Virginia Tech’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and the College of Natural Resources and Environment’s Leadership Institute presented Anne Zimmermann, who recently retired after a 35-year career with the U.S. Forest Service, with the Gerald E. Cross Alumni Leadership Award.

Zimmermann, a resident of Springfield, Virginia, received her bachelor's degree in forestry and wildlife from Virginia Tech in 1979 and went on to earn her master’s degree in wildlife ecology from Purdue University.

She began her career in the Forest Service as a summer intern and later a cooperative education student on the George Washington National Forest in Virginia while still a student. She continued there after graduating as a wildlife biologist and recreation forester.

She worked as a wildlife biologist, threatened and endangered species biologist, resource assistant, and timber management assistant on ranger districts in Louisiana and Alabama before heading to Montana, where she served on two ranger districts, working her way up to district ranger. She returned to the Southeast as deputy forest supervisor and later forest supervisor on the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee.

Zimmermann spent the last 10 years of her career in the agency’s Washington, D.C., office as national director of watershed, fish, wildlife, air, and rare plants for the 193-million-acre National Forest System. She also served six months as acting assistant chief of staff in the office of the Chief of the Forest Service. Both positions involved national policy, legislative issues, and substantial engagement and interactions between elected officials and citizens.

Among her many contributions to the Forest Service, she help ensure a successful canoe and kayak venue and event on the Cherokee National Forest as part of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

One of her priorities was citizen engagement and collaboration — she was a founding member of the Blackfoot Challenge on the Blackfoot River in Montana and the Conasauga River Alliance in Tennessee. In every position, Zimmermann championed Forest Service efforts to be a strong and supportive partner to watershed and local groups, citizen groups, nongovernment organizations, and federal, state, and local agencies.

She currently serves on the board of directors for four nonprofit organizations, including Carpe Diem West, which works to help citizens understand the risks to their watersheds; WaterNow, whose mission is to promote the transition of the current mindset to a more sustainable future; and Environment for the Americas, which promotes bird conservation.

Zimmermann was also a certified firefighter for 35 years after beginning her firefighting career in 1976 as a member of Virginia Tech’s student crew.

“I value the training and experience that led me to leadership roles,” Zimmermann said. “I am honored that the College of Natural Resources and Environment has recognized my efforts with the Gerald E. Cross Alumni Leadership Award.”

Professor Emeritus Gerald E. Cross, who served as the head of what was then called the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences from 1976 to 1989, significantly built up the department during his tenure, increasing the number of faculty members three-fold.

“Dr. Cross recognized early on that the strong technical skills that helped natural resource professionals move up in their organizations must be accompanied by leadership skills if they were to succeed at higher levels,” said Associate Professor Steve McMullin, who heads the college’s Leadership Institute.

Among his many accomplishments, Cross created a continuing education program focusing on leadership development for Forest Service professionals. Approximately 1,000 natural resource professionals have participated in the program since 1988. The leadership that Cross demonstrated inspired the creation of his namesake award, whose recipients are recognized for their dedication and outstanding achievements in leading others.

“The leadership training Jerry Cross developed for the Forest Service was a critical turning point in my life and career,” Zimmermann recalled. “Because of that training, and Jerry’s influence, I realized my interests and skills were different than what I had believed. That became a catalyst for me to go on a major fire campaign in Montana, leading to a momentous decision to move from the Southeast to Montana, and to broaden my career path from being a district biologist to seeking and obtaining a leadership position as a district ranger.”

Each year, students in the Leadership Institute, a two-semester program for select undergraduate students, review the resumes of several alumni of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and conduct video conference interviews before selecting the recipient of the Gerald E. Cross Alumni Leadership Award.

“This is a great opportunity for the Leadership Institute students to learn about the career paths and approaches to leadership of impactful leaders in natural resources,” McMullin, explained.

Written by LauraBess Kenny of Richmond, Va., who graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2014 with a degree in communication from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.