How did you choose a career in conservation?

My passion for the outdoors goes back, like many of us, to when I was a young kid. When I was a boy, my father acquired a small farm; it was about 100 acres with an old historic schoolhouse. The land had a magical little trout stream where I learned to fish. As I grew older, my father let me manage the property. After I went away to college, the county contacted my family and wanted to acquire our land to create a new park. It was a difficult decision to let it go but I realized our family, along with the public, could enjoy the land for all time. It was a special legacy.

During college, I married my high school sweetheart, Nancy, now my wife of 50 years. Then I took a job for a large retailer. It was there I was given some great advice. A friend said, “Pat, what was the one thing you loved and enjoyed most in life?” Well, what I enjoyed most was protecting our family farm for conservation, where I’d hiked and fished and camped, and making it into a public park. So I called the Parks Department of Montgomery County, Maryland. They didn’t have many jobs and the ones they did have didn’t pay much, but I was able to take a position as a park planner with the Maryland Park and Planning Commission. I began going to school at night getting my masters in urban and regional planning and then later on, an MBA. It was this great experience, buying land for parks in Maryland, that led me to conservation.

How has conservation changed in America since you began your career?

I believe we’ve seen three distinct eras of conservation in America starting at the turn of the 20th century when President Theodore Roosevelt made his unwavering commitment to protecting America’s landscapes. His words remain true today: “The conservation of natural resources is our fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all others. To solve it, the whole nation must undertake the task.” In our first 200 years as a nation, we expanded westward across this bountiful land—clearing the forests, mining the earth, and damming the rivers. Our natural resources were treated as commodities to be bartered and sold without any regard for their intrinsic natural value or public good.

Fast forward to the late 1960s when environmentalist Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring ushered in a 2nd era in our country’s thinking toward natural resources – an era of unbridled environmental activism and the first Earth Day in NYC in 1970. There was legislation to clean up our rivers and lakes, reduce pollution and protect habitats and wildlife species. Yes, there was great change, but it was incremental.

In the 1980s, the focus of environmentalism turned to sustainability. A time when we began to integrate environmental principles with the greatest motivator the world has ever known – the free enterprise system. Most of the environmental groups would have nothing to do with the business community. We knew there had to be a way to combine environmentalism with business and blend it into a single course for sustainable growth. We saw a need for bringing business acumen and capital to the conservation movement. That truly is The Conservation Fund.

What’s next?

The latest era of sustainability offers so many great opportunities for America that I wish I was 20 again and just coming into this field. I would have a lot of fun.

The Conservation Fund incubates new ideas and keeps the very best. We work with government entities, corporations and other non-profits; it’s these partnerships that leverage up our results and help define us as an organization. We believe collaboration is key to success and that ideas grow bigger when you share them with multiple partners and local communities. But it comes back to our people; our team makes it all possible.

It has been a special privilege to serve in the environmental field for the past 50 years. I’ve had the pleasure to work with and share a passion for the environment with so many wonderful, dedicated professionals and volunteers. Every day these people reach beyond personal self-interest to embrace a vision for the long-range goals of our natural resources and an improved quality of life for everyone. Our future will be brighter than ever before as we engage our nation in the newest era of sustainability. The gratitude of future generations will be thanks enough for our work.