Joshua Sage says that as far back as his junior high school years, he has enjoyed the outdoors.

Talking about his new position as executive director of the Boone County Conservation District (BCCD), the Belvidere native recalled how “The teachers would take us out [on field trips]” outdoors, to observe and study conservation and agricultural practices, and “I fell in love with it.”

He remembers how the trips also included visits to nearby wetlands, where students would survey the area and monitor water conditions, and “That is what really caught me!”

In high school, Sage said his real love for conservation emerged after taking an environmental science class as a sophomore, then taking and advanced environmental studies class as a junior and again as a senior.

“These classes allowed students to get out of the classroom and participate in hands-on learning,” the director recounted, adding, “Getting out of the classroom and using all my senses was a turning point in my education! It was the spark for a passion that I still have to this day.”

When asked if he had any other career ideas in mind before discovering his love of conservation, Sage responded that as a high school student, “Not at the time, not yet.”

“I knew I wanted to be outside doing something,” he added.

Sage went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration, and a minor in Natural Resources Conservation from Western Illinois University.

Right after college, “I got a seasonal job with the U.S. Forest Service in northwest Montana,” the director related, adding that he worked there for a season, before being hired by the Boone County Conservation District in November 2001, where he would become the director of Natural Resources, responsible for managing the natural areas of the 4,200-acre conservation district, along with overseeing the prescribed burn program.

The Natural Resources division “did not exist at the time,” Sage narrated, and it “started from the ground up.”

And, he continued proudly, the BCCD “has been building up that department over the last 23 years.”

As an overseer of “land management,” the director described that land management simply means “caretaker, steward; managing biodiversity; and creating, expanding and enhancing biodiversity.”

He further stated that he is aligned with the mission of the BCCD “to preserve and manage natural areas and open space for ecological, educational and recreational benefits of present and future generations.”

During his career with the BCCD, “I have participated in all three points of the mission at some level in my career. Along with understanding and respecting the mission, I have a knowledge of the BCCD’s finances and what administrative tasks need to be completed to keep moving the organization forward,” Sage commented modestly. “I understand that I am a fiscal steward of the agency and do not take that lightly.”

Part of his career has been spent forging partnerships with other likeminded agencies, such as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Besides being able to acquire funding “to help with the land stewardship and management that is needed on BDDC properties …I have had the privilege of working with great colleagues from different organizations over the years,” Sage said. “This has given me the opportunity to learn from others, as well as share my experiences.”

“These organizations are all managing wildlife [and natural areas] in some capacity,” the director outlined. “…in some capacity doing the same thing; not reinventing the wheel.”

Of the 4,200 acres of BCCD property, Sage noted that his goal for the future is that he wants the BCCD’s natural areas “set aside for wildlife,” adding, “I want those [areas] to be of the highest quality.”

As for being able to acquire future natural spaces throughout the county, Sage said, “I’m always open to opportunities.”

For more information the Boone County Conservation District, visit

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