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Member Q&A with the CEO

Listen to this tele-townhall event on top priorities with Nature Conservancy CEO Jennifer Morris. (Recorded March 30, 2021)

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Dave Strauss:

Good evening and welcome to tonight's live Q&A with Jen Morris, CEO of the Nature Conservancy. I'm Dave Strauss, Director of Membership at the Nature Conservancy, and I'll be your moderator tonight. I'm looking forward to hearing your questions. We'll get started in just a moment. Right now we're waiting for everyone to join the call. We're expecting a strong turnout, so we'll begin shortly.

Dave Strauss:

This is a live event with lots of opportunities for you to ask questions and share your thoughts. If you have a question for tonight's speaker, please press 0 on your telephone keypad, either now or at any point during the event. Your questions will help guide tonight's discussion, so please ask away.

Dave Strauss:

If you've just joined us, welcome to tonight's live Q&A with the Nature's Conservancy's executive leadership. We're thrilled to have Nature Conservancy's CEO, Jen Morris, with us tonight. She's hear to talk about urgent conservation policy priorities and answer your questions.

Dave Strauss:

Thanks again to everyone for joining us for this live discussion. Your support means so much and I'm really glad we had this chance to connect with each other this evening. Thank you for being part of our Nature Conservancy community and I hope you and your loved ones are all safe and well this evening.

Dave Strauss:

I'm so glad you're able to join us for this live telephone town hall event. If you have a question during the event, please press zero at any time for a chance to ask a live question. Our featured guest, Jennifer Morris, has a distinguished career in conservation. We are honored to have her here to talk with you, answer your questions, and share her perspective on how we will continue working to safeguard the lands and waters that sustain us all.

Dave Strauss:

For the past 25 years, Jennifer Morris has dedicated her life to protecting the environment for people and nature. Before stepping into her leadership role with the Nature Conservancy, she was president at Conservation International, where she helped foster innovative strategies using business development as a tool to protect nature for the well being of humanity.

Dave Strauss:

Throughout her career, she has led teams of conservation professionals, built the first partnerships from indigenous communities to multinational corporations and served communities to ensure people and nature can thrive together. Now, a CEO of the Nature Conservancy, she oversees global conservation efforts to protect and preserve critical ecosystems and tackle the climate crisis.

Dave Strauss:

Welcome, Jen. I know our supporters on the phone will have great questions for you tonight. Let me hand it over to you to welcome those who have just joined us and share a few thoughts before we open up the line for questions. Again, if you'd like to ask a question during tonight's telephone town hall event or if you have any comments for our speaker, please press zero at any time to ask questions.

Dave Strauss:

We'll also have a couple chances for you to share your thoughts with a few interactive calling questions as we go along. Let me hand it over to you to welcome those who have just joined us and share a few thoughts before we open up the line for questions. Jen?

Jen Morris:

Great. Thanks so much, Dave, and thanks to all of you for joining with us tonight, this afternoon, or morning, depending on where you're calling in from. I'm so happy to be here with all of you tonight. I'm sitting here in Washington DC in my Zoom room and I know there's so many of you on the phone tonight joining us from many, many different places around, mostly in the United States. So, again, thanks for your time to be with us and for me to share some of my thoughts and hear your questions this evening.

Jen Morris:

So, one of the things that drew me to Nature Conservancy is this absolutely incredible network of dedicated members. I can't believe it, but it's actually be 10 months since I've been in the job and, really, I've spend those 10 months immersing myself in the incredible work of the Nature Conservancy in the United States and, of course, around the world and the 70+ countries where we work. And I'm so inspired by the support that our members have for this organization that really makes all of this work possible, and your support couldn't come at a more crucial time.

Jen Morris:

For many of us in the US and elsewhere, we just observed the one-year anniversary of quarantining and, of course, safety measures due to COVID-19 pandemic, keeping us away from family and friends, and isolated from many of the activities and things that we love. It's been, of course, a difficult and devastating year for so many but, at the same time, we've learned a lot. This pandemic that we're undergoing right now has truly underscored the links between the destruction of nature and the spread of diseases.

Jen Morris:

And it's also showed us the power of global collaboration and addressing complex problems and what we can really do together as a global society when we come together to address a problem like the global pandemic and we've seen it in the speed at which the vaccines have been produced and how we're rolling them out in some places relatively quickly.

Jen Morris:

So, that kind of energy, that kind of collective energy and inspiration is what we all need to turn our attention to put our planet on the path to a brighter future. We know that the window of opportunity to get on that path is rapidly closing. So, let me briefly touch on three areas where I'm concentrating my efforts as TMC's CEO and, again, thank you all who are joining us right now for being with us tonight.

Jen Morris:

So, the first thing that we're doing is really sharpening our focus. The Nature Conservancy does so many things around the world and one of the things that we've heard from staff and board and trustees and members such as yourselves is that we need to really focus so that we can have the biggest impact. And how we can have that biggest impact on two main crises that are facing our planet today, and that is protecting biodiversity and tackling climate change in this critical decade for people and nature.

Jen Morris:

And after about nine months of work by the Nature Conservancy teams around the world and working with trustees and supporters like all of you, we've just had our 2030 goals approved by our global board of directors just last month. These goals will now serve as our goalposts for the years ahead.

Jen Morris:

And, secondly, we're leaning into what I like to call radical collaboration. We know that there are inextricable links between climate, biodiversity, health, gender, and development, and the list, of course, goes on and on. But, too often, we approach these issues in silos. In order to achieve the scale and the speed that our mission requires, we've got to break out of these silos. We've got to work across sectors and we've got to seek out new radical partnerships.

Jen Morris:

So, in addition to doing that externally with sometimes our competitors or maybe companies or organizations that we wouldn't normally work with, we also need to make sure that we're collaborating internally effectively, and that means working very closely between the states, between regions, and between our conservation and our operational teams to ensure that we focus the precious resources you give us on the most critical conservation work we can to achieve the highest impact possible.

Jen Morris:

And third and perhaps just as important, one thing that you've probably heard the saying from the famous management consultant, Peter Drucker, who said, and this quote I love, is that, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." And to that end, we are focused on building a more inclusive culture. And this means cultivating a workplace where all of our colleagues and partners are treated with respect, with equity and fairness, and it means that looking at our conservation work through an equity lens, ensuring that our work includes and supports the community most impacted by environmental challenges.

Jen Morris:

Now, these challenges we face are daunting but, honestly, I consider myself an impatient optimist, and every day, I see incredible support from businesses, governments, partners, and supporters like all of you for the critical work we are doing together. So, as our society rebuilds in the wake of the pandemic, the global community has an enormous opportunity to reassess our priorities and set a new course to protect nature and all she provides for us.

Jen Morris:

So, I'll stop there. Dave, back to you, and I can't wait to hear from all of you and answer the questions that you have tonight. Thank you again for joining.

Dave Strauss:

Great, thanks, Jen. Super excited that you joined the Nature Conservancy. You're so inspirational and the strategies that you're putting forward just all make sense. So, really, really excited. I do want to welcome anyone who just joined us. It's a privilege to have CEO Jen Morris with us tonight for this live Q&A discussion on conservation priorities. As a reminder, to ask a question, please press zero on your telephone keypad.

Dave Strauss:

While we wait for our first caller, I wanted to say thanks again to everyone participating in this virtual town hall event tonight, on behalf of all of our staff and scientists, I wanted to thank you for your support over the last year as we've had to navigate the changes to local events and conservation projects in your community. Your support means so much. We are united in our mission to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends, but each of us is inspired to act for different reasons.

Dave Strauss:

I wanted to ask a quick question to get a sense of why protecting nature matters to you. To respond, just press the corresponding number on your telephone keypad.

Dave Strauss:

So, the question is: why do you choose to help protect nature? Press one if you want to preserve the beautiful lands and waters. Press two if you care about saving endangered species. Press three if you're concerned about climate change. Press four if you want to keep our natural resources health and clean. Press five for all of the above and press six for other.

Dave Strauss:

Let me quickly repeat: why do you choose to help protect nature? Press one if you want to preserve the beautiful lands and waters. Press two if you care about saving endangered species. Press three if you're concerned about climate change. Press four if you want to keep our natural resources health and clean. Press five for all of the above. Press six for other.

Dave Strauss:

Your answers will help guide our discussion as we'll have the results for you in just a bit. Be sure to press zero if you'd like to ask a question live tonight. Tonight's event is meant to be a dialogue about issues that are important to you, so we sent an email survey asking participants what question they most wanted Jen to answer tonight. More than 2,300 of you responded and said this question was top of mind, and that's where we'll start.

Dave Strauss:

And so, Jen, my question to you from the survey participants of 2,300 people: will the Biden administration's actions on climate be enough to change course?

Jen Morris:

Thanks for that question. It's obviously a critical question. So, the United States, as we know, is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide after China. So, leadership by the US is critical. But it's going to take more than just the United States. The climate emergency and its impact will affect us all and, because of that, it's going to require all of us, but especially, I would say, the highest emitters, and that is, of course, China, the US, India, Russia, Japan, the European Union, in particular.

Jen Morris:

And this is really urgent, since the people most impacted by the climate emergency are the people who have contributed to it the least. But, I will say that it's very encouraging to see that the US is elevating the importance of the climate crisis and, of course, land and water conservation and science. The early actions by the Biden administration quickly signals that climate change is one of its highest priorities. We've rejoined the Paris Agreement and, for the first time, and I think this is really interesting, the Biden administration is pursing an integration of really an all government approach to the climate crisis and directed all federal agencies, not just the EPA or other specific agencies dedicated to the environment, to really assess how each one of them can advance climate solutions.

