Trae and Theresa Menard, both of whom work for The Nature Conservancy, will be moving to Kauai to help the island's many endangered species.

Isle ecology helps nurture
conservation-minded duo

The Menards put their shared
passion to work for endangered
plants and animals

Trae Menard proposed to his wife, Theresa, in a remote nature reserve on Molokai, underneath a native tree full of endangered tree snails.


Maybe not everyone's idea of romantic, but perfect for a couple whose relationship with nature has been a uniting force from the beginning.

"It was a bright, sunny day and you could see all the way down to the coast," Theresa said of the mountaintop experience. "We both really like nature, so we wanted it to be in an outdoor setting, with nobody around."

Theresa, 38, coordinates The Nature Conservancy's landscape conservation programs statewide, while Trae, 35, is the nonprofit agency's natural resources manager for Oahu.

"We've both devoted our lives to this, not just as a job, but we both have the same purpose," Trae said.

In October, the couple will move to Kauai, where Theresa will continue the same job and Trae will become The Nature Conservancy's first natural resources manager for Kauai.

They will be working to help Kauai's many endangered animals and plants. Focal areas will include the Alakai Swamp and Lumahai Valley, both of which have pigs, weeds and rats that threaten native plants and animals.

Both Menards were only children, raised on the mainland in urban and suburban settings. Their love of nature was awakened by childhood camping trips.

"Maybe as an only child I didn't have much to do but sit and observe nature" on those camping trips, Theresa said. Living in Orange County and South Central Los Angeles, "I didn't have nature all around me. That made me value open spaces so much more."

Though he lived in the Washington, D.C., area, Trae learned from his uncle, Buck Menard, and grandfather, Louis Arthur Menard, about hunting, fishing and camping in north Florida and southern Georgia.

"I had no idea that you could ever have a career doing this stuff," Trae said, until a freshman ecology class at the University of California-Santa Cruz with Michael Soule, "the father of conservation biology." It was a turning point, but it still took awhile to get to Hawaii.

Trae's first visit here was when he was 7 years old.

"I went on this outrigger canoe ride and we were surfing waves in Waikiki and the guy put me right up front," he recalls. "My mom said I told her, 'Someday I'm going to live here.'"

In 1994 he enrolled as a graduate student in geography at the University of Hawaii, researching the effects of climate change on the high-altitude rain forest on Haleakala.

He was new in town and "didn't know anyone" when a fellow graduate student introduced him to Theresa, who was a zoology graduate student researching the Hawaiian hoary bat.

Ten months later they were under that tree on Molokai. They married in 1997.

Theresa was 10 when her family visited the Grand Canyon and she first saw a park ranger and decided she wanted to be one. But she also wanted to be a hula dancer in Hawaii.

"By the time I got here (in 1990) my knees were shot from hiking up and down steep hills," at conservation jobs on the mainland, Theresa said, so she never took a hula lesson.

But working as a biologist for The Nature Conservancy for three years, she traveled around the islands, searching for rare plants and animals and biologically significant areas.

Though they interact with each other on their jobs only about 10 percent of the time, their passion of helping Hawaii's rare plants and animals fills their lives.

"All we talk about at home is work," Trae said. "We're pretty into it."


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