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William H. (Bill) Thomas, Ph.D., FN ‘89

Anthropologist and conservationist William H. (Bill) Thomas is dedicated to protecting biodiversity in Papua New Guinea by developing methodologies that bridge traditional knowledge and western science.  Thomas – a graduate of Arizona State University and Director of the New Jersey School of Conservation at Montclair State University – is particularly interested in the potential for indigenous knowledge to provide a blueprint for the conservation of the earth’s remaining wild lands.

Since 1988, Thomas has worked in remote regions of Papua New Guinea to record local environmental knowledge, helping to create a baseline of information on environments that have yet to be studied.  Indigenous knowledge of birds, for example, can add to world knowledge of biological diversity and forest dynamics. It can also predict the effect of human activity on biodiversity. UNESCO recognizes his work as a “Best Practice” on indigenous knowledge.

Thomas’ research has been funded by the National Geographic Society, Conservation International, the Indo-Pacific Conservation Alliance, The Explorers Club and the Porgera Joint Venture.  In 2005, during an expedition in New Guinea’s Central Range –the largest, least explored wilderness on this island – he was part of an international team of scientists and local naturalists that discovered fifty new species.

Thomas hopes that by exposing conservationists to the potential of indigenous knowledge, they will be more willing to adopt local models of sustainability and involve local people in the conservation of their lands. He created the Papua Forest Stewards initiative to test his ideas and is currently working with several native communities to conserve their wilderness homelands.

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Background image photography courtesy of members Christoph Baumer, Neil Laughton, Matt Harris and Don Walsh's image of the Bathyscape Trieste