Jen Morris:

And then, also, of course, the administration is setting in motion plans for setting ambitious US goals for reducing our overall global greenhouse gas emission reductions, and that is really important and these ambitious goals will be the subject of an upcoming meeting on April 22nd, of which Nature Conservancy has been pushing and pursuing of the high admitting nations to really come together and talk about what we can collectively to do fight climate change.

Jen Morris:

So, in addition to the support for, of course, the core issues related to transitioning our energy as a nation, we're joining many other to press the administration to focus on smart fighting for that clean energy. It's critical that when we're developing solar or hydro or wind energy that, as climate solutions, that we don't undermine our biodiversity objectives as well. So, we need to make sure that we're harmonizing those two things together and that we're really utilizing nature's technology also for carbon sequestration and climate change adaptation and not just the more typical engineering solutions, nature's technology or nature based solutions as we call them are also really critical.

Jen Morris:

So, I'm extremely optimistic that the Biden administration will leverage our US influence to ensure that we have the needed ambitious international response that's critical. And this is actually happening in real time. Even just yesterday, the Biden administration sent a strong statement to the president of Brazil to end deforestation, which actually represents now one half of all Brazil's annual admissions since 2019. Deforestation represents half of all of Brazil's emissions. So, we can't just change our energy, we've got to change our relationship with nature and the US is leading the way and pursuing leverage and pushing countries like Brazil to change the way that they're farming and doing other activities on land.

Jen Morris:

So, there is growing pressure. I'm really thrilled to see that China pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2060. Just this morning, 7:00 AM this morning, I was on a call with the Minister of Environment of China, Minister Wong, to push for an acceleration of that 2060 timeline. That's too long. I think the global community appreciates China doing that, but really we need to do it faster than 2060. And, at the end of 2020, European Union leaders committed, in December of last year, to reduce carbon emissions in the EU 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. And those interim steps are really important. It's great to have 2050 and 2060 goals, but the reality is many of those politicians won't be around then, so having these shorter goals that we can really achieve are critical.

Jen Morris:

And, honestly, it's not just about national governments. The number of businesses and local governments committed to reaching that zero emissions has actually doubled in the last year. This is huge! So, we're seeing it's not just about federal government action but an all of society effort that's needed. Many companies, communities, and local and regional governments are transforming without waiting for permission or regulation from the federal government.

Jen Morris:

Question is: will this be enough? Honestly, it has to be or we'll be spending too much of our nation and every nation's talent and treasure not on innovation or education or long term things that will make our society better, but just on dealing with the impacts of the weather. And this is happening now. The billion dollar weather and climate related disaster events during 2020 caused 95 billion dollars in damages in the US. This is more than double the annual average over the last 41 years. So, we're spending too much now addressing climate change impacts. We need to work on prevention so that, in the future, we can really turn our investments into innovation and ensuring that our societies can build back better and really build back a society that's focused on long term preservation and not just dealing with annual or daily weather events that impact us.

Dave Strauss:

Great. Thanks, Jen. Great response. Okay, let's get to our first caller on the line but, as a reminder, you can press zero at any time on your telephone keypad to ask a question live. And our first caller is Karen from New York City. Karen, welcome.

Karen:

Thank you. I guess my big question is, and it's a big question, is: is it too late to save the oceans and exactly what is the Nature Conservancy doing to help clean up everything in the oceans and to make it better?

Jen Morris:

Karen, thank you so much for that question. So, ocean conservation is obviously critical. It's the majority of the planet. We have to be focused on ocean conservation. And, right now, just under 7% of the ocean is really protected. Some scientists will say that it's really about 3% that's effectively protected, but most conservationists will agree it's about 7%. We need to be much higher than that. The minimum goal that the ocean community is targeting is at least 10%. That is a significant leap from where we are, but is really critical.

Jen Morris:

Ultimately, the goal is that 30% of the planet will be protected for biodiversity, for the ecosystem services that those biomes produce. TNC is doing a lot in this space and I would say that the main initiative that we're focused on and really is working a lot in collaboration with other organizations, but the big thing we're working on right now is an initiative called Blue Bond and that is really helping and I love this approach, it just shows you how innovated TNC is on the financial side. We're basically helping nations that are highly indebted to other countries, which is of course especially important now with COVID and all the reduced economic situation and challenging situations that many countries have.

Jen Morris:

A lot of these countries also have lots of ocean that they'd like to protect but they don't have the resource to invest in it. So, on a deal that we did several years ago we're working with countries that have high amounts of debt to help them do basically do what's called a Debt for Nature Swap. And we work with partners to help them change their payment terms to the people that they owe money to, mostly governments, China being a big one, and help them refinance that debt and, in exchange, they commit to protecting their ocean environment and we help them pay for that and restructure the debt to help pay for that investment.

Jen Morris:

So, it's a really innovative approach that not only, of course, helps ocean conservation, but also helps countries to reduce their debt and change the payment schemes that they have to be able to invest more in nature and economic development and I think that's one of many examples. I think, Karen, your question is so important because it is absolutely essential that we work in partnership with other organizations to do this because there's no way that TNC or any one organization can really do what's needed to preserve our ocean environment. So, thanks so much for that question.

Dave Strauss:

Yeah. Great question, Karen, and thanks, Jen. I wanted to quickly share the results of the first poll before getting to our next calling. I'm happy to say that 24% of you said that you care about making sure our beautiful lands and waters are protected and I can definitely relate to that as I look out my window at a beautiful lake.

Dave Strauss:

So, let's take another question from the phone. We have Richard from Phoenix, Arizona. Richard?

Richard:

I think you just answered that question. My question was about the 30 30 plan that I've been hearing about and what would be TNC's role in that if they were to have a role in that and that's what my questions was.

Jen Morris:

Great. Richard, thank you. I'll just expand a little bit on my last answer to Karen. So, the 30 by 30 plan is exactly what it sounds like. 30% of the planet protected by 2030 and our role is focused on two key areas. One is the science around what 30? So, that's the obvious question that you asked. What 30%? Where should it be? And so, really helping to understand not only scientifically where the most important areas are for biodiversity and for ecosystem services like water and pollination and those kind of things, but also to really understand where it's possible to protect that 30. So, where the governments are supportive, where there's indigenous people who would love to be able to protect their native lands, their heritage, but don't have the resources to do that.

Jen Morris:

So, we're helping on both those fronts. The science of where and really the art of the possible. How do we work with governments, local communities, et cetera to get to that 2030, and this is a Biden administration priority for the US. Each state, I know our team in California is working closely as well on thinking about where we can help support the California government's plan for their own 30 by 30 as well as other nations doing the same thing.

Jen Morris:

And one of the things we're really trying to do, Richard, is to make the best use of our funding that you all entrust us with, which is to see where there's overlap between carbon and biodiversity, where there's high amounts of carbon in an ecosystem so we can really target our investments on doing both of those things in the same location while also supporting local communities. So, it's a great question. TMC is right in the middle of it, both from a science and implementation perspective.

Dave Strauss:

Great. Thanks. Let's take another caller. We have Robert from Phoenix, Oregon. Robert?

Robert:

Yes. I'm concerned; are we doing enough to educate and work with the private land owners, corporations, and big businesses to make their lands more friendly for biodiversity. We seem in some ways going backwards. Montana's trying to pass a law to make it easier to kill large predators and it seems like there's a lot of leverage if we can get the private owners behind this.

Jen Morris:

Yeah. Robert so that's a super important question. One of the things that I love about TNC is it's not afraid to tackle the really sticky issues and one of them is what you just mentioned and I think, particularly related to agriculture, we have an incredible team working around the world that focus on some of the big bread baskets, if you will, in the US and, in particular, in Latin America and Africa, related to regenerative agriculture.

Jen Morris:

So, we work with them. we work with big companies that have an interest in pursuing a different path, that really are looking at ways to change the way we treat the soils, to make sure that farmers actually get paid for protecting their land, so they get paid for changing the way they till the land or treat the land or farm the land in a way that actually helps not only for them to sequester the carbon, but have the right incentive for that sequestration.

Jen Morris:

So, we're doing this in areas in the Midwest United States, not just with farmers, but also with ranchers. In fact, US ranchers and farmers steward 800 million acres, which is half of all the land in the United States, and so we have targets in each of our states to really focus on how we can support these critical private land owners, as you mentioned, Robert, to have the right incentives. We can't expect them to just do it overnight. This takes financing and it takes time and it takes the right incentives and we're happy to see that Secretary [inaudible 00:25:58] is supporting this effort, is looking for ways that carbon payments can go to farmers to really incentivize them to change the way that they do farmer. So, thanks for that great question.

Dave Strauss:

Great. Just a reminder, press zero at any time on your telephone keypad to ask a question live tonight. We're going to go to a polling question: many of our members are actively speaking out more on conservation policy through our online action center. I'm curious how many people have participated, so I wanted to take a minute to do another quick poll. So, press one if you've signed a pledge or petition or some other policy action in our online action center. Press two if you have not visited our online action center or press three if you don't recall but interested in learning more about our online action center. So, press one if you've signed a pledge or petition. Press two if you have not visited our online action center or press three if you don't recall, but would be interested in learning more.

