Steve Windhager, Ph.D.

Steve’s love for environmental science, conservation and the outdoors helps make the Garden an exceptional place to visit.

The passion Steve Windhager, Ph.D., has for wild things began as a child exploring the outdoors. Years in the Boy Scouts sharpened this focus, and later, working at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas, made it a way of life. He has studied the practice of restoring damaged ecosystems from both a philosophical as well as an applied angle and has come to celebrate the regional vernacular of gardening with the plants native to wherever he lives. Windhager ran the research program at the Wildflower Center from 1999 to 2010, and then he came to California to be executive director at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, the nation’s oldest botanic garden dedicated exclusively to native plants.  

A national leader in sustainable development and ecological restoration, Windhager helped develop and was the first director of the Sustainable SITES Initiative (SITES), a joint project of the Wildflower Center, the United States Botanic Garden, and the American Society of Landscape Architects. SITES provides sustainable design guidelines and ratings for assessing the sustainability of landscapes and has been integrated with the U.S. Green Building Council’s rating system.   

Windhager began his career from a theoretical bent, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Texas A&M University. He then proceeded to the University of North Texas, completing his master’s degree focused on environmental ethics. Windhager’s master’s thesis encompassed the philosophical aspects of the practice of ecological restoration. In the process of completing this work, he became so interested in restoration that he not only wanted to study it, he chose to do it, and completed his doctorate at University of North Texas in environmental science focusing on restoration ecology of prairie systems. 

Executive Director