Happy 10th Anniversary, Conservation Lands Foundation!

By Julie Thibodeau, Senior Director of Operations and one of CLF’s first three staff members.

Ten years ago, members of the the Conservation Lands Foundation Board of Directors convened their first meeting. The name of the foundation was a little longer back then – National Conservation System Foundation.  They met at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C., led by our founding board chair Ed Norton and joined by founding board members Bruce Babbitt, Molly McUsic, Bill Meadows, Dick Moe, Anne Shields, Bob Abbey, Elaine Brong, Dayton Duncan, Hal Harvey, Greg Moore, Doug Walker and Rob White. Betsy Buffington, our very first staff member, was also present.

They talked for over 5 hours that day. The majority of their discussion focused on the goals of the organization:

  • focus on the long-term goal of protecting the significant cultural and natural resources of these lands through the education of the public and policy makers;
  • identify and build capacity of local organizations, empower and support local leaders to advocate for protection at multiple levels of decision making;
  • advocate with the administration and congress for funding and protection;
  • develop and expand the role and understanding that BLM has for the protection and restoration of the System; and
  • facilitate greater public involvement in decisions regarding the planning and management of the System.

Brian O’Donnell, the Conservation Lands Foundation’s first Executive Director was hired December 12, 2007. In February, 2008–nine months after that first board meeting–I joined the team as the Foundation’s Office Manager and Program Assistant. Brian had secured a small office in Durango, Colorado, where we are still headquartered. I like to tell the story of my first day of work: I walked in the office and Brian handed me a computer and pile of receipts and said, “Have at it; I think I installed QuickBooks correctly.” And off I went.

Betsy and Brian had done much more than install QuickBooks in those nine months; they had helped the board create a strategic plan and secured additional funding.  They were ready with all the grant-making materials–they were ready to give out our first grants to the Friends Grassroots Network. We hired two more staff in 2008, including Danielle Murray, who is now our Senior Director of Programs. At the end of that year, we were operating with a budget of just over 1 million and had given out over $200,000 in grants.

Fast-forward to now, and we have 20–soon to be 21–amazing staff. We have awarded over $7 million in grants to the Friends Grassroots Network. The Friends Grassroots Network has grown from four Friends groups to over 65 groups. We have made huge strides in educating the public about the National Conservation Lands, and fought for major policy advances to uphold the conservation standard for these incredible places. Perhaps most importantly, we helped the National Conservation lands grow from 26 million acres to over 36 million acres–36 million acres that protect wildlife, clean air and water and rural tourism economies for future generations.

Now, after 10 years of success, and with hardly a moment to celebrate and take a breath, we find ourselves defending these protected public lands we and so many others worked hard to grow and protect. When I look back to the goals the founding board developed that day in May 2007 – I think, “wow” we did all that. We have to continue to do it.

We can do it–we can win this fight. We have passion, we have grit and we have an army of dedicated, hard-working partners who care deeply about conserving these treasured places. I look forward to 10 more years at the Conservation Land Foundation and I cannot wait to see what we do next! Happy Anniversary!

Posted by Dave Welz in Blog & Videos
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