Mason’s Lee Talbot continues a lifetime of achievement

At 86 years old, Lee Talbot isn’t about to stop climbing mountains.

Twice a year, the renowned ecologist and geographer hikes and rafts across 6,000- to 9,000-foot peaks in Laos, where, as an environmental advisor to the Laotian government and the World Bank, he is helping preserve a crucial watershed that is part of a massive dam and reservoir project.

“I have no plans to retire,” Talbot said. “I’m having too much fun and, hopefully, making a difference.”

Talbot, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University, certainly has done that.

One of the original authors of the Endangered Species Act, Talbot has advised on environmental issues in 134 countries. He has been chief scientist and foreign affairs director of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality under presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, and was head of environmental sciences for the Smithsonian Institution.

In September he received two lifetime achievement awards—the Harold Jefferson Coolidge Medal from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the Legacy Award from the Defenders of Wildlife.

“If you want to know why species like tigers and gorillas and rhinos and African elephants are still roaming the wild, here’s why,” George Mason professor and noted conservation biologist Tom Lovejoy said of Talbot.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 1,600 plants and animals in the United States are listed as endangered or threatened. Talbot said the success is that “virtually all the species covered have ceased going downhill. So they are either holding their own or coming back, and a fair number have come back.”

Also rewarding, Talbot said, have been his 22 years at Mason, where he has developed eight graduate-level classes. This semester he is teaching Development of U.S. Environmental Policies.

And he still indulges his sense of adventure.

He and Marty, his wife of 57 years, spent a month last summer hiking California’s High Sierra, and he is an avid vintage race car driver with 11 road-course victories this year in his 1967 Ginetta, which he called “my mistress.”

His next trip to Laos may be as soon as next month.

“I’ve been tramping around wild country exploring one thing or another all my life,” Talbot said. “I don’t intend to slow down in that.”