Bettie Willard, Alpine Ecologist

Beatrice E. Willard December 19, 1925 – January 7, 2003

“I think my greatest contribution has been to build bridges to non-ecologists, interpreting ecology and its utility to them.”

WillardJHLBuilding bridges, as Bettie Willard wrote to Jean Langenheim in 1986, was a major focus of her career. As a teenager, she began educating people about the natural landscapes near her home in California and continued to emphasize natural history and interpretation in her scientific career. As an ecologist, she is best known for her research in alpine tundra ecosystems, including 40 years at Rocky Mountain National Park. She never let her formal role as a scientist prevent her from taking an active, and effective, stand on public policy.
1947: B.A. in Biological Sciences from Stanford University
1960: M.A., Botany (Plant Ecology), University of Colorado, Boulder (John Marr)
1963: Ph.D., Botany (Plant Ecology), University of Colorado, Boulder (John Marr)
Career Highlights:
Dr. Willard’s work at Thorne Ecological Institute included pioneer environmental impact analysis before NEPA and applying an ecological approach to conservation problems. In later work with the mining and other resource industries, she helped bring ecological thinking into the consideration of public policy, especially at the Council on Environmental Quality (1972-1977) and Colorado School of Mines (1977-1985). She worked with Estella Leopold and others to protect the Florissant fossil beds as a National Monument. She was among the first to research the effects of human activities on tundra ecosystems. Her award-winning career is further summarized here.

Willard used colored toothpicks to mark plants. At Rocky Mtn. National Park, 1961. Chase Davies photo.

Willard used colored toothpicks to mark plants. At Rocky Mtn. National Park, 1961. Chase Davies photo.

It’s a rare ecologist whose research site is designated to the National Register of Historic Places because of her research there. Bettie’s two plots, Rock Cut and Forest Canyon Overlook, were designated October 25, 2007, four years after her death.

The Beatrice Willard Alpine Tundra Research Plots sit at high elevations in Rocky Mountain National Park. … They lie along Trail Ridge Road, U.S. 36, which traverses the Continental Divide through Rocky Mountain National Park. Both research plots sit near parking areas, at the Rock Cut and Forest Canyon Overlook.

The Beatrice Willard Alpine Tundra Research Plots are significant for their affiliation with Dr. Beatrice Willard, an internationally recognized tundra ecologist, who made significant contributions to local, state, and federal environmental policy. The two properties included in this nomination are alpine tundra research plots that Dr. Willard installed in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1959. Both properties represent Dr. Willard’s life work as a tundra ecologist and fostered her role as an ecologist, educator, and negotiator. The period of significance begins 1959 and ends in 1979, the date of Dr. Willard’s last major scientific monograph about the plots.
—from the National Register of Historic Places nomination, 2007

Selected research contributions
Willard, B.E. 1960. “Effects of Visitors on Natural Ecosystems in Rocky Mountain National Park” (M.A. thesis, University of Colorado, 1960).
Marr, J. W., and Willard, B. E.: 1970. Persisting vegetation in an alpine recreation area in the southern Rocky Mountains, Colorado. Biological Conservation, 2: 97-104.
Willard, B. E., and Marr, J. W.: 1970. Effects of human activities on alpine tundra ecosystems in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Biological Conservation, 2: 257-265.
Willard, B. E., and Marr, J. W.: 1971. Recovery of alpine tundra under protection after damage by human activities in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Biological Conservation, 3:181-190.
Willard, Beatrice E. 1979. “Plant Sociology of Alpine Tundra, Trail Ridge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado,” Colorado School of Mines Quarterly, vol. 74, no. 4, October 1979: 5-8.
References and links
Cooper, David J. 2003. Beatrice E. Willard 19 December 1925-7 January 2003 In Memoriam. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, Vol 35, No 1. Pp 125-127.
Wikipedia. Beatrice Willard page at
Willard, Beatrice E. 1986-1988. Correspondence and curriculum vitae sent to Dr. Jean Langenheim in association with the project on women in ecology.
Yost, Cheri. 2007. Willard, Bettie, Alpine Tundra Research Plots. National Register Nomination Form, 5LR10540-5LR11754. National Park Service, Rocky Mountain National Park
Unattributed. No date.
Citizens, Scientists, and Lawyers Make a Monument
, at, retrieved November 2016.