Massachusetts State Director
Deb Markowitz is a mission-driven, results-oriented leader who builds strong teams, drives collaboration, empowers staff, and encourages innovation to advance climate solutions, environmental protection, and economic and social justice. She has more than 25 years’ experience leading large complex public agencies and small nonprofits where she achieved organizational success through strategic visioning, workforce development, sustainable funding, crisis management, and continuous process improvement.
Deb has spent most of her career in public service. She was elected Vermont’s Secretary of State six times, serving from 1999-2011. After running for Governor of Vermont in 2010 and narrowly losing in the primary election, Deb was appointed Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) in 2011, where she served until 2017. At ANR, Deb shaped the state’s environmental agenda, focusing on climate change, forest health and integrity, and water quality. She served on the boards of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the Transportation Climate Initiative, and represented Vermont on the White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, and at the United Nation’s Conference of the Parties on Climate Change in Paris and Marrakech.
Before joining The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts in March 2020, Deb served as the vice president of programs at Ceres, overseeing the organization’s Climate and Energy, Water, Food and Forest, and Capital Market System programs. These programs engage investors and companies to tackle the world’s most serious sustainability challenges, and work to scale the transition to a sustainable economy. Before that, she taught environmental policy and leadership at the University of Vermont and was the Director of Policy Outreach at the Gund Institute of Environment.
Prior to being named Massachusetts State Director, Deb served as a Trustee for TNC in Vermont for two years. She also serves on the Boards of Advisors for the Georgetown Climate Center and Antioch’s Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience and is a member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Environmental Justice Advisory Board. She founded Vermont Parks Forever, the foundation for the state’s parks, as well as the Women’s Leadership Initiative, an organization dedicated to getting more women into public office. Deb has been recognized nationally with a Lifetime Achievement Award from EPA, Region 1; an Aspen Institute Rodel Fellowship; and the Kennedy School of Governments’ Cahn Fellowship in Public Leadership.
Deb graduated from the University of Vermont and Georgetown University Law Center, magna cum laude, and received a Certificate in Public Leadership from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Statement on the House Approval of the Great American Outdoors Act
July 23, 2020
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 310-107 to approve the Great American Outdoors Act, which would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and make critical investments in our national park system and other public lands. The bill, which passed the U.S. Senate last month, now goes to the president for his promised signature.
During this tumultuous time, many of us have turned to outdoor spaces and local parks for our physical and mental wellbeing. I am grateful that the U.S. House of Representatives expressed their thanks by supporting this historic investment in the future of our outdoor spaces.
Passing this bill means more opportunities to enjoy nature in our neighborhoods, better access to parks and trails, and a commitment to a healthier future for generations to come, ensuring all people in Massachusetts and beyond have natural spaces to enjoy. It is the most important U.S. conservation bill in a generation. We applaud all of Massachusetts’ representatives who were co-sponsors and voted for the bill, and they have our deepest gratitude.
Fully and permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) will bring critical funding for conservation and recreation across the Commonwealth. Important lands and waters, like Barrett’s Farm at Minute Man National Historical Park, climate resilient wildlife habitat at the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, the forests around the Quabbin Reservoir that filter water for 2.5 million people, and countless local parks and playgrounds, have already been funded through LWCF.
These places also form the foundation of our strong outdoor recreation economy. Fully funding this program is a game-changer for nature and for those of us who love and depend on it.
The Great American Outdoors Act combines two conservation proposals that each have strong, bipartisan support. The first would provide full and permanent funding of $900 million each year for LWCF, an amount derived from offshore oil and gas revenues—not tax dollars. A recent economic analysis shows that every $1 million invested in LWCF could support up to 30 jobs. Additionally, research on the impact of the LWCF shows that $1 spent generates $4 in economic value from natural resource goods and services alone.
The second part of the bill would invest $1.9 billion annually for the next five years toward maintenance in national parks, other public lands and at the Bureau of Indian Education. In Massachusetts, this backlog has been estimated at over $244 million at National Park Service (NPS) sites, alone. For example, Minute Man National Historical Park sees a million annual visitors and generates $87 million in economic output; however, it has over $12 million in deferred maintenance needs related to buildings, trails, wastewater systems and roads. Across the country, maintenance investments at NPS sites could generate nearly 110,000 additional infrastructure-related jobs.
