September 28, 2015|By Mike Leonard| Land

I am fond of the word “work.” I am one of those people who secretly prefers, “Thank God It’s Monday” to the popular “TGIF.” I am very fond of the concept of “making things work.” I have often said to my own staff, “Okay, we’ve put together a plan to tackle the issue. Now, let’s make it work.”

I have been gratified to be part of The Conservation Fund since I served on an Advisory Board and then was asked to join the Board in 2004. It did not take long for me to realize that the Fund was very direct and very effective. The Fund works purposefully towards results rather than going off into the weeds. This appeals to me since my passion for conservation goes back to my days as a teenager and my fascination and appreciation for trails and hiking.

The Fund has an incredible legacy of lands that it has protected, including the Gettysburg Battlefield, the Flight 93 National Memorial, the 335 mile long Pinhoti Trail (which links the mountains of Alabama to the Appalachian Trail), the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, to Grandfather Mountain and Chimney Rock in my beloved North Carolina. Frankly, any major land conservation organization ought to be having that kind of impact.

Pinhoti Trail The Conservation Fund800x600  The Pinhoti Trail now links to the Appalachian Trail, a vision Mike dreamed of over thirty years ago.

The Fund goes beyond project-by-project impact, pursuing its distinct mission of advancing both environmental health and economic vitality. The Fund has embodied a notion of transformational conservation, and what I mean by that is making conservation work for America. Doing so revolutionizes how conservation is done, and leads to quantifiable and concrete conservation results that can, for example, preserve land along rivers upstream from major cities to ensure clean water and lessen flooding, and protecting land near the Appalachian Trail in a way that keeps the views but still provides the timber needed to sustain an entrepreneurial saw mill that provides 80 or 90 jobs in an area that really needs those jobs.

The Fund is moving into very strategic goals, like protecting large swaths of working forests and helping companies mitigate the impact of developing infrastructure in a positive way. Programs like Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF) and Resourceful Communities aim to have a much more direct economic impact. That is what I see as the Fund’s greatest impact—the opportunity to make conservation work for America - and for important and different aspects of our very diverse country:

  • for long disadvantaged communities of color in eastern North Carolina;
  • for working forests in various areas where the timber economy/hunting-fishing economy is important;
  • for places where we can mitigate the impact of development to both “move along” key economic infrastructure pipelines, transportation and power facilities and, at the same time, protect astoundingly important conservation lands;
  • for the food chain of the entire nation by trying to make the best practices in aquaculture work for us all; and
  • for the small, entrepreneurial conservation-oriented businesses that our NCIF financing and advisory services stimulate and help grow.

Instead of talking about what needs to be done, the Fund digs in and gets to work, taking ahead-of-the-curve steps to make positive environmental and economic impacts come about, which makes me proud to be associated with it.

The Fund makes it work and truly makes conservation work for America.

In June 2016, Mike Leonard was honored as a recipient of Wild South's Friend of Wilderness Award.