Sarah Lesnar
Sarah Lesnar took over as energy program manager for the Alternative Energy Resources Organization, a local nonprofit with a history that spans nearly four decades. Dylan Brown Independent Record

After studying environmental science and working for the nonprofit Land Stewardship Project in the Twin Cities, Minnesota native Sarah Lesnar was ready for a change of scenery.

“I couldn’t handle a big city anymore,” she said.

So she packed up and moved to the Queen City in January. She had some experience with the area, having spent some time on a Montana farm and working as a hydrologist in the Helena National Forest. And now she’s secured a “sweet job” that will allow her to become even better acquainted with the state and its resources.

Last month, Lesnar, 25, took over as energy program manager for the Alternative Energy Resources Organization, a local nonprofit with a history that spans nearly four decades. The position was vacated by Ben Brouwer, who is setting off for South America with his wife after four years with AERO.

Lesnar said she was intrigued by the nonprofit because it’s a member-driven organization — encompassing about 500 households, businesses and groups — with a grassroots energy that serves as its basis. People like her, then, fill in with the relatively less exciting work that keeps the organization running, she said.

AERO also has a new executive director, Bryan von Lossberg, whose first official day was the same as Lesnar’s, though he’d done some part-time work with the nonprofit ahead of time to get prepared for the job. Aside from Lesnar’s experience with community organizations, he said, she was an appealing candidate for the job because of her understanding of the links between agriculture and energy — AERO’s main focuses — even though her background was more involved in the former.

Though she can’t pinpoint exactly what led her to this current field of work, Lesnar notes that her background likely has something to do with it. Her father was a fisherman involved in politics; her mother was always active in her community and loved gardening and camping. On top of that, Lesnar’s college years studying the environment coincided with events like the approval of the nuclear waste repository in the Yucca Mountains in Nevada.

As Lesnar sees it, environmental concerns are the issue of our time. There are too many people on the planet, she said, and a need for everyone to start altering their habits and utilizing alternative energy and agricultural methods.

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“I’m not much of a doomsayer, but I think there are a lot of hints coming from nature,” she said.

With so many college students learning about environmental issues in school, there is a captive audience of young people who are willing to help with the effort, Lesnar said, but there are also a number of committed individuals from older generations. Organizations like AERO help bring those groups together, she said.

Lesnar is hoping to continue learning more about energy and the environment in her new position. The nonprofit has good relationships with organizations like the Northern Plains Resource Council, she said, and, even in the hallway of her second-floor office on Last Chance Gulch, she’s surrounded by individuals with similar interests and a wealth of expertise. But her immediate plans for the future include organizing AERO’s annual energy and agricultural tours across the state, which will kick off later this summer, and preparing for the nonprofit’s annual meeting at the end of October.

More information about AERO is available at www.aeromt.org.

Reporter Allison Maier: 447-4075 or allison.maier@helenair.com

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