Dave Strauss:

So, let's get back to our callers. And we have Kevin from Twin Cities, Minnesota. Kevin?

Kevin:

Yes, hi. Are you hearing me?

Dave Strauss:

Yes, we are.

Jen Morris:

Yes.

Kevin:

Good. I think the pandemic ordeal that we've been through, I've heard some very knowledgeable people say that the origins of pandemics are poor boundaries between different species of life on earth and poor boundaries between wildlife and our human population. And I'm wondering if this notion of biodiversity is something that can also be informed about our taking care of nature and respecting the natural world, boundaries that the natural world needs to be health and what we need to do to protect ourselves from invading the natural world and starting another pandemic.

Jen Morris:

Kevin, excellent, excellent question. I'm so glad you raised this because it's so important that we all, as a society understand this. So, the World Health Organization, not an environmental organization. The World Health Organization said the number one way to prevent the next pneumonic related from animals pandemic is exactly what you said, is to protect nature and to change the way that humans are interacting with wildlife in particular. In fact, a study from a few months ago said that the cost of preventing a future pandemic over the next decade by protecting wildlife and forests would equate to just two percent, two percent, of the estimated financial damage caused by COVID-19.

Jen Morris:

So, if we invested now in change and creating those boundaries, as you said, those buffers that protect the areas, the expansion of areas and, quite frankly, ended the wildlife trafficking that we know has been really pervasive while also providing sources of protein for people who don't have another option, then we can really, I think, create a different society where we recognize the role and the importance of nature and, quite frankly, the fact that a lot of these disease are coming directly from how we as humans are treating nature.

Jen Morris:

So, there could be no more timely question than yours and I really thank you for raising it and encourage everything to learn more about this transmission. And I know there's been lots of different studies about exactly how COVID-19 came about, but the science coming out of the latest WHO review is that it definitely has a pneumonic origin, so I think that the science makes it clear that we have to change our behavior towards nature. So, thanks for that question.

Dave Strauss:

Yeah. Thank you, Kevin. I wanted to quickly get the results for our second poll question. 22% of you said you have taken one of our policy actions, so thank you. The pledges to congress that are on our online action center are a chance for supporters to add their voice to critical conservation policy issues. It's a way for you to speak up for nature and be sure to visit nature.org/act to see the urgent issues that need your voice right now.

Dave Strauss:

So, let's get to another question from the phone. We have Jacob from California. Jacob, are you with us?

Jacob:

I sure am.

Dave Strauss:

Excellent.

Jacob:

All righty. The question's a little off topic, I guess you could say. I'm just trying to figure out ways to be more involved with the agency and kind of really bring more awareness to the young communities, people my age in the range of 25 to 30 to 35 maybe. To really bring that awareness out there because I think nature is a really big part of our well being and I feel like there could be a lot more done when it comes to that so I'm just trying to find ways to really bring it out to the community.

Jen Morris:

Great. Jacob, fantastic question. I share your wish and your desire and that is something that we are definitely focused on; how we can make sure that the message of nature conservation is relevant for everyone. Some of the things that we're doing and we have a wonderful new chief marketing communications officer who's really digging into this is to make sure that we're using the channels of communication that young people use.

Jen Morris:

When I talk about Facebook, my 13 year old just laughs at me and is like, "Facebook is for old people, Mom, nobody uses Facebook anymore." Her age certainly and even in your 20s and 30s. So, I think that we're looking to make sure that we're relevant, that we're hiring people that obviously know a lot about this space and that are of that generation so that we can be as effective as possible in communicating to different groups.

Jen Morris:

And, of course, having different messages, not only to channels of communication, but the messages are going to resonate with people, as well as using influencers that will be more relevant for people in the 20 to 30 year old. So, great question and certainly send us your ideas. If you have thoughts on how to do that or anyone else on the phone that's in Jacob's age bracket, please send us your ideas. We're always open to suggestions from our members, so thanks again.

Dave Strauss:

So, I have a question for you, Jen. So, for many of us, our love of nature started when we were very young. Do you remember what you loved about nature when you were a kid?

Jen Morris:

Wow. Well, sure. So, when I was a kid, I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia until I was 15. I loved being in my backyard. We had a small little backyard that had some pretty decent forest in it and I loved just sitting in my backyard with my dog and listening to the sounds of nature. I was quite young then, maybe seven or eight. I loved going on long walks and just hearing, even in a suburban environment, being surrounded by the nature that was near my house. My love for it and some of the teachers that I had at summer camps would share with me their deep knowledge of nature.

Jen Morris:

So, that was probably my first exposure and my earliest memories are sitting with my dog in my backyard and just enjoying the sounds of suburban Atlanta.

Dave Strauss:

Great. Thank you for sharing that. Let's take another question from the phone. We've got John from Brooklyn, Massachusetts.

John:

Hi, Jen. Thanks very much. My question is... going back to the goals that you articulated for 2030 with the coalition of organizations working on these goals. My question is: if the goals are achieved, will that be sufficient in order to keep the atmospheric temperature below the two degree centigrade that the UN commission has called for in order to control climate change?

Jen Morris:

John, the simple answer is, it won't be enough if just we do it. It needs to be everybody has to focus on emissions pathway reduction and we will make a big dent in it, we and our partners. And our focus, of course, is really that lens of nature which represents about 30% of the emissions reduction needed. But, no, our energy grid needs to change, how we produce electricity, how we produce cement, so many different sectors need to change. But we're of course, a big part of that, as the world's largest environmental organization, and that's why focus and doubling down on the most important areas where we can see a return for our investment in a relatively quick amount of time is absolutely essential.

Jen Morris:

So, it's not going to be efficient and we say actually below 1.5, which is what the latest UNF  convention says 1.5 is critical. It's not going to be sufficient of us just alone. We're going to need a lot more than just that. And frankly, we are all in the age of adaptation. We also need to be investing in adaptation and resilience and really thinking about where we're putting housing in the future and many, many other things related to that, how we develop our sea walls and our storm barriers and how we farm and how we treat nature.

Jen Morris:

All of those things are needed for us to make a dent in it. Thanks for that great question.

Dave Strauss:

Thank you. So, next question is from Patricia from Knoxville, North Carolina.

Patricia:

Hello. Thank you. I think you answered my question. I had just viewed Seaspiracy recently showing the shocking state of overfishing around the world and it does seem to be an issue that... I don't know who can tackle it. I don't even know if the UN can handle it with the enforcement that's involved. It just seems to be on a path of destruction with depletion of species at just record levels and happening fast. And with most of the population growing in Asia and Africa and, well, here.

Patricia:

So, I'm feeling very depressed about the state of the oceans and their importance and the carbon cycle and everything and it virtually just changed my whole thinking about the oceans and I know the Nature Conservancy is very, very active and I don't hear much about their ocean policies and where we stand on the problem of drastic overfishing around the world, illegal, everywhere, but, anyway. I don't know where Nature Conservancy stands on that or what they can even do about it, but thank you.

Jen Morris:

Yeah. Patricia, thank you for asking this question. So, I share your concern. I have not seen the documentary that you're mentioning. Seaspiracy is the name of it? I know it's come out just recently and it's having a very powerful impact. I will share with you two things that we're doing. One is that we just recently signed an agreement with the world's largest caught tuna company to basically have 100% electronic monitoring on their boats by I believe 2025, if I'm not mistaken. So, that is a game changer and I think one of the most critical challenges that you just raised is that you can't see what's happening on the ocean. These boats are out to see and you mentioned the tragic loss of nature and overfishing, but actually, there's a social tragedy happening as well; the slavery that's happening on these ships is some of the worst human conditions on this planet and no one even sees it.

Jen Morris:

People are going out for months at a time. They're not allowed to go back to shore. They're being held against their will. It's a really, really horrible, horrible thing that's happening. Can it be improved? Absolutely. Having onboard monitoring and enforcing these boats to actually come to port is something the Nature Conservancy is working on. We have a really amazing relationship with some big retail companies, some of the largest buyers and sellers of tuna that are now committing to having 100% traceable tuna on their shelves. So things are starting to change, but the fishing sector is still far behind agriculture, I would say, because, in part, these boats are so hard to track.

Jen Morris:

So, that's one thing. I would also just say the other thing that's really interesting and there was a paper that came out last week that TNC was a supporting author on around bottom trawling and the role that bottom trawling... so that's basically taking nets and scooping up everything from the bottom of the ocean. The impact that that's having on climate have never been seen before. No one's ever done a scientific assessment of this before this study was led by National Geographic and it's basically saying that bottom trawling is having as much, if not more of an impact on emissions, global annual emissions, than on the clearing of tropical forests.

Jen Morris:

And, also, the same annual amount of emissions from the transportation sector, globally. Just one, very small fishing practice that actually has very limited impacts in a positive way for most countries do it, GDP. It's only happening in a few countries. So, if we can stop bottom trawling, which is now a policy objective of the Nature Conservancy, that would have tremendous impacts, both on climate, as I just mentioned, and of course, on biodiversity as well, because if you do that activity, you're destroying everything that's on the bottom of the ocean.

Jen Morris:

So, we're working hard on it, but I agree with your sentiment. It is a very, very challenging problem.

Dave Strauss:

Great, thanks, Jen. You ready for another question from one of our callers?

Jen Morris:

Sure!

Dave Strauss:

John from Haymarket, Virginia.

