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Vol. 12, No. 19 Week of May 13, 2007
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Nature Conservancy passes leader’s baton

Former conservation director takes helm, vows to ‘stay the course’ in Alaska chapter of international environmental group

Rose Ragsdale

For Petroleum News

Randall Hagenstein, formerly state conservation director for The Nature Conservancy in Alaska, is the organization’s new leader.

Hagenstein, 48, replaces David Banks, who after nine years with the Conservancy in Alaska, now directs the international environmental group’s Africa program.

Prior to becoming state director in March, Hagenstein ran the Conservancy’s conservation programs in Alaska.

“I’m going to be very bold as the new director and stay the course,” Hagenstein said in a recent interview. “We have a great strategic plan for Alaska” that includes major programs for protecting the marine ecosystems of the Bering Sea, Alaska wild salmon in the ecosystems of the Nushugak drainage, coastal forests with a focus on Southeast Alaska and the North Slope with a focus on coastal wetlands.

Unlike many environmental groups that take adversarial stances toward development, The Nature Conservancy has distinguished itself over the years as one of few “green” organizations with collaborative approaches to working with industry and others to protect the environment.

“Our mission is to conserve species and habitats,” said Hagenstein. “We’ve also worked on sustainable river flows, private land planning and marine conservation.”

Hagenstein said the group’s work in Alaska is ongoing and, in some cases, groundbreaking.

For example, the Conservancy is working in Southeast with Tongass Futures Roundtable, a joint effort of environmental groups, community leaders, funding groups and members of the local timber industry.

“This is the first time in this incredibly contentious landscape when we’ve gotten all these stakeholders sitting around a table and trying to hammer out solutions,” Hagenstein said. “It’s emblematic of what The Nature Conservancy can do best.”

Science and dialogue for win-win solutions

The Conservancy takes on a key role in such ventures by bring in the best science information available to the discussion; creating opportunities for dialogue among all the stakeholders; and coming up with win-win solutions that take care to avoid disenfranchising any of the stakeholders, he said.

Other Conservancy projects include working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Island Conservation to eradicate rats from some of the Aleutian Islands. This effort is aimed at restoring seabird populations and habitats on the islands.

Internationally, The Conservancy in Alaska is striving to craft a role for the organization in the circumpolar North. Its first project involves working with the Wild Salmon Center, a group focused on the Pacific salmon, and the World Wildlife Fund in a salmon conservation partnership in Kamchatka on the western side of the Bering Sea.

Another important project The Conservancy has tackled recently is on the North Slope, Hagenstein said. The organization is studying patterns of biodiversity in the region and using that science to identify areas on the slope where the need for conservation is critical.

One outcome of the work is a multiyear study completed in 2006 of wildlife species on the slope. The group put the information into a computerized database for use as a decision support tool, he said. “From that, we’ve identified areas for critical conservation, and now we are digging deeper.”

Hagenstein has worked in Alaska for 25 years

Hagenstein’s background makes him aptly suited for his new role at The Conservancy.

In 25 years of working in the conservation field in Alaska, he co-founded and directed the Alaska program of Pacific GIS, a Portland, Ore.-based nonprofit created to enhance public access to geographic data and technology. His geographic information systems experience includes development of a GIS database for the Prince William Sound-Copper River ecosystem in Southcentral Alaska in conjunction with Conservation International and Ecotrust and management of the North Slope Borough’s GIS office.

“Susan Ruddy lured me away about 12 years ago to run the Conservancy’s conservation program,” he said.

While he earned a bachelor’s degree in Northern studies at Middlebury College and a master’s degree from Yale University in forest ecology and silviculture, Hagenstein also worked in salmon processing in Clam Gulch, traversed the Porcupine River in the Yukon Territory by canoe and served as a fisheries observer on a Japanese trawler in the Bering Sea for two summers.

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