Ann Hooker Clarke couldn’t get enough of the outdoors growing up on the edge of Santa Fe. As a young girl, she and a friend would load up a red wagon and play pioneer women, hauling the wagon to their own campsite under the stars. On family picnics to see construction sites of interest to her father, Van Dorn Hooker, who became University of New Mexico architect, she was always collecting rocks from the nearby arroyos.
After her junior year at West Mesa High School, Clarke was off to college at the University of New Mexico and then transferring to Colorado College, where she couldn’t decide between biology and geology as her major. That was until she met Estella Leopold, daughter of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, during a field trip to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Estella was a paleontologist who drove a yellow Mercedes sports car, one of a handful of women geologists at the time.
A driven student
Clarke was a voracious reader, a driven student, and a curious traveler. She earned her undergraduate degree in geology at 19 and went on to the University of Oregon, where she obtained a double master’s two years later, in 1974. Her third master’s degree came in 1981, in forest science, from Yale University. Along with her love of the outdoors, throughout her life she has carried a relentless desire to learn more – about regional planning, economics, cartography, forestry, environmental science, budgets.
She has held high level positions in the U.S. Forest Service, the Federal Aviation Administration and, since 2000, with NASA, where she recently became assistant director of operations at its Ames Research Center in California.
Along the way, Clarke returned home to attend the UNM School of Law, seeking to study under Professor Al Utton. She was lead articles editor for the Natural Resources Journal and earned a Natural Resources certificate.
“At this time environmental policy was still evolving and the most interesting questions were being resolved in the courts,” she said. She earned her J.D. in 1992, the same year she was awarded a doctorate from Yale in forestry and environmental sciences.
Building a “green” career
During law school, Clarke worked in Washington, D.C. on a legislative internship with the Society of American Foresters. She attended every legislative panel on conserving the old growth forest in the Pacific Northwest as habitat for the endangered Northern spotted owl and more than 60 other threatened species, listening to every perspective. The following year, in 1991, she worked for the Forest Service on its spotted owl legal and policy teams.
By the time she graduated, the Forest Service was downsizing and Clarke soon moved to the FAA, where she worked on various projects that involved environmental regulations and policies, including the Grand Canyon National Park overflight rule. During this time, a number of issues were emerging that involved NASA and tribes, around the proposal of a spaceport in southern New Mexico. Vehicles launched from the spaceport would fly over tribal and public lands and Clarke was involved in the discussion about commercial licensing rules and policy surrounding this new venture.
In 2000, she transferred to NASA in Washington, D.C., and subsequently served as executive officer to the NASA chief scientist before transferring to the Ames Research Center in 2006 to be back “out West.” She was chief of the environmental management division at Ames until her recent promotion.
“Each of these federal agencies has been marvelous to work with and I have used my law degree in every job I’ve had,” said Clarke. “The courses I took at UNM in constitutional, administrative and legislative law have been crucial to understanding what was going on in the agencies.”
A bridge between agencies
In her new position, she covers complex and controversial issues requiring knowledge of environmental compliance, real property, airfield operations, protective services, logistics, and acquisitions, drawing even more on her UNM law training and prior experience.
“Throughout my career, I’ve tried to have a vision of being a bridge between regulatory agencies and resource management agencies,” she said. “If I can facilitate that dialogue, then I’ll feel that I’ve succeeded.”
June 1, 2012