John:

Hi. Thanks for taking my question. My question relates to siting of renewable energy insulation, such as wind and solar power, in some cases that will require an extension of our electrical grid to move the electrical power to the end users in urban areas and industrial areas. Are we assessing the habitat impacts of such requirements, particularly, I think we're doing a fairly good job on siting the power generation, but my question really is about the grid, because we're going to have to move power long distances if we're going to take advantage of the particular areas where wind and solar generation are available.

Jen Morris:

Yeah, so, John, thanks so much, and good to hear from you. And Haymarket is not too far from where I am. So, yes, I would say that TMC especially in the US and actually also in India, we have an initiative called the Site Right initiative, which is looking specifically at, as you said, the power generation sites, so where are we putting panels, where are we putting wind energy? In terms of the grid itself, that is an integral part of this as well.

Jen Morris:

We have to make sure that, in terms of the power lines, et cetera, that those are sited in places which don't disrupt wildlife corridors, in particular, where the land that's being used to put these areas is not displacing communities, which has been a big concern, especially in the environmental objectives community, and as well that we're working on places like in coal country in West Virginia or in your state of Virginia, in the western part of the state, or mining in Nevada, so we're actually siting these places, both the grid and the transmission lines and the actual on site generation are already degraded land on places that are reclaimed mine land so that we can help to provide not only energy, but also jobs for those impacted communities.

Jen Morris:

So it's a critical issue that you raise and I think ensuring that we have interconnectivity of the grid. As we saw recently in Texas, when you don't have that, what the impacts are. Having an integrated grid for our country is absolutely essential and I know that this infrastructure build that the Biden administration is working on is looking at that, but it's going to take a lot of investment to get this right and I don't think that any of us should underestimate what that investment is going to look like, both in terms of interconnectivity of the grid or, of course, making sure that we site the renewable energy in the right places so we don't have unanticipated impacts that we could have avoided.

Dave Strauss:

Great. Thanks, Jen. Great question, John. Next question is from Ryan, from Charleston, South Carolina.

Jen Morris:

Ryan, are you there?

Dave Strauss:

[crosstalk 00:45:25] Go ahead, Ryan. Ask your question. Please.

Ryan:

So, I became... actually signed up. I'm very interested... 42 years old, disabled, trying to work my way up through self employment my entire life. My biggest concern with conservation is sometimes it has an unintended flashback immediately into the littler people. We focused on bigger corporation and the stuff that they abuse and do and it's so hard to do one thing that doesn't have a ripple effect in so many other ways and that's my biggest concern with conservation. I love to be a part of it. I'm hoping to learn more. You can't learn more if you're not involved more. That's really how I came about and, in the commercial fishing industry, I watched it through several presidencies, where entire coastlines were shutdown to commercial fisherman, which are small guys. They lose everything. Boat, houses. All the licenses... it's so hard. I don't know.

Ryan:

That's my biggest question. Because even with forestry, people freak out. They don't realize that if forestry private land, parcel is actually to grow trees. Cut them down. Grow them again. There's just a lot of education. And then we do have so much overdevelopment taking place right now where I live on the barrier islands of Charleston. We own property 50, 60, 70 years in family and try to go do something simple that everybody thinks should be a good fit and they say, no, no, no, no. But then, someone comes in five years later, builds a hotel or they do... It's just, it's a tough, twisted battle. I don't know what the answer is.

Dave Strauss:

Jen, so how would you answer that question?

Jen Morris:

Yeah, so, Ryan, thank you for sharing that. There are often these trade offs. That's the reality. I think that one of the things that TNC tries to do in every community that we work on is to focus on, as I mentioned before with the mining discussion and the coal mining and how we're helping those communities to the extent that we can, is we take a people focused approach. We understand that job creation and local economic development is critical for any conservation strategy.

Jen Morris:

There's no way that you can be successful by just putting up fences or barriers and closing off an area. The reality of most of the land on our planet and certainly in the US and certainly spent quite a bit of time in Charleston is that it's working land. As you said, whether it's working seas, working coastline, working farms, working forests. That being said, I think our hypothesis is that we need to make sure that those lands are working for the long term, for multiple generations and not just for the next five years and depleting that land so quickly that it's of no use to anyone after that.

Jen Morris:

You bring up a really important point and I think we've done some really phenomenal things as an organization to really demonstrate how we want to focus on livelihood first and foremost. There's a recent example of COVID impacted oyster farmers in the northeast and in the central mid-Atlantic states of the US where they lost all of their livelihood because they couldn't sell their oysters to restaurants so we actually bought them up and bought them and replanted those oysters in oyster beds to help protect the coastline and gave those businesses revenue that... they were going to go out of business if we didn't support them.

Jen Morris:

So, that's just one example, but I hear what you're saying, Ryan, and it is a challenge. And every community that we work in, from India to Indiana, we are focused on how do we make sure that people are at the center of our work and that, without that, we know that we will not have long term results. So, thanks again for that question.

Dave Strauss:

Great. Thanks, Jen. Just a reminder, press zero if you would like to ask another question. Again, press zero if you would like to ask another question. So, we have Amy from Park City, Utah. Amy?

Speaker 12:

Yeah, hi. I'm wondering what priority the Nature Conservancy is putting on land acquisition now and in the future and maybe you could also mention if there are any major acquisition projects in process right now. Thank you.

Jen Morris:

Great. Yes, Amy. So, acquiring land, buying land, or helping to conserve land with partners is certainly the bread and butter of TNC's 70 year history. We are really thinking that how do we take this incredible portfolio of land and ensure that we are optimizing that land for future generations? So, what that means, in practice, is there are certainly acquisitions that are in process. Some, unfortunately, which I can't share because they are in the middle of being finalized. International lands that would be converted to farms immediately, so we're using the tools of land purchase to ensure that those lands are protected forever.

Jen Morris:

On the other hand, we are also seeing that we have this incredible portfolio of land, some of which are quite small, and then there's amazing opportunities to partner with local land trust organizations, to help them take on that land where appropriate to ensure that the land can be transferred. Indigenous communities, for example, we've helped provide indigenous groups in particular with land that was traditionally theirs that they had lost and given that back to them with the funding to ensure that it stays in conservation.

Jen Morris:

So, it is a long process. The initiative that we have called Leveraging Our Land that I'm really excited about because I think it's critical that we are staying true to our history and our great skillset in acquiring land, but at the same time recognizing how the world has changed. There's lots of local organizations that could do some of this work into the future. So, thanks so much for that question, Amy.

Dave Strauss:

Yeah, Amy, your question on land acquisition leads really nicely into our next poll. So, many of you probably know that the Nature Conservancy has preserves all over the country, but my question is: have you ever visited a Nature Conservancy preserve? Press one for yes, press two for no. Again, have you ever visited a Nature Conservancy preserve? Press one for yes, two for no.

Dave Strauss:

And we'll go to our next caller and it is Terra from Dayton, Ohio. Terra?

Terra:

Hi, good evening. It's Terra from Dayton, Ohio. Is that who you need?

Dave Strauss:

Yes. Oh, yes, sorry. Absolutely, Dayton, Ohio.

Terra:

That's okay. The recording could have cut off my name. Thank you for taking my question. My question is... I have been a animal love since I was a toddler. So, all through my life, I've always been concerned with animal welfare and one of the concerns I have with regard to the endangered species, how can we preserve, in the long run for the future, at the same time while these land acquisitions and stakeholders moving in there to invade their territory, so to speak, how can we preserve endangered species and not have the animals going extinction?

Jen Morris:

Yeah. Thanks for that question. Obviously, protecting endangered species is our bread and butter as well, and of course the biodiversity crisis is real and urgency and I think of the things that we're trying to do, as I mentioned before, was to really connect the land acquisition or the land conservation work that we're doing in partnership with indigenous communities and other communities around the world and in the United States is to really focus on where high carbon ecosystems intersect with biodiversity. That portfolio is pretty clear from science in terms of where the highest number of endangered species, as you mentioned, are sitting on often tropical forests, for example, where they contain a lot of the world's biodiversity.

Jen Morris:

And luckily for us, they also happen to be stewarded by indigenous communities and indigenous communities, for the most part, are really interested in protecting those lands from conversion because of historical, cultural reason, so we see indigenous communities as an incredibly ally in our approach to biodiversity conservation. So, protecting those endangered species is a key part of our approach and we're doing that in collaboration with many, many partners around the world.

Dave Strauss:

Thanks, Jen. I just got the poll response back. 53% have visited a Nature Conservancy preserve.

Jen Morris:

Great! That's fantastic.

Dave Strauss:

That's really impressive and it's great to hear that.

Dave Strauss:

So, this has been an incredible conversation. So, Jen, if there's one thing that you would like our listeners and our members to take away from our conversation, what would it be?

Jen Morris:

Wow, one thing. Well, first and foremost, I think it would probably be gratitude. I hope you all know how grateful we are for your support of the Nature Conservancy. Knowing that despite these difficult times, having such an incredible group of people, I don't know how many people we have on this call, but I know that it's quite a few, and knowing that you're all out there, wherever you're sitting right now in whatever state, whatever city, whatever town that you are there for us and supporting us, that just fills me with such hope, no matter how challenging these times are.

Jen Morris:

And I really hope that I'm able to get out soon and once the world opens up a bit more and we can safely visit each other and spend time on these amazing preserves of the Nature Conservancy together. So, gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Thank you so much for being here tonight. We really, really appreciate it.

Dave Strauss:

Thank you, Jen. So, we have one final poll question for you. Do you feel that this live Q&A was informative and insightful for you? Press one for yes or press two for no.

