December 28, 2015|By Pat Noonan| Support our Efforts

If I could make a New Year’s resolution for the American conservation movement, it would be something like this: 2016 will be the year that we reflect on the successes of the past, and work collaboratively to improve results for the opportunities ahead.

Taking a look back at my personal conservation history, my passion for the outdoors goes back, like many of us, to when I was young. 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 and enjoy wildlife. 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.

After college, I took job with 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 and historic preservation, 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, and I was able to take a position as a park planner with the Maryland National Capital 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, which led me to conservation.

JohnSmithTrail NationalParksConservationAssociation For more than a decade, Pat Noonan has led efforts to establish and extend the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. The 3,000 miles of historic water trails along the Chesapeake Bay commemorate the journey of Captain John Smith and his crew over 400 years ago. Photo by the National Parks Conservation Association.

As The Conservation Fund wraps up its 30th anniversary year, I reflect with gratitude on all those upon whose shoulders we stand.  My appreciation extends to my founding colleagues Rich Erdmann, Kiku Hanes, Hadlai Hull, John Turner and so many others.  

And as we look to decades ahead, we must resolve to continually build, evolve and improve upon the American conservation movement.

We’ve seen three distinct eras of this singularly American movement, starting at the turn of the 20th century when President Theodore Roosevelt made his unwavering commitment to protecting America’s landscapes and the beginning of our National Parks. 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 second 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 slowly 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.  We incubate new ideas and keep the very best. We work with government entities, corporations and other non-profits; it’s these partnerships that lever 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. And it all comes back to our people; with Larry Selzer as CEO, our team and our partners make it all possible.

Gettysburg Pennsylvania WhitneyFlanagan 011The Fund's work on historic battlefield sites is one of the many legacies Pat began. In the case of Gettysburg National Military Park, we have worked with the National Park Service for more than 20 years to acquire key parcels. Learn more about the economic benefits of preservice civil war battlefields like Gettysburg in this blog post by expert Frances Kennedy. Photo by Whitney Flanagan, The Conservation Fund.

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.

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