Cherishing a Life’s Landscape

President Engstrom stands with Earle Layser and Dean Jim Burchfield

Earle Layser ’65 and his late wife, Pattie, traveled the world together but always came home to the wildlands of the Northern Rockies, particularly the Greater Yellowstone area, a place Pattie would come to call her “life’s landscape.” Here the land called to them through their adventures canoeing, skiing, fishing, camping, cycling and hiking—once across the Teton Range from Teton Valley to Jackson Hole in a single day.

Pattie grew up in Memphis, Tenn., and Earle hailed from rural Pennsylvania, first making his way to the Rocky Mountain area as a UM student. They found refuge, rejuvenation and a deep love in the great American West.

“I took Earle’s hand and we stepped into the outside,” Pattie would later write. “I will always be thankful that, over time and space, a Southern girl’s backyard morphed into Yellowstone Park and other Western wildlands.”

Ultimately, in their roles as writers, naturalists and journalists, the Laysers published hundreds of stories on conservation, natural history, history and heritage, outdoor recreation and travel.

“We were exceptionally fortunate to visit and write about some of Earth’s beautiful, wild and biologically unique places,” says Layser. “But in the process, we also witnessed firsthand humankind’s sobering worldwide assault on natural places and wildlife.”

That is why the Laysers have committed $1.5 million of their estate to the UM College of Forestry and Conservation. The gift creates the Earle and Pattie Layser Endowed Distinguished Professorship in Conservation Biology and Policy, and focuses on conservation biology, ecosystem restoration, threatened and endangered species and wildland conservation.

“Through this generous gift, the University of Montana will do even more to preserve the natural resources of the land the Laysers love,” UM President Royce Engstrom said. “We are grateful for their dedication to conservation education and research.” Jim Burchfield, dean of the College of Forestry and Conservation, says that the gift comes at a pivotal time.

“We already have a strong foundation of scholarship and research in natural resource policy and land conservation,” Burchfield said. “This generous gift will help future students better understand the connections between people, wildlife and landscapes in the West.”

Layser says that he and his wife felt that the University is well positioned to lead in this area of study—geographically, intellectually and scientifically.

“The question is: what do we want our ‘life’s landscape’ to be and look like in the future?” says Layser. “It’s not just a conservation question, it is a quality of life and heritage issue for future generations.”