Our People

Terry Cook

State Director, Tennessee

Brentwood, TN

A man crosses his arms and leans against a wall.

Terry Cook Terry Cook is The Nature Conservancy's Tennessee state director. © Courtesy/Terry Cook

Areas of Expertise

conservation leadership, aquatic ecology, urban conservation, global environmental sustainability


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Terry Cook has been The Nature Conservancy's state director in Tennessee since 2016. Cook supervises a staff of more than twenty professionals who work around the state on conservation initiatives that protect and enhance the health of Tennessee’s forests, waters, caves and cities for the benefit of people and nature.

In addition to his current role, Terry has worked for almost 30 years at TNC in various capacities including as director of science in Texas and Washington, director of the Mid-Atlantic Science Center, an eastern regional scientist and as the state director in Kentucky. Terry has been a John Sawhill Fellow, a member of TNC’s Global Science Leadership Team and served on its Africa Council.

Terry holds a B.S. in Environmental Studies from Ferrum College and an M.S. in Range Ecology from Texas A&M University. He is based in Brentwood where he serves on the Steering Committee for NashvilleHealth and as a member of the Livable Nashville Committee. He is married to Laura Cook and has two children, Elizabeth and Cody. 

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(December 2021)

Our work really matters, not only here in Tennessee, but on a global scale. 

In pursuit of the dual goals of slowing the pace of climate change and protecting 30 percent of the planet’s biodiversity by 2030, The Nature Conservancy named four regions as global priorities for conservation: Borneo, the Amazon, Kenya and...the Appalachian Mountains. Covering approximately 2,000 miles—from Alabama to Canada—the Appalachians boast a variety of species and a level of resiliency that make it one of the most globally important landscapes for pursuing our mission. They also serve as home to 22 million people who rely on this landscape’s natural resources for food, clean water and air, and economic stability.

Conserving the Appalachians requires coordinating across 18 states and an international border. We are off to a good start with TNC’s 2019 Cumberland Forest Project, encompassing 253,000 acres situated in Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. These forests store millions of tons of carbon, potentially more if we manage them sustainably, and represent one of North America’s most important routes for plants and animals shifting their ranges in response to the changing climate.

As part of this project, we are also piloting creative new approaches to improving the landscape’s ecological health and resilience that might be duplicated elsewhere in the Appalachians. This includes developing solar energy at former coalfields, marketing sustainably sourced lumber, leasing lands for outdoor recreation and enrolling forests in the emerging carbon marketplace. Through the Cumberland Forest Community Fund, we are also investing in local projects that support nature-based economic and community development in five Tennessee counties.

It is important work. And thanks to you, TNC hits the ground running with natural climate solutions that safeguard wildlife habitat and store carbon in the Appalachians and across the globe.

See you outside.

(January 2021)

My family doesn't make a lot of New Years resolutions. But each year, we try to build on ways of living a little lighter on the land. 

For example, over the years we started growing some of our own food, in many cases starting from seed. That has led to learning more about germination as we now harvest seeds directly from the plants in our garden in preparation for the next growing season.

Outside of the garden, we are slowly-but-surely replacing our grassy lawn with native landscaping that is better at standing up to weather and pests, and is more welcoming to wildlife. Bluebird, bat and owl boxes also add diversity to our yard.

And we stopped bagging our leaves. Rather, we rake them back into our garden and flower beds to serve as mulch during winter.

Recycling is also important in our household. We made a lot of progress on this goal thanks to more time at home during the pandemic. I am most excited about finding a company in Nashville that recycles Styrofoam. And in the spirit of “one person’s trash is another’s treasure,” we are donating or selling (online) things that we no longer need.

With less stuff in the house, we are being mindful of new purchases, taking the greenest route whenever possible. A couple of years ago, we bought an electric car. Our Nissan Leaf gets about 70 or 80 miles per charge, plenty of fuel for my daily ten-mile commute.

So what’s in store for the Cook family in 2021? We are replacing our 15-year-old water heater with a more efficient tankless version. We also plan to do an energy audit to find ways both small and large to reduce our carbon footprint. And we will reduce our support for products that rely on single use plastics.