Dave Strauss:

So, thank you everyone for joining us for this call tonight. I can't thank you enough for all your support to the Nature Conservancy and our cause. We'll be following up with a survey by email, so if you're not on our email list, go to nature.org and sign up. And, Jen, thank you so much for being our guest and taking the time out of your evening to answer some really thoughtful questions from our members.

Dave Strauss:

Unfortunately, we couldn't get to every question, but if you have any additional comments, please press one to leave a voicemail for us. We always really value and appreciate feedback. Thanks again for your time and have a great night. Thank you.

Jen Morris:

Thanks, everyone. Take care. Be safe. Be well.

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One of the largest remaining intact forests of its type in the world, this mixed temperate forest supports a combination of conifers and broadleaf trees.
Adirondack Park One of the largest remaining intact forests of its type in the world, this mixed temperate forest supports a combination of conifers and broadleaf trees. © Blake Gordon

Member Tele-Townhall: Conservation Policy

Listen to this interactive Q&A with our conservation policy leaders on how to Speak Up for Nature. (Recorded September 15, 2020)

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Dave:

Good evening, and welcome to tonight's live Q&A with Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer, and Hazel Wong, director of conservation campaigns, for The Nature Conservancy. I'm Dave Strauss, director of membership at The Nature Conservancy, and I will be your moderator tonight. Looking forward to hearing your questions. We'll get started in just a moment. Right now, we're waiting for everyone to join the call and we're expecting a strong turnout, so we'll begin shortly. This is a live event with lots of opportunity for you to ask questions and share your thoughts. If you have a question for tonight's speaker, please press zero on your telephone's keypad. Either now or at any point during the event. Your questions will help guide tonight's discussion, so please ask away.

Dave:

If you've just joined us, welcome to tonight's live Q&A with The Nature Conservancy's conservation policy leadership. We're thrilled to have Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer, and Hazel Wong, director of conservation campaigns, with us tonight. They are here to talk about urgent conservation policy priorities and answer your questions. Thanks again to everyone for joining us for this live discussion. Your support means so much and I'm really glad we have a chance to connect with each other this evening. Thank for being part of our Nature Conservancy community and I hope you and your loved ones are all safe and well this evening. I'm so glad you were able to join us for this unique, live telephone town hall event.

Dave:

Our featured guests, Lynn Scarlett and Hazel Wong, have distinguished careers in conservation and public policy. We are honored to have them here to talk with you, answer your questions, and share their perspectives on The Nature Conservancy's policy agenda, working hand in hand with the tangible conservation work we're known for. Safeguarding the lands and waters and us all. Together, Lynn and Hazel lead The Nature Conservancy's policy and conservation campaigns work at all levels. As chief external affairs officer, Lynn Scarlett directs The Nature Conservancy's public policy work in the US and in the 70 countries where we operate. She is a leading expert on climate policy and is former deputy secretary and chief operating officer of the US Department of the Interior. Hazel Wong leads The Nature Conservancy's efforts to generate conservation funding by placing measures on ballots in states through the initiative or referendum process. In her longstanding tenure with The Nature Conservancy, she has helped raise over... get this... $100 billion in public funding to protect land, water, and wildlife. Thank you for joining us, Lynn and Hazel. I know your supporters will have great questions for you this evening.

Dave:

Again, if you'd like to ask a question during tonight's telephone town hall event or if you have any comments for our speakers, please press zero at any time to ask your question. We'll also have a couple chances for you to share your thoughts with a few interactive polling questions as we go along. Let me hand it over to Lynn and Hazel to welcome those who have just joined us and share a few thoughts before we open up the lines for questions. Lynn?

Lynn:

Thank you, Dave. It's really just terrific to join everybody on this call tonight and so great to be with my colleague, Hazel. Many of you are familiar with our decades-long, on-the-ground conservation work. Our policy work, in the US and around the globe, is central to advancing those efforts. Policy work helps bring conservation funding. You've just heard some of the numbers that Hazel's team has helped to rack up. Think of the recent big success in getting permanent, full funding of the land and water conservation fund. $900 million per year for conservation in perpetuity, essentially. It took us 10 years to really get over the finish line, so policy work is not easy. But policy also helps set the rules of the game. Removing barriers, for example, like prohibitions on the Army Corps of Engineers even considering nature as it looks at infrastructure investments to protect coasts. It also helps to advance incentives. Think, for example, of the farm bill and provisions in the farm bill that reward practices that protect biodiversity and improve soil health.

Lynn:

So policy... Yes, it brings money, but it removes barriers and it creates incentives. It creates rules of the game that help everybody else to march in the direction that we're trying to go. Our efforts unfold globally and they unfold in the Congress and in the states. Over many years, we've helped to bring big conservation victories in states through ballot initiatives. Hazel will talk a little bit more about that. We bring some really unique characteristics to our policy work. We're nonpartisan. We're science-informed. An organization with over 500 scientists on board. We're very solution-focused. What's the problem and how do we solve it? Sometimes I'm asked whether nonpartisanship means that we don't weigh in on tough issues and work on really defending those bedrock environmental laws. We are vigorous and assertive in defending those bedrock laws, but we use that same voice, that voice of science, solution-focused, constructive dialogue, a respectful tone, as we're assertive in saying we need these laws. We need to protect them. Here's what our science shows. We can't unravel them. So we move forward positively. We try to prevent any rollbacks.

Lynn:

With that, I want to turn to Hazel because a really important part of our work are the ballot initiatives. The other [inaudible 00:06:10] that Hazel's team does around the world... Recently, they, for example, were working in the European Union to help our European colleagues build relationships with private landowners to sort of replicate what we have in the US with conservation easements and so forth. Hazel and her team helped our Europeans do that kind of work. So, Hazel, over to you.

Hazel:

Thank you, Lynn. And hello everyone. Thank you so much for your generosity of time this evening and, of course, your support for Nature Conservancy. It truly is wonderful to be on this call and knowing that all of us share a common value and passion for protecting our natural world. As we have all seen in the past six months, this unfortunate pandemic, there is even more of an awakening by people that our natural world is important for our quality of life and overall wellbeing. So, again, thank you so much for your support and for being here. Lynn introduced me, and Dave. I'm Hazel Wong, director of global conservation campaigns, but I'm going to give you a quick background before I dig into work here. I was actually born in the Seychelles and, in many ways, I grew up outside. Whether it was playing hide and seek in the forest, hiking, or partaking in ocean and beach activities, I spent a lot of time outdoors and that was all year round. So, really, this work that I do now and how I show up, it's part of my DNA and it makes a lot of sense that I've actually been at the Conservancy now for 18 years. 18 years of both professionally and personal rewards.

Hazel:

So when people ask me, what do you do? I always happily answer, well, let me tell you. I get a paycheck for using my energy, my creativity, my passion to protect our beautiful, natural world. I will tell you that protecting our beautiful, natural world is capital intensive. It is very costly. We have to rely on private philanthropy and we also, as The Nature Conservancy and a lot of other NGOs, we have to show up and make the case to decision makers at the local, state, and federal level that they must invest in nature. Let me give you an example. The state that I live in, Nevada. It is estimated that, annually, we need 80 to 100 million dollars just for conservation. As all of you know, we have very limited public resources, and so The Nature Conservancy is part of that value system to show up and advocate on the part of nature. Data shows that 88% of on-the-ground conservation funding comes from the public sector. As much in private funds that we raise in the United States, overwhelming amount of money comes from the public sector and some of the policies Lynn mentioned earlier. The farm bill, Great Outdoors Act, and what have you. So, again, lobbying, advocating, is a fundamental part of the work that we do at The Nature Conservancy to protect the places that all of you love and hold dearly.

Hazel:

I am blessed to have a team of 10 that work with our state chapters and our partners to generate funding at the local and state level through the legislating process, but really, with a focus on ballot measures. Every election cycle, many states, counties, municipalities put questions on the ballot asking voters to support conservation financing. If you and I walked into the state capitol right now and said, "Give me $300 million for conservation," they would look at us and go, "Oh, we have education, healthcare, transportation, you name it, that is heavy competition for those dollars." However, if we walk in with our partners and we say, "Okay, we need $300 million for conservation. Let the voters decide and let the voters decide if they want to increase their own sales tax by 3/8 of one cent and that will generate $300 million a year to do the great conservation work on the ground." That is what we do and that happens often. That's what happened in Minnesota in 2008, when voters, 62%, overwhelmingly voted to tax themselves to protect nature. This money is leveraged with private money, with federal money, and local NGOs, agencies. They all do great work for conservation.

Hazel:

Let me give you a quick snapshot of what's happening this year. Things are not... As you can imagine, things are tough out there in the public landscape, so we are very lucky right now to have eight campaigns. We have three in Colorado, Clay County in Texas, Toledo, Ohio, Portland, Oregon, and two state-wide in Michigan and Montana. If all of them pass, we are looking at creating 2.2 billion dollars this election cycle. Unfortunately, we had 10.2 million dollars at stake, but California and New York will not be on the ballot because of the COVID impact. So we're looking at a much smaller take-home this election cycle, which is fine. We're very happy with the outcomes that we... well, with the measures that are on the ballot and will hopefully have a really good outcome.

