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Coming Home: Q&A with MD/DC Executive Director Dr. Elizabeth Gray

Dr. Elizabeth Gray stepped into her role as director of The Nature Conservancy’s Maryland/DC Chapter in June 2013.  She formerly served as the Conservancy’s Washington science director and as a global climate change fellow for Africa. spoke with her about her career in conservation science and what drew her back home to the mid-Atlantic region.

Have a question of your own for Elizabeth?  Connect with her on twitter @DrElizabethGray.

You’ve worked all over the world. What attracted you to the Maryland/DC Chapter?

Elizabeth Gray:

I grew up along the banks of the Potomac River — barely 20 miles from the Bethesda office. There’s no more powerful draw for me than the opportunity to return to my roots and conserve nature where I first learned to love it.

How did your love of nature develop?

Elizabeth Gray:

My upbringing can be summed up in two words: museums and nature.

Every summer, my whole family would head west to the Appalachian Mountains to hike, or east to the beach. We also spent countless hours on the Chesapeake Bay, and I have vivid memories of riding home in our station wagon next to baskets of blue crabs.

On Sundays, we ventured out to places like the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo. I fondly remember learning to milk cows and make apple cider at Oxon Hill Farm and lugging my thermos of hot chocolate to the Potomac for our ice-skating adventures.

Those experiences gave me a deep sense of personal connection to the region’s lands and waters.

Now that those lands and waters will be the focus of your work, can you draw connections from your experiences in other places, like Washington state?

Elizabeth Gray:

Washington’s Puget Sound and the Chesapeake Bay are both large estuaries that are similar in many ways, including their connections to major metropolitan areas.

I helped develop a watershed protection and restoration program for the sound. Like the Chesapeake Bay Program, we worked closely with state agencies to launch oyster restoration initiatives. We also pursued policies to ensure that freshwater flows on key rivers would balance the needs of people and nature.

What was the focus of your work in Tanzania as a global climate change fellow?

Elizabeth Gray:

I fostered partnerships with community, nonprofit and government leaders to help improve the resilience of human and natural communities as they adapt to a rapidly changing world. My work served as a catalyst for new initiatives to conserve forest habitat for chimpanzees and to foster sustainable fishing practices for the many people whose livelihoods depend on Lake Tanganyika.

What are your aspirations for the Maryland/DC Chapter?

Elizabeth Gray:

I'm committed to capitalizing on our proximity to the nation’s capital. This global and economic powerhouse in our backyard offers tremendous opportunities for us to galvanize support and to advance innovative solutions to complex local-to-global challenges such as climate change and energy development.

Our chapter has established a solid foundation of conserving nature and protecting our quality of life. So I’m excited to build on that legacy and help ensure a healthy planet that will sustain many generations to come.

Speaking of future generations, what gives you hope?

Elizabeth Gray:

I work in conservation because I’m determined to leave the world a better place than I found it. The more I’ve traveled, the more I recognize the challenges we all share regardless of where on the globe we call home. I believe we all can make a difference.

And I’ve seen what a difference The Nature Conservancy can make – bringing together diverse groups with different goals and even different languages for conservation action.

About the Interviewer

Daniel White is a Conservancy senior writer based in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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