employees, families and friends participate in Duluth’s dragon boat race each summer
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Jeff Lee

Vice President, Senior Ecologist

Skiing in the Italian Dolomite Mountains
Assessing Amity Creek in Duluth, Minnesota

Growing up along the Mississippi River and on a farm, Jeff Lee always knew he wanted to be a scientist. He just didn’t know what type. In the spring of his senior year of college, he noticed a fish kill in the Mississippi River backwaters while biking to school and wondered why the water was bright red. Curious, he took an extra class on ecology of the Mississippi after graduation and was introduced to aquatic biology. The red water, he learned, was likely caused by dissolved iron precipitating (or settling) out of the water as a solid.

After college, Jeff farmed with his brother Steve for a year and then took part in a two-week whitewater canoe trip with Outward Bound.

“It really helped build self-confidence and focus on my goals,” said Jeff. 

Realizing that he could do what he wanted to do, Jeff changed career direction. He studied polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) dynamics in the upper Mississippi River for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and attended graduate school for aquatic biology.

But Jeff didn’t pursue it right away. Biology jobs were hard to find at the time so he taught junior and senior high science for several years. While it required a clear understanding of science, there was little opportunity to be active in the actual field so he found work as a limnologist, monitoring the water quality of a municipal drinking-water system at a public utilities commission.

Jeff came to Barr in 2002 from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, where he served as an environmental operations manager for 12 years. During that time, he managed the restoration of the city’s Chain of Lakes--one of the biggest urban lake restoration projects in the country at the time. It received local and national awards, but that’s not what motivates Jeff.

“I just love the intellectual challenge and applying experiences from previous work to solve new problems,” he said.  “Identify problems and brainstorming solutions is how you figure out ways to better manage natural resources. And the people I work with make it fun. With the right people on your team, any stress is manageable.”

He unabashedly loves the outdoors and admits he could live outdoors all the time.

“Camping, trout fishing, deer hunting, skiing, hiking, and vegetable gardening are all great ways to unwind,” said Jeff.  “I also bike to work as much as possible.”