Keeping up with Leslie Steen
Meet Leslie Steen, climber, angler, violinist and Snake River Headwaters ProjectManager for Trout Unlimited
Leslie was a mentee in the 14/15 Womentum class. In late March, she transitioned from
her longtime job as Communications Manager at the Jackson Hole Land Trust to a
newly-created position at Trout Unlimited (TU). Hers is the first paid position at TU to
focus on conservation projects in the Upper Snake. Before working for TU, she was VP
of the non-profit’s local chapter board, which helped launch the new position. Leslie is
busy settling into her new job, but carved out some time to tell us about herself and her
Why did you join Womentum?
Because I knew a lot of amazing women that had been through the program, and it
seemed like a really great way to tap into the local network of women that pretty much
Did anything from Womentum help you get your new job?
Yes, in a funny way. The first time I applied to Womentum, I didn’t get in. One of the
questions on the application was about community involvement. Since I worked for a
non-profit [the JH Land Trust], I thought of that as my community involvement, but not
getting into Womentum made me re-think that. Working for a non-profit is different than
volunteering your own time in the community. I started thinking about how and where I
could do that. I decided that if I was going to give my time to something it was going to
be about fisheries, and that led to me being on the TU board and being on the board led to
my current position.
How do fisheries come to be important to a woman raised in Manhattan?
As a pre-freshman at Columbia, I had to choose between two “bonding” experiences:
seeing the sights of New York City or backpacking in the Catskills. Why would I want to
see the sights? I grew up there. I had never been backpacking before, and ended up loving
it. I was going to focus on music, but eventually changed my major to environmental
biology. After graduation, I wanted to go to grad school for some kind of applied science
that had actionable outcomes. I didn’t just want to do research. The Fish & Wildlife
Management program at Montana State was it.
Are fisheries also important to you because you’re an angler yourself?
When I started grad school, I didn’t fish. I did grad school because I wanted to help
conserve native trout populations. Interestingly, a lot of women in my program weren’t
hard core anglers when we started —we were more about knowing the fish were there
and doing well than catching them. But fly fishing and conservation go hand in hand,
because you really have to understand the resource to have a glimmer of a chance of
being any good at it.
When did you learn how to fish?
In grad school, from other students in the program. And I’m still learning today, from
whoever I can. I’ve been lucky to find people that are willing to teach, and learning about
fishing is a lifelong adventure.
What’s your biggest current challenge?
Not having a climbing gym anymore! Seriously. That really helped with my work/life
balance. I loved that you could go anytime and not necessarily have a plan and just run
into people. Managing my time is another challenge. It is really easy to fill up your dance
card in Jackson and I’m terrible at carving time out for myself—there’s spending time
outside, spending time with friends, I’m married, and then I’m also in a band.
I play the violin in a swing jazz trio and in the Idaho Falls Symphony.
More details, please.
The Minor Keys is the trio. We play at private and community events and this summer
we’ll be playing at the Blue Heron Lounge at the Jackson Lake Lodge, Monday nights
from 8 – 10.
And Idaho Falls?
I feel like that’s something I could pare back on, because of all the driving, but I do love
playing classical music at that level, in a big symphony. I feel like a lot of people here
have been skiing and doing various outdoor things since they were three. That’s when I
started playing violin. For me, it’s like meditation. I don’t have to think about it
Have a favorite fishing spot you’re willing to share?
No. It’s not that I won’t share them, but I don’t have favorites. We got a raft last year
with a fishing set up. I thought, “If I’m not going to be climbing as much, we might as
well make the most of it and be set up to float and fish.” It’s been a different perspective,
seeing the valley from the water instead of from the peaks. Also meditative. I’ve been
loving float fishing on the Snake, but not in one particular spot.