Hazel:

As Dave mentioned and Lynn mentioned earlier, this body of work has been incredibly fruitful. Over 32 years, The Nature Conservancy have been advocating at the ballot box to generate funding to do the fantastic work and we are looking at $150 billion altogether. From protecting the Columbia plateaus to the Sierra Mountains, the grassland prairies, coastal wetlands... We've even put [inaudible 00:12:03] back in the river. Protected key [inaudible 00:12:05] habitats. And now when you think about national infrastructure and the changing world because of climate, we've actually, in certain places, had to rebuild because of heavier precipitation that was seen because of climate change.

Hazel:

The good news about the work that we do, also, is that we do a lot of research. If we're going to go out there and spend money on a campaign, we want to know that we can win. We do win nine out of 10 our of campaigns. Altogether, in the past 32 years, we've won 235 measures. These campaigns are sophisticated. We poll test the funding mechanism. The messages, the TV ads, direct mail, the get out the vote efforts, and more and more, we are now engaging in digital outreach as well and social outreach. But, lastly, I'm going to reiterate a point that Lynn made. In the polls and at the ballot box, we see that conservation enjoys bipartisan support. We also see time and time again that communities of color across the United States show up and vote overwhelmingly to tax themselves to support nature. It really, truly, at the end of the day... Conservation is something that unites us all and especially at this time when we need the beauty of our world to unite us. So I thank you for your time this evening and I look forward to answering your questions.

Lynn:

Thank you, Hazel, and before we turn to the questions, I just want to join Hazel in emphasizing that we understand these are challenging times. Whether it's the pandemic or hurricanes or the devastating fires that so many communities right now in the West are experiencing or the matters of social justice and racism that Hazel briefly mentioned. We all feel those struggles and feel those tensions. They seem to permeate our communities. But at the same time, I am still seeing, and we are still experiencing in our policy work, a desire to seek solutions. Just today, for example, I took part in a panel discussion on the Hill... or that is virtually on the Hill... with the Congress and others on forestry and interest in reforestation and bringing to bear that climate solution that's hidden in plain sight. Nature. And then, no sooner was that event over, I took part in an event with farmers and others on agriculture. 2000 folks in the agricultural sector wrote Congress saying, we want to be part of the climate solution. Amid the pandemic, amid the strife, amid these challenges, there is a thirst for solutions. There is a thirst for this policy action. With that, we really look forward to hearing your questions. As Hazel said, you're an incredibly important set of partners for us. So I'm going to hand this back to Dave and let's get rolling.

Dave:

Thanks, Lynn. Thanks, Hazel. I'm always impressed by the scale and scope of TNC's impact. And welcome to anyone who just joined us. It's a privilege to have Lynn Scarlett and Hazel Wong with us this evening for this live Q&A discussion on conservation policy. As a reminder, to ask a question, please press zero on your telephone keypad at any time. Again, to ask a question, please press zero on your telephone keypad. While we're waiting for our first caller, I wanted to say thank you again to everyone participating in this virtual town hall event tonight. On behalf of all our staff and scientists, I wanted to thank you for your support over the last few months as we've had to navigate changes to local events and conservation projects in your community. It's been somewhat of a challenge, but we are flexible and working through it.

Dave:

I'm honored that you chose to act on your values by entrusting The Nature Conservancy to care for the places you care about. We are united in our mission to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends, but each of us is inspired to act for different reasons, so I wanted to ask our first poll question to get a sense of why protecting nature matters to you. To respond, just press the corresponding number on your telephone keypad. The question, again, is why do you choose to help protect nature? Press one if you want to preserve beautiful lands and waters. Press two if you care about saving endangered species. Press three if you're concerned about climate change. Press four if you want to keep our natural resources healthy and clean. Press five for all of the above. And press six for other. Again, press one if you want to preserve beautiful lands and waters. Press two if you care about saving endangered species. Press three if you're concerned about climate change. Press four if you want to keep our natural resources healthy and clean. Press five for all of the above. And press six for other. Your answers will help guide our discussion and we'll have the results for you in just a bit.

Dave:

Tonight's event is meant to be a dialogue about issues that are important to you. And so, yesterday, we actually sent out an email survey asking our members and participants what question they most wanted to have answered this evening, so we'll start there with the top response. The question for Lynn and Hazel... At what level are changes in conservation and climate policy most needed right now? Locally, nationally, in the US, or globally?

Lynn:

Well, I'm tempted to sort of cheat and say all of the above. We need action at every single level. We need the ballot initiatives that Hazel is working on locally and in states. We really need US national action. I do want to press pause on that. The US has historically been a leader in conservation. In the previous administration, we've also helped to lead climate action and that in turn has a ripple effect. It joined with China in a bilateral agreement on climate and then all kinds of other nations around the world stepped up and brought about the Paris Agreement. With the US not playing that leadership role, it makes a difference. So I would really like to see the US back in the mix, back in the leadership role, but not because the US on its own can do it all, but because it can be a catalyst and a motivator and a funder of conservation work globally.

Hazel:

I would also add that, at the state level, The Nature Conservancy along with partners led with the I-1631 in Washington State in 2018. While that measure did not pass, to put a tax on carbon, it was the first ever ballot measure to attempt to put a tax on carbon that The Nature Conservancy worked on. We are also very much involved in a lot of the renewable portfolio standards at the state level. And of course the work of funding. This is something that is ongoing and it's the work of funding that we need in order to protect our forests and to also protect our wetlands and coastlines. That is something that we're constantly focused on at the state, local, and federal level.

Dave:

Great. Thanks, Hazel. Thank you, Lynn. I wanted to quickly share the results of our first poll before we get to our first live caller. I'm so happy to see that 37% of you said that you care about making sure our beautiful lands and waters are protected. As an avid hiker, I can definitely relate to that. So let's get to our first caller on the line. As a reminder, you can press zero at any time on your telephone keypad to ask a question tonight. And we have Rosie from Seattle. Rosie? How are you this evening?

Rosie:

Hi. Do I have to say anything for you to hear me?

Dave:

No, ma'am. You are ready to ask your question. Any time.

Rosie:

I was reading your wonderful article in your most recent magazine about Bristol Bay and that the permit now was denied to the Pebble Mine company to proceed with more permitting or whatever they're going to be doing. I want to know do you think we can finally breathe a sigh of relief over this or is there more to come?

Lynn:

There's more to come. We can't quite breathe a sigh of relief. For all the callers, Pebble Mine proposal in Bristol Bay, in Alaska, has been a story decades-long, where one mining company after another has tried to get permits to develop mining in an area that is globally significant for salmon, for other biodiverse, valued, very important to the fishing communities in the area. Truly, mining would be devastating. The Conservancy has long been involved. We have provided a lot of the science that has been utilized in commenting on the various permitting documents along the way. What, Rosie, you're referencing is that there is a pause. Rather than the permit going forward full speed ahead, there's a pause with the administration saying... after they were under quite a bit of pressure... that the science in the planning documents were not sufficient and they needed to go back to the drawing board. So the reason that I say it's a pause, but we can't take a final sigh of relief, is that there will be some other chapters in this story. The good news is the Conservancy is all in. We have a near term plan to continue battling any immediate permit prospects, but then a longer term plan to say, can we help with some long-term, final solutions that just takes mining out of the mix for Pebble Mine and for Bristol Bay?

Dave:

Thanks, Lynn. And thank you, Rosie, for your question. We have another caller. David from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. David, are you with us?

David:

Yes, thank you for taking my call. We have a ballot proposal in the state of Michigan to continue to leverage tax revenues from exploration of oil and gas on public lands to protect public lands. My question is, isn't it counterproductive to support collecting taxes for gas and oil exploration to pay for public funds when that exploration will inevitably lead to burning more fossil fuels and polluting our environment?

Hazel:

Thank you for that question. It is an ongoing conversation, as you can imagine, and philosophical debate that we have at the Conservancy and in many places. The fund that you just mentioned was put in place, I want to say, in the 1970s. The year kind of shifts away from me. When that fund was put in place, what has happened over time is that instead of... They've put a cap on how much money conservation can receive and what we're trying to do... and all that money at this time... the rest of that money goes into a general fund. So what we're trying to do right now is say, okay, well, the intent of this law was to take that funding and put it for conservation. That funding is going to keep flowing right now. We're not at a point where we're going to stop oil and gas and mining for the time being. That money was promised for conservation. We would like to continue to use that money in the foreseeable future for conservation. So that's where we are right now in terms of thinking about if we don't use it for conservation, it's just going to go in the general fund for the time being.

Dave:

Thanks, Hazel. And thank you, David, for the question. We have another poll question. Many of our members are actively speaking out more on conservation policy through our online action center. I'm curious how many people have participated, so I wanted to take a minute to do a quick poll. Press one if you've signed a pledge or petition or some other policy action in our online action center, press two if you have not visited our online action center, or press three if you don't recall, but would be interested in learning more about our online action center. Again, press one if you've signed a pledge or a petition, press two if you have not visited our online action center, or press three if you do not recall, but are interested in receiving more information. So let's go back to a few more questions from folks on the phone. As a reminder, you can press zero at any time on your telephone keypad to ask questions live tonight.

Dave:

And we have William from Bainbridge Island, Washington. William, welcome. William? Are you still with us? One more shout out for William. So we are going to wait for our next caller, but in the meantime, I do have the answers to our poll. And so I wanted to quickly get you the results from the second poll, which is what I just asked. We had 25% of you said you have taken one of our policy actions. The pledges and letters to Congress that are in our online action center are chances for supporters to add their voices to critical conservation policies. It's a way for you to speak up for nature. And then we have Rocky Face from Georgia. Is that right?

