Honorary Degree Recipient
CHARLES W. JOHNSON
Doctor of Science
It would be difficult to find a better companion than Charles Johnson for a walk through New England’s natural world. Vermont’s state naturalist for more than 20 years, Johnson has brought the skills of a scientist, writer, and educator to his life’s work, a career that has opened the eyes of thousands to the wonders of this region. One of the state’s most respected environmentalists, the scope of Johnson’s study is vast as the mile-high glaciers that covered Vermont millions of years ago and minute as the microscopic organisms living in a north woods bog.
Johnson earned his bachelor’s degree from Wabash College in Indiana, and his master’s in wildlife biology from the University of Illinois. He came to Vermont in 1973 when he began his long career with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation in the role of ranger at Brighton State Park, on Spectacle Pond in the Northeast Kingdom.
Not long after, Johnson stepped into the role of Vermont Sate Naturalist, creating and leading statewide programs to record, manage, and interpret the state’s natural heritage. Anyone who has walked a nature trail, visited a museum, or listened to a naturalist’s talk at a Vermont State Park has benefited from the work Johnson undertook as he built a multi-faceted program to enhance the visitor experience.
Through the lens of Johnson’s thorough inventory of the natural environment in each of Vermont’s State Parks, a picture of the entire state’s natural world emerged. That work formed the core of Johnson’s first book, The Nature of Vermont: Introduction and Guide to a New England Environment, originally published in 1980 and released in a second edition in 1998. In addition to numerous articles, other books have followed, including Bogs of the Northeast, and his most recent publication In Season: A Natural History of the New England Year, a collaboration with his wife, Nona Bell Estrin.
Johnson has also been a strong voice for conservation. Through his work as assistant to the commissioner for the state’s Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, he has played a leadership role in preserving Vermont’s natural environment. From Hazen’s Notch to Mount Hunger, Hancock to Plymouth, Johnson’s knowledge and skill has helped to protect pieces of land notable for their high ecological value and essential as movement corridors for wildlife.
Over his three decades in Vermont, Johnson has been a familiar face at the state’s university where he has been a guest lecturer on natural history and writing. He also completed extensive work toward his doctorate in ecology at the University of Vermont.