Every conservation step you take is important and is part of a journey we all need to be on. Don’t overlook the small steps and don’t be intimidated by the larger ones. Join me in making 2021 a greener year than the last.

See you outside.

(November 2020)

It is a time of changing seasons, in so many ways. And so I am checking in to see how we all are doing during what has been a high-stress, unpredictable and humbling time.
For me, I believe that 2020 is teaching us a lot about resilience—the resilience of our lands, our waters, our wildlife and especially our people. And, despite a global pandemic and economic downturn, our staff at The Nature Conservancy is working harder than ever to employ science, promote policies, protect nature and forge partnerships to advance conservation, even if we are doing it from within our own homes.
However, this unsettled and sometimes chaotic time is not without hope. Nature plays a big role in that hope. Specifically:

In a time of stress, nature soothes. Simple pleasures like growing food in healthy soils, hiking through a field of wildflowers or witnessing a seasonal bird migration provides a welcome break from the intense and unending news cycle.

In a period of distancing, nature brings us together. Hiking with family and friends, gathering in a park, or setting out to explore a lake or creek on kayaks represent just a few of the ways many are socializing in safe and respectful ways.

When we feel vulnerable, nature shows us resilience. Trees lose, and regain, their leaves. Birds return to our feeders each spring. Horseshoe crabs make the same journey to our shores as they have for millions of years.

Our mission has never been more important—for people and for nature—than it is today. If you have found solace in nature during 2020, I hope you will continue to do so in the months to come.

I also hope that you will continue to support nature in any way that you can, whether by donating towards our mission, gifting a membership, or actively speaking out on behalf of the health of the planet we all share.

Nature needs your voice, now, more than ever. Thank you for remaining steadfast, and resilient, during this time.

See you outside.

(April 2020)

As we emerge from springtime—a time of growth and renewal—we continue to grapple with a health crisis that has brought the world to a stand-still. As we continue to adjust and implement social distancing practices, more people than ever are seeking nature to alleviate stress and safely move around.

During this time, most of us are giving up something we were planning to do, at least temporarily. For our staff in Tennessee, it was celebrating a big milestone—the successful protection of 400,000 acres since TNC opened its doors here in 1978. It is a wonderful testament to the generous support and leadership of so many.

It is easy to become frustrated by this unexpected pandemic that has paralyzed our planet. However, I mostly feel grateful—for my family, my home, good friends and for a career dedicated to protecting something that is so important to humankind.

While difficult, this historic event also shed a positive light on humanity. We’ve witnessed how the world will take pause and sacrifice a lot—on a planetary scale—on behalf of its most vulnerable inhabitants. This is what is on my mind when I think about another global crisis, climate change, which threatens the ecosystems that make the world habitable for each and every one of us. I have been heartened by this glimpse into what might be possible if we all truly make the health of our planet a priority. Nature would thrive, and so would we.

Thank you for supporting our efforts to protect the lands, waters and wildlife found in Tennessee. You have always been there for nature. I hope that after this crisis passes, and it will, that we remember all of the ways in which nature helped us make it through this difficult time—whether through daily walks, time in the garden, on a family hike or in another way. Then let’s work together to continue to protect Tennessee’s lands and waters for nature and people.

See you outside.

(June 2020)

The passage of the Great American Outdoors Act is a tremendous victory—and legacy—for all Americans. From the Grand Canyon to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, many of our lakes, rivers, trails, beaches and historic monuments—places that make up part of our national identity and cultural fabric—can now be protected and maintained for all Americans to enjoy. 

As you already know, our public lands provide opportunities for solace and recreation, good-paying jobs, customers for associated businesses and habitat for wildlife—all critical to making our state and nation prosperous.

Investing in nature--clean air and water, healthy soils, and equal access to public lands and waters—is more important than ever. I don't believe that I am exaggerating when I say that nature is, and will continue to be, critical to a healthy and sustainable recovery for all of us during a time of great instability around the world. 

We at The Nature Conservancy are grateful to the Tennessee Congressional delegation for their ongoing support of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We also appreciate our Tennessee staff and trustees—past and present—for their work and dedication to helping to secure this win for all of us. 

See you outside.