—Deb Markowitz, Massachusetts State Director
Giving Nature a Voice
Read Deb Markowitz's commentary and opinion pieces
Electronic Catch Monitoring Boon for Sustainable Fisheries
The New England Fisheries Management Council recently endorsed a shift to 100% monitoring for the groundfish fishery, a landmark decision that sets the course for a more sustainable future. Read More
Nature Can Help Boost Massachusetts Infrastructure
Nature-based solutions must be at the heart of any effort to rebuild our state’s infrastructure. Such projects would sustain thousands of high-quality jobs and make for a healthier planet. Read More
To Preserve the Outdoors, We Must Invest in Them Today
During this tumultuous global pandemic, many of us have turned to outdoor spaces and local parks for our physical and mental well-being. We can thank the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund for the protection of these critical natural spaces. Read More
What excites you about becoming the new director for TNC in Massachusetts?
I'm thrilled to join a staff of committed and mission-driven professionals who are working on the most important issues of our time: climate change, sustainable food and clean drinking water, healthy cities and protecting the lands and waters upon which all life depends. One of the things that I love best about TNC is that our work is connected through a global network which informs our local work and contributes to the science that drives action on the ground. On a personal note, I’ve dedicated much of my career to addressing climate change. I’ve seen how nature can provide climate solutions and build community resilience while also improving public health, supporting biodiversity, and making our communities safer and more livable. I think we have incredible opportunities to do just that in Massachusetts.
How are the first few months with the Massachusetts chapter going and what are you looking forward to?
Over these past few months my top priority has been to guide TNC in Massachusetts through a rapidly changing global crisis, ensuring the safety and well-being of staff and their families. During times of crisis, I am reminded that we are all part of one world and that when we act with global resolve for the common good, we can make a big difference for the planet and for future generations. I feel optimistic that once this crisis is behind us we will be able to scale our collective action to address climate change and other global challenges.
I have also started a listening tour. I’ve met with every member of our staff and I'm listening to partners, trustees and donors—I want to hear from everyone about what we're doing well, what they care about, and where there are opportunities for TNC to have greater impact in Massachusetts and New England. I am looking forward to tapping into the passions and interests of people across the state, to inspire them to work with TNC to ensure that our children and grandchildren can continue to thrive in Massachusetts and around the world.
What unique role do you think TNC in Massachusetts can play in moving the needle on our global priorities, especially climate change?
Like other places, Massachusetts faces many uncertainties due to climate change, including potential impacts from sea-level rise, serious storms and more days of extreme heat and drought. TNC’s work to protect landscapes will help species survive and thrive into the future, and our innovative approaches to protect coastal communities and build sustainable fisheries can be replicated, learned from and scaled for impact around the world. We are also uniquely situated to have a meaningful impact on regional and national efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our close working relationship with key state agencies means that we can provide the policy and scientific support needed to help Massachusetts achieve its ambitious climate goals.
How did you first learn about The Nature Conservancy?
When I served as Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Tropical Storm Irene hit New England and destroyed infrastructure in 225 of Vermont’s 250 communities. It was catastrophic. I was in charge of a lot of the rebuilding effort and we focused on how to build back better than before, reframing our thinking around nature to see the solutions it could provide. We started working with our conservation partners, including TNC, to help communities become more resilient to climate change and flooding by incorporating nature based solutions. TNC stepped right up to the table, bringing their science, mapping and deep understanding of how the rivers and communities intersected in Vermont. I was so impressed with what TNC offered that when I left state service, I joined as a trustee of the Vermont chapter and served on their board until accepting this role.
You’re coming to TNC from Ceres, where you were the vice president of programs. Are there any perspectives or lessons learned from that role that you're bringing with you to TNC?
Ceres works with the largest investors, asset owners and big companies to address climate change and environmental sustainability across their supply chains. Understanding the importance of partnering with businesses was a key takeaway—we’re not going to address climate change without engaging the financial sector and changing capital markets systems. When company leaders act, it forces government action. TNC brings scientific expertise and experience on the ground—two things that that businesses need to have access to if they're going to succeed in meeting their own climate goals—so I think there is great opportunity for us to work together.
When did you first discover your love for nature, and do you have a favorite place in Massachusetts?
I was raised in the Jewish tradition and I was taught that the purpose of life is “Tikkun Olam”—to heal the world. As a result, I grew up with a deep sense that it is the obligation of every generation to leave the world a better place than we found it. My husband Paul and I raised our children with this in mind and we have both dedicated much of our professional lives to environmental protection. We also spend much of our free time enjoying nature. We love to hike, paddle, cross-country ski, garden and spend time at the beach. In more recent years I have also gotten into fly fishing and turkey hunting. My favorite place in Massachusetts is Plum Island, home to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. It's just a magical place, great for birding, paddling, and enjoying the ocean.
For more, you can view a recording of Deb's virtual Q&A here.