Gretchen:

Yes.

Dave:

Oh! Wonderful. Oh, is this Gretchen? Gretchen from Rocky Face, Georgia.

Gretchen:

Yes.

Dave:

How are you, Gretchen? Welcome.

Gretchen:

Fine. I'm interested in hearing more about the ballot initiative in Toledo, Ohio. An area that I'm from.

Hazel:

One moment. I believe that is a metro park measure. That money will go towards park and then acquisition. I don't have the details in front of me right now, but I can definitely get back with you in the very near future. I apologize. I'm looking at my notes right now and I don't have the details on the Toledo, Ohio measure. Gretchen, let me circle right back to you, okay? Thank you.

Dave:

Thank you, Gretchen. Thank you, Hazel. And we definitely follow up. We have Karen from Alexandria, Virginia. Karen, welcome.

Karen:

Hi. Thank you so much for having me speak tonight. My question is that I've always believed that the health of people and the planet are linked. How should we use nature to prevent a future global health crisis?

Lynn:

Wow, that is such a great question and, of course, really... always having importance, but preoccupying us right now. When the pandemic really went global, the Conservancy did a deep dive look at the science linking zoonotic disease, for example, to certain agricultural and land use practices. We've looked at the relationship between nature and health and many other of those dimensions. There's several things that we're doing on that front to really help people understand that nature matters. Nature's not just nice; it's essential. It's essential for economies. It's essential for health. It's essential for communities. It's essential for biodiversity.

Lynn:

First, there are trillions of dollars being expended by governments around the world on COVID recovery. Now, the initial expenditures were mainly on issues such as unemployment and helping people that were unemployed. Immediate healthcare needs. But we see on the horizon recovery spending that is going to try and be longer term and rebuild economies. It presents a huge opportunity to say, let's not build ourselves into the past. Let's look to the future. Let's look towards a nature-positive future. Let's invest in nature. Let's change our agricultural practices in such a way that we don't continue to have land transformation. So, number one, recovery spending presents a big opportunity. We actually presented, the Conservancy, on the Hill in Washington some ideas for consideration in investing in nature to benefit people's health and the economy in the US. But we're doing similarly very active in Europe and with the EU, in Australia, in Canada, and elsewhere.

Lynn:

But in addition to that, a lot of our work that has been unfolding in cities really presents opportunities for linking nature and health. Expanding tree canopies in cities. Using nature for stormwater management. Our work on water funds to invest in landscapes outside of cities and those natural systems to actually help clean the water and deliver cleaner water into cities. All of those things link nature and health. We're learning more and more everyday about the importance of that linkage. Even mental health links to exposure to nature, for example.

Dave:

Thanks, Karen. Great question. And thank you, Lynn. Hazel, if you want to jump right in there and talk a little more about Toledo?

Hazel:

Thank you, Dave. And Gretchen, hello. I was just sharing with my colleagues here that I've been interim state director of Texas for the past few months and sometimes I have to refocus on the details. But, Gretchen, the Ohio metro park, the Toledo metro park's bond is for $160 million over the next 10 years. It is a mill property tax and it is for repair, development, land protection, maintenance of the parks and greenways in Toledo.

Dave:

Great. Thank you, Hazel. I just want to take a moment to go back to the action center, the online action center, and the importance of it as it is a voice for our members and people who are constituents of The Nature Conservancy. Hazel was instrumental with the membership team in helping launch our online action center and Lynn has personally brought our petitions to policy leaders and meetings on the Hill. So, incredibly important. I'm sure they can tell you just how much these online actions have made a difference in the work they've done. So, Lynn? Hazel?

Hazel:

I will start by saying once upon a time in my previous life, I actually worked for a state senator. We tracked phone calls and we tracked mail that we received on issues. Legislators care about what you care about, what their constituency cares about, and unless we... One of the focus that we need to do as an organization is figure out how to raise a collective voice. What we find time and time again is that people care about conservation on both sides of the aisle but it's not something that is activated at times unless we figure out a way to collectively activate it. And that's why it's so important for us to have this action center to be able to communicate to our membership and others what is happening and why you speaking up now is important for us to collectively get our voice heard as we're also actively lobbying face-to-face in the state houses and in Congress. Lynn, I'll turn it over to you.

Lynn:

Yeah, I'll just add to that. Many of us have on our minds, the recent great success of the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, permanent funding for the land and water conservation fund that I mentioned earlier. We could not have succeeded... we and our other colleagues in other organization... without an action center. Without the voices of our members, our participants. In that effort... which took years, but really active in the last year as we tried to get across the finish line... we had tens of thousands of people respond to our action request. And it matters. The members of Congress look at that and they say, whoa, this is important to our constituents. We need to stand up and act. It really is important, Dave, so thank you for raising that.

Dave:

Absolutely. Yeah, we're asking everyone to speak up for nature and the way to do it is the online action center. You can visit at nature.org/act. So we want to get back to callers. Our next one is Richard from Hedgesville, West Virginia. Richard?

Richard:

Hello. Can you hear me?

Dave:

Yes, absolutely.

Lynn:

Yeah.

Richard:

Thank you. My question is relating to the fires that are ongoing out west. I was wondering if Nature Conservancy properties are affected by those fires and what The Nature Conservancy's policy is with regard to fire management practices. Thank you.

Lynn:

Thank you for the question. Of course, this is ongoing and so devastating to communities. To your first question, yes, there is a Nature Conservancy preserve that has been affected by the fires in Oregon. We don't know the full extent of the impact, but we do know that there have been impacts on at least one of our preserves. Some of these areas, it's not possible to get into the really understand the full extent of impacts yet. With respect to fire risk reduction, forest management, The Nature Conservancy for several decades has been very active in advancing forest health and including a program called Living with Fire, reintroducing proscribed fire onto the landscape. Many of these places, especially public lands, because of a view over many decades of Smokey the Bear put out every fire, have resulted in large overgrowth of trees and tree stand densities. These are fire-adapted ecosystems. They need some fire periodically. So we have supported something called the Healthy Forest Restoration Act. We have fire teams. We go in and help manage some of these areas to reduce that fuel load and try to reduce the risk of fires. We work with communities on creating defensible space. The communities and their participation is important.

Lynn:

I will say though that that's just one piece of the picture. Because, as you've seen in the news, climate change is contributing or exacerbating the conditions such as extended drought, very dry condition of the forest, disease outbreaks and disease outbreaks that are more extensive than they might have been. All of those make those forests tinder boxes. And so when fires strike, we sometimes get these fires of catastrophic proportions. So there are many solutions. Forest management and forest health is part of the picture, but addressing climate change is part of the picture as well. And there are a number of other interventions, working with communities, too.

Dave:

Great. Thank you, Richard, and thank you, Lynn. We've got another caller. We've got Linda Lee from Richardson, Texas. Linda Lee? Are you with us? Linda-

Linda:

Can you hear me?

Dave:

Yeah, Linda. Yeah. Awesome.

Linda:

Yes, I'm here. Well, my question is very brief because I don't want to sound defeatist. I became interested in environmental issues in 1974 and I am much older now and I'm very tired. Because I have seen so much of the wonderful things that got passed through for defense of the environment, the ecosystem, and when we were in with the Paris climate control conference. I am just wondering does The Nature Conservancy put any money into its legal forces so that we can fight some of the things that are getting thrown at us? To turn back the clock and allow robber barons to go in and cut the trees down, mine, and make the water dirty and heavy metals in the soil. Does The Nature Conservancy join with other environmental groups to sue to stop some of the things that are going on? That's my question.

Lynn:

Thank you very much and I certainly share your frustration, having also been around in 1974 and looking at all of the modern bedrock environmental laws that came foreword at that time and into the '80s. The Nature Conservancy rarely engages in litigation. We do very assertively weigh in with the rollbacks. We have weighed in, for example, on attempts to roll back the monuments. We've weighed in on the Endangered Species Act and the [inaudible 00:41:08]. We've worked in the Congress to actually help reverse or counterman some of these efforts.

Lynn:

Very occasionally, we do weigh in and particularly with amicus briefs. For example, one of the very challenging changes that occurred recently was with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It's an act that is a hundred years old and the administration made some changes to it that severely limited its effect. And so I was part of an amicus brief that challenged that change in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act interpretation. The good news is that round one resulted in a victory. As with so many legal cases, there's layer after layer after layer. Our California team weighed in in an amicus brief on a lawsuit pertaining to air quality issues there. It was an issue that our team there has worked on for many, many, many years and they had a particular voice and information to add. So very selectively, we do, but we try more to use our power of influence with influential voices and influential decision makers who can undo or counter these reversals as our primary path forward.

Dave:

Great. Thank you, Lynn. Really appreciate that. We are going to take another caller. We are talking Arnold from Tampa, Florida. Arnold, are you with us?

Arnold:

Yes, I am. My question has to do with the fact that this administration has been bent on destroying national parks and other public lands as well as destroying endangered species, in particular predators. What are we doing to try to counter that activity on the part of the administration? Presenting science in terms of the administration. They ignore it.

Lynn:

Science or the application of science has not been very persuasive, that's true, over the last several years. Again, we have a very vigorous bedrock environmental law defense set of priorities, so we have vigorously weighed in on the Endangered Species Act, on the National Environmental Policy Act, and proposed changes there, as I noted on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. We try to work multiple channels. Partly, we go up to the Hill. For example, we've been working on the Hill with a lawmaker who is proposing a law that would essentially undo the changes in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is a measure that is getting some traction. So we go that route sometimes. Other times, we go the route of the action center that Dave mentioned to really galvanize thousands of people to weigh in. We do that with our compatriots at other nonprofits as well. That won't necessarily change the minds of the administration, but it can galvanize other lawmakers to raise their voice and change the course of their...

