At 15, Merrick native Heather Leibowitz lit out for Ute Mountain in Colorado. She went to study Hopi Indian culture and to dig for relics in a pit at the foot of the mountain, which is surrounded by an expanse of dusty, brush-covered plains.
To reach the mountain, she had to fly in a small propeller plane from Denver to the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, in a remote section of southwestern Colorado.
The trip, Leibowitz said, was long, but exhilarating and mind-expanding. For the first time, Leibowitz, who is now 26, was on her own, outside suburban Long Island and in the middle of the wilderness.
“It was just so beautiful,” she said.
The educational experience, which her parents, Arthur and Judy, fully supported, was only the start of a series of adventures in far-flung corners of the globe, each of which connected Leibowitz to the natural world. With every trip, her love of the environment grew, whether she was camping with an aboriginal tribe in the Australian Outback during a semester abroad in college or whitewater rafting in a remote region of Canada with friends.
Leibowitz’s deepening appreciation for planet Earth led her to pursue a degree in anthropology at SUNY Geneseo and a law degree at Pace University, with certificates in environmental and international law.
Fresh out of law school, the Kennedy High School graduate was hired last September as director of Environment New York, a state office of Environment America, a national, nonprofit organization that has taken on issues as diverse as halting hydraulic fracturing — a.k.a. hydrofracking, which extracts natural gas from deep underground by injecting water, sand and toxic chemicals into shale deposits — to increasing America’s use of wind and solar power.
Environment New York lobbies government at all levels to preserve the state’s natural resources by collecting hundreds of thousands of petition signatures in support of environmental legislation, shining a spotlight on human threats to the natural world and spreading the word through a variety of media outlets, including social media. As director, Leibowitz manages the organization’s day-to-day operations.