Dennis Lyamkin is the Morgridge Family Foundation Land Stewardship Fellow at Colorado Open Lands, a nonprofit land trust that protects Colorado’s land and water resources in partnership with the state’s landowners.
While Dennis just joined the organization’s Stewardship team in April 2021, he has already made an impact and has big plans for the future. To understand where Dennis’ career in conservation is going, though, we first need to understand where he’s been and when his passion for conservation developed.
Dennis, a first-generation Russian-American, grew up in Northeast Ohio. As a kid, he spent as much time as possible outdoors, from visiting city parks and local national parks to just exploring the woods near his home and envisioning what it must have looked like before the people, houses and parking lots arrived.
“When I started traveling out West and visiting places that were actually untouched by humans, it was almost like a weight was lifted off my shoulders because I didn’t have to imagine anymore,” Dennis said, “I saw how nature should be.”
It made a strong impression. He knew he would pursue a career in conservation.
At Kent State University, Dennis put his passion for the outdoors to work and earned his bachelor of science in Environmental and Conservation Biology. After graduation, he spent nine months as an AmeriCorps volunteer preserving trails with the Montana Conservation Corps, and then joined the corporate sector. It wasn’t quite the right fit, though, and he began searching for more hands-on conservation opportunities.
While serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer, Dennis had been introduced to land trusts through working alongside the Gallatin Valley Land Trust in Montana. He loved the concept.
“I think that no matter who you meet or where you are, one of the things that people all share in common is that they want to leave some sort of legacy – to put their name on a bench or a building,” Dennis explained, “Land trusts allow people to protect land in perpetuity and that’s the greatest legacy that I can think of leaving.”
Now at Colorado Open Lands, working on those very legacies, Dennis hit the ground running. One of his current projects is helping to identify water rights encumbered by conservation easement that are at risk for abandonment. Some of the existing water rights agreements date as far back as the mid-1800s. He’s also learning the process for monitoring Colorado Open Lands’ easements.
An “easement” is Colorado Open Lands’ primary conservation tool. It’s a voluntary agreement with landowners about their property. Their ranch stays their ranch, their farm stays their farm, but with development restrictions to protect open space, water, wildlife habitats and migration routes – forever.
For now, Dennis is scouring maps and documentation of the easements and will begin making in-person visits to properties later this year. The research will also allow him to assist with Colorado Open Lands’ merger with Southwest Land Alliance and Clear Creek Land Conservancy.
Meanwhile, in his spare time, Dennis continues his childhood fascination with wild places. He enjoys backpacking in grizzly country and taking friends with him who have never experienced wildlife like that before. His favorite experiences are seeing wildlife in action, whether an eagle swooping down to grab a fish or a bear in its natural habitat.
Of his experience in conservation so far, Dennis said, “One thing that took me some time to really grasp is that there’s so many facets to conservation. It’s not just putting a park in place or protecting a forest, creating a new trail or saving a species. Because it’s so broad, you can really find your interests and choose unique ways to get involved. You can start within your community and if there’s something that doesn’t already exist, you can start it. You can start by just planting a tree.”