Stein, Bruce A. (Active)
National Wildlife Federation
Tropical Plant Systematics/Conservation
The earliest exposure to what would become Bruce’s professional calling as a biologist was from the back of the family station wagon as his family crisscrossed the wide open landscapes of the western United States. Born on November 22, 1955, in Long Beach, California, childhood family vacations centered around national parks and monuments--from the best known to the most obscure. These trips sharpened his sense of wonder for the natural world and introduced him to some of the basic concepts of ecology. Back home this interest was nurtured by proximity to the sea. Netting small crabs was a highlight of family trips to the rocky shores of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, while the barnacle and limpet-encrusted canal wall in front of his Naples Island home yielded various creatures, including a beautiful pet sea slug (Navinex inermis). A freshman year summer job as a U.S. Forest Service backcountry ranger sparked his interest in plants. He was fortunate to be part of a thriving natural history program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, headed by the inspirational naturalist and marine mammal expert Ken Norris. Although Bruce did not make a conscious choice to become a botanist, classmates began referring to him as such in recognition of his increasing proficiency in plant identification. Who was he to argue? As a senior year project, he directed a National Science Foundation-funded undergraduate survey of a desert mountain range in the eastern Mojave (the Granite Mountains), which brought him into contact with Robert Thorne of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. An exceptionally gracious man, Thorne was willing to share his friendship and knowledge, and inspired Bruce to continue with botany professionally. During a year’s sojourn through Central and South America following college, Bruce was bitten hard by the tropical bug, and decided to pursue his PhD degree in tropical botany. Brazenly writing to Peter Raven - director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, the ranking figure in California botany, and a towering figure in tropical botany and conservation - Bruce received a cordial response inviting him to work with him as a graduate student through Washington University. At the suggestion of Al Gentry, another botanical mentor, Bruce decided to study Andean lobelioids, a tremendously diverse yet poorly known group of cloud forest plants, and in particular taxonomy of the genus Centropogon. Working with Raven as his graduate advisor strengthened his determination to do something that applied his botanical training to the protection of tropical ecosystems. When shortly before finishing his dissertation in 1987, a position as Latin American botanist opened with The Nature Conservancy, Bruce jumped at the chance and relocated to Washington, D.C. Within six months he had moved into the position of director of the Conservancy’s Latin America Science Program, a position he held until 1994. Starting that year he began focusing on more biodiversity issues of the United States, which culminated in the book Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2000). Also in 2000, he became vice president for Programs of NatureServe, a new non-profit organization that was created to carry on the biological inventory and assessment work formerly conducted by The Nature Conservancy. His interests continued to focus on documenting and assessing the status of species and ecosystems, and analyzing patterns in diversity as a way of informing conservation efforts and improving land use decisions. He was especially interested in transforming biological data into publications and websites that enable environmental policy-makers and the public to better understand and appreciate the value of our vanishing biological resources. Bruce was elected a member of the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 2001.