Rob has been with The Nature Conservancy since 2005 and was named co-director of the North America Regenerative Grazing Lands Strategy in 2022. As such, he leads an interdisciplinary team of science, conservation and policy experts dedicated to working with ranchers to achieve conservation outcomes on 240 million acres (30%) of U.S. grazing lands by 2030.
Previously, Rob was the director of the Kansas program, where he was responsible for all aspects of TNC’s work in the state, including conservation, administration and fundraising.
Rob has spent more than 35 years in the conservation field, including 20 with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and five years with the Wildlife Management Institute. He represents TNC on several national and federal boards including the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. A Kansas State University graduate, Rob also holds a master’s degree in environmental science from Friends University.
November 11, 2021
In Memory of Kenny Baum
Nearly everyone has at least one powerful mentor in their life: an advocate, encourager, sometimes demanding drill sergeant, and a friend. One such person who will always loom large in my life was G. Kenneth "Kenny" Baum, who passed away at age 91 on November 9.
I first met Kenny more than 15 years ago, when I came to work for The Nature Conservancy in Kansas. He was small in stature but giant in character with ready humor, keen wit, overt orneriness, unswerving determination, deep kindness, and a refreshingly frank manner of communicating. It was his determination and frankness that I came to seek most in my first role as director of conservation.
Kenny was a founding trustee who helped establish TNC's presence in the state 32 years ago. Along with a few other notable business and community leaders, he made financial, intellectual, and deep life commitments to conserving Kansas' most important natural features. Places like Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve, Smoky Valley Ranch, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Jamestown wetlands, and thousands of acres in the Flint Hills and Red Hills bear witness to Kenny's influence and life.
This account would be conspicuously incomplete without a note about Kenny's role in the establishment of Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park. TNC had eyed this strikingly rugged western Kansas landscape for decades, and we'd regularly inquired about the owners' interest in selling. As is often the case with land conservation transactions, we made no progress for years, and then came an unexpected phone call. The owners contacted me to express their desire to sell Little Jerusalem to TNC. But money was tight then (as it is now and always will be for non-profit conservation organizations.) Confiding in my mentor, Kenny, I fretted over the idea of borrowing money to buy the 332-acre property. Growing impatient with my hesitance, he almost shouted into the phone, "Just go buy it! You'll have the money soon enough."
So, I followed his advice (as I nearly always did.) Thanks to Kenny's leadership, his and wife Ann's generosity, and fundraising talent, TNC purchased the property a few months later, without debt. It now stands as one of Kansas' most popular state parks, owned by TNC with visitor access managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
This is just one of many examples of Kenny Baum's passionate leadership when it comes to conserving the lands and waters of Kansas. He was wholly dedicated to the idea that Kansas's natural beauty is not only worth saving but also worth sharing with people. The work he envisioned is expensive, sometimes excruciatingly so, and Kenny never shied away from putting his own money into our work. Nor was he timid about insisting that others did as well.
Kenny so strongly believed in conservation that he consistently admonished and coached everyone—TNC donors, trustees, and staff—to go bigger, further, faster. He didn't just help TNC develop conservation projects; he made sure to secure funding to implement them. The mentoring, encouraging, and sometimes outright pushing I received from Kenny opened my eyes to the many needs and opportunities that would eventually manifest into some of our most important conservation successes. The lessons of dogged determination, generosity, and passionate commitment I learned from him will guide me and TNC for a long, long time to come.