UW Arboretum Director Karen Oberhauser announces retirement
Karen Oberhauser, director of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum since October 2017, has announced that she will retire from the Arboretum and the university in late November.
“We are very grateful to Karen for her strong leadership in ecological restoration and habitat preservation at the Arboretum, along with her commitment to fostering biodiversity, science-based inquiry, citizen science and environmental literacy,” says Cynthia Czajkowski, interim vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “Karen’s promotion of partnerships has been instrumental in growing engagement with, and enhancing the relationship between, researchers at UW–Madison and the public, near and far.”
Oberhauser, an internationally renowned conservation biologist and expert on monarch butterflies, was chosen as the Arboretum director in 2017 after a national search. As director, she supported the center’s core mission areas of land care, research and education, with an emphasis on science-based participatory programs and community engagement.
She strengthened ties between the Arboretum and several university departments, established an Arboretum fellowship program for graduate students and grew citizen science programming and partnerships. She has increased staff capacity by adding several key positions, including an advancement manager, a communications specialist, participatory science coordinators and outreach program coordinators.
She also steered the Arboretum through the pandemic and record visitation for outdoor spaces; spearheaded energy-efficient projects including a new solar panel system and LED lighting for the Visitor Center, in collaboration with campus sustainability programs and local organizations; oversaw the development of a new strategic plan for the Arboretum; and prioritized diversity, equity and inclusion efforts related to career paths in conservation fields, pay equity for staff and organizational culture.
Oberhauser noted that “being director of the UW–Madison Arboretum has been an honor. Arboretum staff are talented, collaborative and committed to making the world a more sustainable place through their actions to preserve land, foster a strong land ethic and conduct and support research that makes land management and environmental education as effective as possible. We have an incredible corps of volunteers who support all areas of our mission and a community of stakeholders who are passionate about the Arboretum’s mission, work and value as a visitor destination. I look forward to staying involved as a community member.”
Oberhauser is passionate about conserving biodiversity and believes connections between humans and the natural world promote meaningful conservation action. She is a founding officer of the Monarch Butterfly Fund and has served on state and national organizations dedicated to pollinator conservation and on citizen science. In 2013, Oberhauser received a White House Champion of Change award for her work in citizen science. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Harvard University, a degree in science education from UW–Madison and a doctorate in ecology and behavioral biology from the University of Minnesota.
Plans for a director search are underway. In the interim, Associate Director Josh Goldman will serve as administrative director.
In retirement, Oberhauser looks forward to staying involved with monarch butterfly science and conservation programs such as the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project and the Monarch Joint Venture. She’s also beginning a project to help assess what steps can be taken on federal land to support monarchs and other pollinators. She’ll also enjoy spending a lot more time with her growing family and becoming an active volunteer for conservation programs in Dane County and beyond. One of her most exciting plans for the weekend after she retires is taking a chain-sawing class for women to make her a more well-rounded land steward.