Karla Guyn becomes first female CEO of Ducks Unlimited Canada

The wind whistled through the limber pines in southern Alberta, gracing a young Karla Guyn’s ears, bringing her feelings of peace and joy. The smell of fresh mint was in the air as she spotted mule deer bucks bounding up the nearby hill.

As a school child, Guyn, who grew up in Calgary city, spent summers on her grandparents’ ranch. “It wasn’t something I took for granted,” she said. “I enjoyed every opportunity I had to be able to go out and spend time there interacting with nature”

These experiences led Guyn to know she wanted to be a wildlife biologist when she grew up. One week ago, Guyn became the first female CEO of Ducks Unlimited Canada. “This was a selection based on merit,” said TWS member Wini Kessler, who has served on the Ducks Unlimited Canada board of directors with Guyn for about a year. “That said, it symbolizes some progress in diversification, and I know that’s important.”

While Guyn, who is also a member of The Wildlife Society as well as a past president of the TWS Manitoba Chapter, had clear career goals, her professional path wasn’t so direct. She started off at the University of Calgary’s department of biology, but found herself drawn to an applied career in wildlife that the program didn’t provide. A somewhat disillusioned but determined Guyn transferred to Lethbridge College in Alberta where she took mammology and ornithology courses and conducted field work including electrofishing and wildlife surveys. In 1986, Guyn earned a wildlife technician diploma from Lethbridge and two years later in 1988 got a bachelor’s degree in wildlife from the University of Montana in Missoula.

Soon after graduating, Guyn began working at a research station on Lake Manitoba where she fell in love with wetlands and waterfowl. The experience drew her to focus her career on waterfowl. Guyn then completed her master’s and doctoral degree at the University of Saskatchewan. As part of her PhD research, Guyn examined the breeding ecology of northern pintails — a project that was funded by Ducks Unlimited Canada and served as Guyn’s initial link to the organization.

In 1998, Ducks Unlimited Canada hired Guyn, who has worked in regional and national conservation positions at the organization ever since. Her newest role there as the first female CEO means a lot to Guyn as well as many others in the field. But Guyn has never thought of gender as an obstacle. “I never thought I couldn’t do something because I’m a woman,” she said. I always assumed I could.” Guyn, who lives and breathes conservation, believes, “If you do your job well and love what you’re doing, it will take you a long ways.”

As CEO, Guyn hopes to showcase the value of the organization’s conservation work to a much broader audience. Part of this includes understanding what resonates with people, she says, and focusing on key environmental issues people are interested in. For example, while not everyone is passionate about ducks, it’s worth considering the importance of wetlands to society including water quality and quantity. “We’re starting to use those messages in things when we’re communicating with the public,” she said.

Kessler also sees Guyn taking the organization far. “She’s got a really good sense of vision for where she thinks the organization needs to go and more broadly where conservation needs to go,” Kessler said. “She leads by example and engenders in people respect and trust. She’s a high performing person and that’s what she expects from others.”

Guyn will also receive the TWS Fellows award at this year’s annual TWS conference. “It’s just wonderful to have a new TWS fellow who’s achieved this stature and position of importance in the conservation arena,” Kessler said. “Conversely, it’s really great to see Karla with her career-long accomplishments receive the recognition. It’s good on both sides.”

Header Image: ©Ducks Unlimited