Lynn:

Pebble Mine, though, which was mentioned earlier, is actually a good example where our science and our voice and weighing in with others has been effective. We were able to get [inaudible 00:45:12] on that. Along with others. We never do these things alone. The administration had to push the pause button on that one. So we try to use all the tools in the tool kit. But we try to sustain relations that we're going to need over the long haul to get things done that we need to get done. And so it's an art to be assertive, play defense, build relations, get countermanded voices, and decision makers that can undo some of the negative things that are occurring.

Dave:

Great. Thank you, Lynn, and thank you, Arnold. I really appreciate the question. Before we go to next question, I want to talk about getting outside and enjoying nature. At The Nature Conservancy, we've all been moved out of the office and into our homes and I think one of the silver linings for me is being able to get outside more frequently. I have put lots of miles on my feet, going through trails and walking my dog, and it just makes me really appreciate what we're working so hard to save. So, Lynn and Hazel, how have you been able to get outside and outdoors safely?

Hazel:

I'll just share with you that I live probably less than an eight minute drive from Red Rock National Park here in Las Vegas. The other day, I actually went and got a venti latte, took my camping chair, and just put my chair out there, put my Audible on, and sat there for about 90 minutes and just enjoyed the view. And then went for a quick hike. I thought, why not? Why not just bring my camping chair, sit there, and enjoy the view of Red Rock? So I try as much as possible to get outside and now I'm having coffee in the national park. It's my new thing.

Lynn:

I have a confession. I am a passionate birder. And so every single weekend, first days of the weekend, at 6:00 AM or so, I'm at a local, wonderful, wonderful wetland preserve, where I go birding. Usually, I walk five, six, seven miles. And if you're really interested, you can see my bird photos on Facebook.

Hazel:

And they're beautiful. It's amazing.

Dave:

Yeah, I don't know if many of you probably know that Nature Conservancy has 120 million acres of protected land throughout the country and many of it is open to the public. I'm looking forward to being able to visit some of these one day. My goal in life is to take a camper and travel the country and go visit a lot of those. I'm excited about that. Whenever that may happen. So I wanted to take a quick poll of our callers. Have you visited a Nature Conservancy preserve? Press one for yes. Press two for no. Again, have you visited a Nature Conservancy preserve? Press one for yes. Press two for no. And, now, let's go to our next caller. We have Blake from Bristol, Tennessee. Blake, welcome. Blake, are you-

Blake:

Hello?

Dave:

Blake! How are you? Is this Blake?

Blake:

Yeah, this is he.

Dave:

Well, welcome. Feel free to ask your question.

Blake:

My question is... In regard to the Paris climate agreement that was just now... the current administration had just pulled out of it... and considering that other nations had also done it as well, my question is, what will happen now to basically the environment now that that has happened and could we end up seeing ourselves in another similar Dust Bowl like we had during the 1930s?

Lynn:

So the Paris Agreement still exists. The US is the only country in the entire world that has pulled out. Other countries are still committed. They have set goals to reduce their emissions. And those countries are moving ahead. Perhaps sounding a little bit Pollyannish or like I have rose-colored glasses, I also see some other good news even in the US, which is that we're seeing an unprecedented engagement by companies saying, okay, climate is the problem. The US isn't acting. We've got to act. And they're making pledges. So Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, the list goes on and on. They're accelerating and elevating their commitment. We have a big partnership with Amazon to help them invest in nature's climate solutions.

Lynn:

I get heartened when I look at the private sector, who has said, we can't wait for the Congress, we can't wait for the political leadership in the United States. We're going to power forward. I get heartened when I look at the states. Hazel may weigh in on some of our ballot initiatives on climate action at the state level. Many states are powering forward. They've said, okay, pulled out of the climate agreement federally, but we're still in. We're plowing ahead. We're setting renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency standards. We are very involved in the northeast on a transportation and climate initiative. Now, having said that, the problem is urgent and we're nowhere near on the trajectory that we need to be. So I have great hope that the US will get back in the game at the federal level even while companies and states and cities and other countries keep tearing forward.

Hazel:

I would add, Lynn, that after we... United States... withdrew from the Paris Agreement... The US Climate Alliance is a bipartisan coalition of 25 states. 25 governors have signed on and are committed to reducing greenhouse gases. Those 25 states actually represent 55% of the US population. And so we are seeing the beauty of decentralization of power. We are seeing some actions in the states. At the end of the day, some of the states are the biggest polluters are not part of this alliance. So we do need for the United States to be part of the Paris Accord eventually again, but the good news is that there's actually state actions that are happening. Governors realize that something must be done. They have the power to do something and have signed on with the US Climate Alliance to work together to reduce greenhouse gases.

Dave:

Great. Thanks, Hazel. Thanks, Lynn. Just quickly, a brief minute for results from the poll. 49% said you have visited a Nature Conservancy preserve. I think every time I've asked that poll question, that is by far the highest, so kudos to everybody on the phone. Another caller. We have Tiffany from Salisbury, North Carolina.

Tiffany:

Hi, good evening. Thank you so much for taking my call. Listening to this conversation, I'm going to modify my question just a little bit. Because I so appreciate all the opportunities to participate at a national level politically. I'm very concerned... Even here in North Carolina, where The Nature Conservancy is doing good work around recovery and resilience, at the local and state level, those are not political issues that are addressed by candidates. So when I'm researching who to vote for, and that's one of my priorities, I'm finding it really, really difficult to pick people who are like-minded that I want to see in office. I am so convinced that we have to make this change at the local and state level if we want real change at the federal level. I know that's probably outside the purview of The Nature Conservancy, but do you know what's the best way for us to make this a local political issue? Who do we partner with locally so that politicians have to speak to these issues when they're running for office?

Hazel:

I'll take this, Lynn and Dave. This is the problem that we see time and time again. Politicians are out there polling and they're asking open-ended questions about what do you care about and people are responding the economy, now the pandemic, healthcare, education. So until this day, unfortunately, we do see climate change and the environment, what we call a secondary issue. When we poll on our issue, we isolate it. We ask questions about it. We see the numbers go up. But politicians, typically they ask open-ended questions. This is why it is incumbent upon you to outreach to your decision maker and you are telling them what you care about. Again, going back to using your voice and being active in your community and taking a stand. Because otherwise, you're absolutely right. They're asking these questions. They're not seeing it topped on the polls, so they're not talking about it. And we need to individually and collectively at The Nature Conservancy also uplift the issue. I tell you. We're in constant battle to uplift the issue. That's what we do all the time, but to your point, it is... It's rough out there. Let's just put it that way. Especially right now. With everything happening. We see it in the polling. So I encourage every single one of you to use your voice personally on this one.

Dave:

Speak up for nature. I think that's what we need to do, for sure. So we are coming towards the end, but before we wrap up, I want to ask Lynn and Hazel... If there's one thing you want our listeners to take away from this conversation, what would it be?

Lynn:

Well, if there's one thing to take away from this conversation, it would be that each and every one of you and your voice matters. It really links to the speak up for nature comment that Dave just made. It does matter. So speak up for nature. Take part in our action center, so that you have an easy way to speak up for nature. And retain some optimism. I always say, you see what you look at. We can look at headlines and things look very discouraging, but then you can look down in communities, in individual states, with other partners that we partner with, and you begin to raise hope again because you see some good conservation going on.

Hazel:

While my boss is on this phone right now, Lynn Scarlett, I also feel as if I work for every single one of you. At the end of the day, your commitment to The Nature Conservancy, your commitment to conservation, we have all in many ways have linked hands together and we, in essence, work for you. You have 4000 plus foot soldiers at The Nature Conservancy doing fantastic work and you have probably about 500 of us working in the policy arena. Well, maybe not so much 500, but quite a good bit of us altogether, touching the policy arena. And that's because of your support. That's because of how you show up and what you do in your own backyard. So thank you. Without you, there is no way we would be able to... I wouldn't be able claim all these successes by any means, so I appreciate everything that we do. And just know that we share the same values and we're working on your behalf. So thank you.

Dave:

Thanks, Lynn and Hazel. I would say from all our members to the policy team, we do have the best and we really do fight for nature. We do have one final poll question for you. If you feel like this live Q&A was informative and insightful, press one for yes, press two for no. Again, press one for yes, press two for no. We have come to an end. Thank you to everyone for joining us live for this call. I can't thank you enough for all of the support that you provide for The Nature Conservancy. We'll be following up with a survey by email, so if you're not on our email list, go to nature.org and sign up. And thanks, Lynn and Hazel so much for being our guest this evening. You both were tremendous. Unfortunately, we couldn't get to everyone's questions, but if you have an additional comment or comments, please stay on the line and you'll be able to leave a voicemail at the end of the event by pressing one. We always value your feedback. Again, thank you again for your time. Have a wonderful night.

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A rainbow appears above Phantom Canyon Preserve.
Phantom Canyon Preserve A rainbow appears above Phantom Canyon Preserve. © Joe Esparza/TNC

March 2020 Conservation Leader Call: Sally Jewell

Listen to this interactive Q&A with The Nature Conservancy's Interim CEO and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell

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