Mike Sweeney is Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in California and Managing Director of Global Fisheries. He joined The Nature Conservancy’s California Chapter in 1998 as a project director, became Director of Real Estate in 2000, and became Chief Operating Officer and Associate State Director in 2001. In 2007, he was named Executive Director of the California Chapter, and in 2016 he added the role of Managing Director of Global Fisheries.
Prior to joining The Nature Conservancy, he was Special Assistant to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt during the first Clinton Administration. Previously, he worked in national politics for the Clinton-Gore ’92 campaign, for Kodansha Ltd, Japan's largest publisher, and served on the staff of a member of the Japanese Diet. He has previously served on the Advisory Council for the Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center and for three terms as Program Committee Chair on the board of Island Conservation. He holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a B.A. from Harvard College.
Wildfire Emergency Act
May 27, 2021
The Wildfire Emergency Act of 2021 shows that we can accelerate forest restoration and reduce the risk of wildfires in ways that are consistent with ecological principles and existing law. The Act will direct urgently needed funding to significantly increase the pace and scale of practices like prescribed burns and forest thinning while also supporting the workforce and community capacity needed for this work. We applaud Senator Feinstein for her leadership in advancing landscape-scale forest restoration that will reduce the risk of high-severity wildfire.
California Wildfire Update
August 25, 2020
The terrifying scenes of wildfires devastating natural and human communities are becoming a sadly predictable part of our life in the Golden State.
The cumulative impact of fires on our state so far this century is unknown. The human toll is clear and terrible, and we haven’t fully absorbed what the toll is for nature. More than 1.5 million acres have burned in California since last week, triggered by an unprecedented 11,000 lightning strikes, which ignited 585 fires.
California has always been flammable with fire-adapted habitats that evolved over millennia with active management by indigenous people. Today, we need to recommit to sustainable land and fire management practices. To make our communities safer, we must also recognize that we need to substantially increase state and federal investments to restore and protect our forest and vulnerable communities across California.
In addition to home hardening and data-driven community planning around fire risk, we need new solutions—such as buy-out programs that enable people to move and rebuild their lives out of harm’s way. We are also looking at creating more fire resilience in communities themselves. Our recent work in Paradise, CA takes a scientific look at how Paradise might rebuild after the Camp Fire to be more fire resilient. The study indicates that parks and green spaces may have an impact in reducing community wildfire risk, while providing other community benefits like recreation and wildlife habitat. Our hope is that what we learn in Paradise can be adapted to reduce risk for communities across our state.
Much of our fire work has been focused on the forests of the Sierra, where the majority of Californian’s water flows from, and where fire impacts could be doubly devastating. There we’ve shown that better forest management, removing smaller trees and prescribed fires can reduce wildfire intensity and support resilient habitats in our most important watersheds. We must continue to expand that important work, even as our work on fire management and impacts must look beyond the Sierra.
Fundamentally, we must address the root cause of increased fire intensity and unpredictability: Climate change. The problem of wildfires in California is a complicated one, without a single solution. We have a lot to consider if we want to maintain the vibrancy and resilience of the land and water on which all Californians, people and nature, depend.
For more information on what The Nature Conservancy is doing to protect communities and nature go to our California Wildfires page for the latest.
House Approves The Great American Outdoors Act
July 22, 2020
Today, the House of Representatives passed The Great American Outdoors Act, sending it to the President’s desk for final signature. This is a major milestone on a long legislative road that spans nearly two decades. Once signed into law, this legislation would help ensure that $900 million is actually spent on public lands through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) every year, forever. It would also invest nearly $9.5 billion over the next five years in restoring our national parks, forests, refuges and other federal public lands.
For over 50 years, LWCF provided critical funds for federal conservation land acquisition throughout the country. It helped states protect working forests and habitat for endangered species, as well as local communities seeking to invest in urban parks. But most years, these funds were not fully spent, leaving important conservation opportunities unrealized. Ultimately, the LWCF was allowed to expire in 2015.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) played a leading role in the coalition that supported the Fund’s reauthorization last year, but the battle was only half won. We still had to ensure that the fund would be invested as intended every year, toward conserving our country’s natural and working landscapes and open spaces for recreation. TNC fought hard to realize this promise and today’s vote is a critical step forward.
In California, the Land and Water Conservation Fund helped save many of our state’s critical species from extinction. It has also touched down in every one of our iconic landscapes--the Sierra Nevada forest, old growth redwoods on the North Coast and across our deserts and islands. Just this year, TNC assisted in the acquisition of Frog Lake and Carpenter Ridge in the Northern Sierra, a protection in part made possible through LWCF funding.
The strong bipartisan support we saw in both houses of Congress is a testament to the value Americans place on our country’s natural and working lands and the importance of conserving these lands for generations to come.
Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in California and Managing Director of Global Fisheries