2018, McGee became executive director.
Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, McGee had never traveled west of the Mississippi River until a presentation from the Student Conservation Association persuaded her to apply for a summer job in the Grand Canyon. The following summer she worked in Yellowstone National Park.
“The national parks exposed me to the natural sciences,” McGee says. “And I was just awestruck by this shared legacy that we all have, and why wouldn’t I want to spend all of my free time traveling around and visiting national parks?”
In 1996, she graduated from Miami University in Ohio with degrees in art history and anthropology, and returned West, this time to Grand Teton National Park to work. She thought it would just be a summer job, but she fell in love with Wyoming. During her first winter in town she interned with the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and knew afterward she wanted to work for an advocacy group.
“I saw there were things that are worth fighting for,” she says.
McGee went to law school at the University of Wyoming specifically to work in conservation advocacy. Minus a year she clerked for a judge in Alaska, McGee has worked at Wyoming Outdoor Council since she finished law school.
“We work every day to protect public lands, wildlife, clean air, and water, and those are the things that inspire me,” she says.
As executive director of a statewide conservation organization, McGee is often on the road, working on projects across Wyoming, as well as those in Teton County. She works with a variety of stakeholders on projects like protecting mule deer migration corridors and the Snake River’s headwaters. Those campaigns are driven by citizens on the local and state levels.
“Conservation success is often a long game, so you can be doing really good work, year after year, without a lot of tangible things to show for
it,” she says. And then you might take your son on an outdoor adventure and look out across the Wyoming Range and see the impact of all those
years of hard work.