Ann Muscat walks up the sun-dappled path of Catalina Island’s Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, the sand crunching beneath the heels of her hiking boots. While quails call from beneath the rare Catalina mahogany trees, she identifies the succulent and endemic plant specimens and describes her efforts to preserve 42,000 acres of wilderness just 20 miles off the coast of Los Angeles.
As president and CEO of the Catalina Island Conservancy, Muscat’s task is to bring together humans and nature harmoniously. She and the conservancy are stewards of the island, protecting its plants, animals and habitats. But protection, Muscat said, doesn’t mean putting up fences.
“Conservation is about, by and for people,” she said. “We want to allow people to go out into the land so they can enjoy it, love it and then want to help us take care of it.”
Founded in 1972, the conservancy balances conservation, education and recreation under Muscat’s direction. Her responsibilities range from managing endangered species and volunteer programs to co-chairing the California Council of Land Trusts. One day could find her leading staff meetings, then another hiking in the mountains of Catalina — her other office — with a potential donor.
After Muscat earned a Ph.D. in biological sciences from USC Dornsife in 1983, she joined the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island as the resident biologist. As a scientist giving presentations and lectures to visitors unfamiliar with the research, Muscat learned how to engage with people from all backgrounds and to spark their interest in nature, a skill that continues to be crucial with the island’s close to a million annual visitors.
Muscat is currently leading the conservancy through a strategic planning process called Imagine Catalina, which sets the stage for 25 years of improvements to the infrastructure of the conservancy’s expansive nature preserve.
“Our goal with this plan is to give everyone who is coming here a richer and deeper experience of the island and the conservancy,” Muscat said.
In consultation with a sustainable architectural design firm, Muscat plans, in part, to improve volunteer and backpacker campgrounds; build a biological field station at Middle Ranch, one of the conservancy’s island properties; and create a state-of-the-art nature center at the botanic garden.
Through the conservancy’s endeavors, Muscat hopes people will make a personal and memorable connection to the island and be inspired to ensure such experiences for future generations.
“I’ve had some beautiful hikes here, standing on peaks and watching the sun set,” Muscat said. “It makes me feel good to look out over this beautiful landscape and know that I’ve had a role in keeping it protected for people to enjoy.”