Kate Zimmerman, longtime public lands and wildlife advocate, dies

Kate Zimmerman, longtime public lands, wildlife advocate, dies at 63

by Judith Kohler, NWF Communications Manager, Public Lands

Kate Zimmerman, an attorney who dedicated her career to conserving the public lands, wildlife and wild places that she loved, died unexpectedly in her Boulder home Jan. 18. She was 63. As a staffer with the National Wildlife Federation, the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, now Western Resource Advocates, and in private practice, Zimmerman worked on many significant conservation issues: energy development on public lands, conserving greater sage grouse and pursuing safeguards for fish and wildlife as part of Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service planning.

“Kate was brilliant, passionate, deeply committed to the planet, and a fierce advocate. She was one of the sharpest conservation legal minds in our Federation’s history,” said Collin O’Mara, the National Wildlife Federation’s CEO and president.

Zimmerman’s work ran the gamut from regional concerns, including helping forge an agreement to limit oil and gas drilling on Colorado’s Roan Plateau, to national issues, such as changes in federal rules to better protect air, water and wildlife.

She also advocated for more community-driven solutions to public land management. She often traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with federal land managers as new guidelines were being written for leasing and drilling on public lands.

“As a direct result of Kate’s work for the Federation over the past 20 years,” O’Mara added, “there are literally millions of acres of land belonging to all Americans that are protected and better-managed because of her encyclopedic knowledge of public lands and her unfailing pursuit to protect our nation’s special places.”

Zimmerman worked closely with several of NWF’s state affiliates, including the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “Kate was a pillar of NWF and of the Colorado and regional conservation community. I shall miss her practical perspectives, intellect and friendship terribly,” said Suzanne O’Neill, the Colorado Wildlife Federation executive director.

Zimmerman was born March 8, 1954, in Akron, Ohio. She grew up in Kent, Ohio, where she graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School as valedictorian. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and a master’s in forestry and alaw degree from Yale University. She was an intern at the National Wildlife Federation and later a public lands attorney in the organization’s Washington office. Zimmerman was a law clerk for federal district and appeals court judges in Washington state and Ohio.

In private practice, Zimmerman specialized in environmental and natural resources law, representing national and regional conservation organizations in matters ranging from timber sales to federal reserved water rights. In 2003, she rejoinedthe National Wildlife Federation as a land stewardship policy specialist and most recently was the public lands policy director.

“Everything Kate did was carefully thought-out, thorough and just all-around smart,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel and director of the Bureau of Land Management Action Center at The Wilderness Society. “And somehow, even though she was a recognized expert and so well-respected, she never sought to grab the spotlight. People simply gravitated to her for advice and support because she was just so good at what she did.”

Zimmerman also served as general contractor for Blue Stone Woodworks, a home renovation and construction business owned by her longtime partner, Bill Cheatwood. The two knew each other since junior high school and moved to Boulder in 1990. They skied, hiked, cycled, rafted and traveled around the country and the world together.

Cheatwood said her cause of death is undetermined at this point. Zimmerman’s parents, Jane and Todd, preceded her in death. In addition to Cheatwood, her survivors include her brother, Jeff, his wife, Susan, and their children, Julia and Greg of Austin, Texas.