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Sorrow at Sustainable Driftless - George Howe

We received some sad news from Sustainable Driftless. George Howe, who was Vice-President, has passed away. George was our main contact that we worked with in building a relationship between Clearwater Dells and Sustainable Driftless. Sustainable Driftless is a non-for-profit that creates documentary movies about the Driftless Area. They have won countless awards and create top-notch movies about this unique area of the country. Their purpose aligns almost perfectly with the vision of our purpose.

George was a good guy. We really liked him a lot. Here is the news we received:

It is with deep sadness that Sustainable Driftless, Inc. shares this obituary for our beloved Vice-President and visionary co-leader. We will continue our ongoing film project as a lasting legacy of, and tribute to, George.

George Howe, age 63, of La Crescent, MN, passed away unexpectedly on February 14, 2024. He was born in La Crosse, WI to his beloved parents, the late Alice (Schneider) and Thomas Howe. Survivors include his wife, Cheryl, of La Crescent; two children: Ryan of La Crescent and Rachel (Graham Miller) of La Crosse, WI; five siblings: Jenny (Chris) Ovide of Wauwatosa, WI, John (Susan) Howe of Eden Prairie, MN, Lolly Howe of Ojai, CA, Cari Howe of Los Angeles, CA, and Stephanie Howe of Milwaukee, WI.

Nieces and nephews are Tom (Whitney) and son Ari, Erin and Kelsey Prestby, Jonathon, Sarah and Laura Howe, Yvette Starke, Harlan Howe Tinder and Martilia and Lex Marechal. Furthermore, he is survived by his father and mother-in law Jack and Carole Bast of La Crosse; brothers-in-law Chris Bast of La Crosse and Neil Bast of Larchmont, NY, and many cousins, aunts and uncles. George grew up on “North Ridge” near La Crescent, Minnesota, graduating from La Crescent High in 1978.

He attended Winona State University, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science with emphasis in biology, chemistry and geology. He went on to earn two Masters of Science degrees from the University Wisconsin-La Crosse, first in Biology with a river studies emphasis (1991), and later, in Education (2002), with certification in biology, chemistry and earth science. In 1986, George was hired by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as a Fisheries Research Biologist where he was lead-author on numerous scientific publications. He was involved in local government from 1999-2004, working as chairman and supervisor for Dresbach Township. He led efforts to fund the construction of a railway overpass and road project in Dresbach, eliminating 5 dangerous railroad crossings. In 2000, George left research to pursue his greatest passions, land conservation and environmental education.

While working on his second master’s degree, George founded the “Southern Bluffs Chapter” of the Minnesota Land Trust, leading efforts to permanently protect nearly 1,000 acres of private woodlands, prairies and natural habitats, per the wishes of the landowners, and preserving these places for generations to come. George taught biology at the high school level for two years before joining Mississippi Valley Conservancy (MVC) in 2004, filling the position of Conservation Director; there, he led efforts protecting nearly 14,000 acres of land in southwestern Wisconsin, conducted over 100 public outreach and educational activities, and co-produced MVC’s Mysteries of the Driftless, an educational documentary film which won a Regional Emmy in 2014. Furthermore, George secured over $11 million in state, federal, and local grant funds to complete 27 land and conservation easement acquisition projects in western Wisconsin.

In 2015, George, along with his friend and colleague, Tim Jacobson, founded the organization that is now known as Sustainable Driftless, Inc. (SDI) in 2016. SDI is dedicated to inspiring resource conservation, vibrant communities, and sustainable growth in the Driftless Region. The organization produced the feature-length, nature documentary, Decoding the Driftless, which was recognized at the 22nd Upper Midwest Regional Emmy Awards in the Twin Cities. George was especially proud that his son, Ryan, contributed original music for the soundtrack of Decoding the Driftless. George also took pride in returning to University of Wisconsin-La Crosse as an educator and inspired hundreds of students in the Sustainability & Environmental Studies Program as a regular guest presenter each semester. For over ten years, he enthusiastically taught introductory students to appreciate the Driftless region, biodiversity, and the importance of curiosity. George was working on a short film, Driftless Escapes. The film will showcase all four seasons through dazzling aerial, ground and underground adventures across the region. Continued fund-raising for conservation education was high on his list of priorities, among many things left unfinished. His existing and unfinished work stand as a monument to his love for the land and his desire to share that love with others.

George was especially known for his light-hearted, bubbly, and outgoing personality. He acquired many friends in his 63 years and was always making new connections wherever he went. Whether he was fundraising for his next film or taking in some live music, George cherished the people and relationships he had. The people closest to George knew him to be exceptionally caring and compassionate -- if there was a need, he was there with his best advice and a home-cooked meal. George was also known for his ability to lighten the mood with a good joke (or a bad one, depending on who you ask). His unique sense of humor came from his father, Tom, and paternal grandfather, George (his namesake), who both very much enjoyed a good laugh. His ability to connect and the loyalty he showed to the people and places he loved earned him a very special place in many hearts.

George was a fierce and passionate advocate for local land conservation and preservation- specifically for his home in La Crescent, MN which his family lovingly named “Great Spirit Bluff.” He was part of the third generation to live on Great Spirit Bluff and his love for nature stemmed from the inspirational land where he was raised. He passed on his land ethic to his children and countless others who were inspired by the beautiful scenic vistas of his home. George felt a strong spiritual connection to nature and practiced his faith with deep appreciation for its intricate complexity and beauty. His many projects on the bluff reflected this deep appreciation for the native ecosystems and intrinsic value of the land. George established 5 acres of native prairie and managed many more acres of forests and nature preserves with the help of his family and friends. Thanks to George, Great Spirit Bluff is protected forever with help from the Minnesota Land Trust and will be safeguarded for generations to come.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11:00 AM on Saturday, February 24, 2024 at Roncalli Newman Center, 1732 State St., La Crosse. Father Billy Dodge will officiate. Visitation will be held at the Schumacher – Kish Funeral & Cremation Services, 111 S. Oak St., La Crescent, MN on Friday from 4-6 PM and again at the church on from 10 AM until the time of service. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Sustainable Driftless, Inc, P.O. Box 1231, La Crosse, WI 54602 or visit

Copyright © 2024 Sustainable Driftless, Inc., All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:

Sustainable Driftless, Inc.

P.O. Box 1230

La Crosse, Wi 54601


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