Connecting Communities with Conservation—A Post from The Conservation Fund

As Senior Vice President of Conservation Ventures at The Conservation Fund, author Evan Smith oversees programs that invest in green business and working forests to generate both economic and environmental return. Find out more about how this entrepreneurial enhancement to classic conservation is essential to what we do here at the Fund. 


As odd as it might sound for someone whose living depends so much on trees, I’m really a bridge guy. I’ve always been fascinated by feats of civil engineering, the vast public processes it requires, and the invisible ubiquity of it all. I grew up playing soccer in the shadow of a soaring interstate bridge. I was the distracted kid in junior high school, staring out the window at freight trains crossing a distant bridge. I even spent one glorious summer decked out in waders, trudging under our nation’s bridges, studying water and erosion. 

In a way, my career path has also focused on creating bridges—not physical ones, but ones that connect two concepts that are too often erroneously viewed as being in opposition: environmental protection and economic vitality. The Conservation Fund has long sought to integrate these principles, which were written into our charter over thirty years ago. At that time, they were regarded as heresy in the mainstream environmental field. But even as others have adopted the mantle of “balancing environment and economics” we have pushed further, seeking to better connect conservation, economics, and community. Our projects generate long-term returns for our partners, investors and the communities we serve. 

Photo by Chad Riley.

Photo by Chad Riley.

We put these mutually-reinforcing concepts into practice by building bridges, both physical and societal, through Conservation Ventures—a collection of strategic programs at the Fund that harness and drive market forces to strengthen our nation’s green economy, protect natural resources and stimulate economic vitality. Using private finance, investing in businesses, operating long-term projects, our Conservation Ventures team creates these opportunities and connections in a way that is unique in the environmental field.

For example, our Working Forest Fund program exemplifies how working forests can be financially self-sustaining, environmentally healthy and benefit many communities. A working forest is one that is managed for forest products, and we have sustainably managed over 500,000 acres of these forestlands. 

Specifically, we own and manage more than 70,000 acres on Northern California’s North Coast, including the BuckeyeGarcia RiverBig River, Salmon Creek and Gualala Riverforests. We work with our partners to skillfully manage both forest growth and harvest to ensure that these forests remain viable ecosystems for generations to come. In addition to restoring the forests’ watersheds and supporting local economies, these efforts also fight climate change. 

Big River Forest. Photo by Rachid Dahnoun.

Big River Forest. Photo by Rachid Dahnoun.

Through our North Coast Forest Initiative we’ve waged a ten-year war on the crumbling roads and bridges deep within our redwood and Douglas-fir working forests. We’re fixing old logging roads, culverts and bridges to reduce sediment that clogs spawning grounds and raises stream temperatures to deadly levels for fish. After close to $10 million invested, we are seeing real progress for water quality, fish habitat (including endangered coho salmon and steelhead trout) and other wildlife. 
 

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