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Conservation Leadership Seminar

Inspiring Leadership for Conservation:

A Seminar at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation

May 9-12, 2019

We invite applications for “Inspiring Leadership for Conservation” (ILC) – an expenses-paid seminar for emerging leaders – to be held at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, Upperville, Virginia from May 9th-12th, 2019. The seminar will be an opportunity for fifteen emerging conservation leaders to examine the most serious threats facing the environment, to discuss goals and challenges in their regions, and to learn from seasoned practitioners about strategies and tactics that have advanced conservation and changed public attitudes about environmental stewardship. The goal of the weekend-long seminar is to provide new knowledge, but also to share experiences, gain inspiration, and stimulate new friendships and networks that will enable emerging conservation leaders to be more effective and fulfilled in their careers.

The ILC seminar is ideally suited to emerging conservation leaders who are in the early stages of their conservation careers, with an emphasis on individuals operating at the local, state or multi-state levels in eastern North America on initiatives that have the potential to be models for the nation.  The participants will have demonstrated energy, creativity and persistence in pursuit of ambitious results, deploying innovative, cross-disciplinary measures to achieve beneficial, practical outcomes. Most will have founded new initiatives or organizations addressing critical environmental needs.

The fifteen participants will be selected from among the applicants for the ILC Seminar. There is no registration fee. Private accommodations and meals on-site will be provided at Oak Spring at no charge. All participants will also receive up to $500 on a reimbursement basis for their economy flights to Dulles Airport (IAD), Washington D.C or Union Station in Washington DC. Participants are responsible for arranging their own travel insurance.

Confirmed Participants and Organizers*:

▪ Dana Beach (Coastal Conservation League)*

▪ Indy Burke (Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies)

▪ Emory Campbell (Louisiana State University)

▪ Peter Crane (Oak Spring Garden Foundation)*

▪ Megan Desrosiers (100 Miles)

▪ Megan Gallagher (Megan Conservation Consulting)

▪ Brad Gentry (Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies)

▪ Marguerite Harden (Oak Spring Garden Foundation)*

▪ William Lauenroth (Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies)

▪ Chris Miller (Piedmont Environmental Council)

▪ David Orr (Oberlin College)

To apply:

Complete the short (five-question) online application here:

The deadline for applications is MONDAY, MARCH 4th, 2019.

We plan to respond to all applicants by Monday, March 18th, 2019.


Please contact or

Seminar Introduction by Dana Beach

This Time is Different: Environmental Leadership in an Age of Crisis

The modern environmental movement is a half century old.  Today it lumbers along, punctuated by moments of brilliant progress, often confused and chaotic, partially mired in convention, sometimes teetering on the brink of irrelevance.  And yet, in the face of the ecological crisis, it may be the greatest hope to save the planet. 

At the very least, environmental activism is an essential part of the solution, a sine qua non of survival.  It is, consequently, of supreme importance that the emerging generation of environmentalists have the tools and capacity to do their work well and persistently over the coming decades.  The goal of this seminar is to help advance that goal.

The Current Crisis

The Black Plague.  The Napoleonic Wars. The American Civil War.  World War I.  Civilization has been engulfed in crises before.  One after another, in fact – across the globe, century after century.  Arguably, crisis has been the one constant of human history.  After each conflagration, society has rebounded, in some cases chastened and wizened, in others, fortified and emboldened. 

Based on history and evidence, it seems reasonable to assume that the current ecological crisis will conclude similarly –  that science and technology, political leadership, human enterprise, and good luck will extricate our world from the current spiral of decline, pulling the wagon out of the ditch of species loss and atmospheric transformation.

But that assumption would be wrong, or at least misleadingly optimistic, because it would fail to consider the differences between earlier disasters and this one.  It would ignore cold, hard facts – the magnitude of today’s challenge is vastly greater than anything in human history, and that the current assemblage of remediation efforts, broad and varied though they may be, is overshadowed by the scope, scale and pace of the unfolding catastrophe threatening civilization and life on earth.

The scientific literature abounds with evidence, but two items suffice to underscore the radical and perilous place we occupy in geologic history.  Since 1970, about half a lifetime, 60% of all animals have been wiped off the face of the earth.  And the best available analysis of climate change, driving rising seas and a warmer, more volatile planet, concludes that carbon emissions must be cut in half sometime around 2038, less than 20 years from now, to prevent the earth’s temperature from rising more than 2 degrees centigrade. 

There is little evidence to suggest that animal populations will stabilize.  And there are no familiar scenarios under which preventing a 2-degree rise is likely to happen.  Pointedly, two scholars recently described the necessary reduction this way:  “the required degree and speed with which we have to decarbonize our economies and improve energy efficiency are quite difficult to imagine within the context or our present socioeconomic system.”

The point is, that without unprecedented, implausible, “radical” change, precipitated by Herculean efforts, the world is headed toward a state that will be hostile to the assemblage of life that has graced the earth for the past 65 million years.  It is headed toward a state characterized by massive population dislocations and global human misery, in tandem with the greatest extinction of species since the age of dinosaurs. 

Our Challenge

Without impugning the organic creativity and energy of the melting pot of environmental crusaders, it makes sense to step back and ask a few questions about our movement’s future.  In light of the current crisis, are we working on the right things?  Are we doing them well enough to make the best contributions we can?  Do we have the resources – people, knowledge, money and otherwise – to be as effective as possible?  How can we apply the lessons we have learned in the past to advance the cause of conservation in the coming decades?  What experiences, knowledge and support does the emerging generation of environmental leaders need and require to rise to the challenge?

The purpose of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation’s Conservation Leadership Seminar is to explore those questions by bringing 25 people together for three days of structured reflection, discussion, debate, and unstructured inspiration and fellowship.  Our group will comprise practitioners on either ends of their careers.  On one side will be seasoned laborers (seminar organizers) who have toiled in the fields of conservation for decades, who have achieved results that are considered important and that serve as models for the movement.  On the other will be promising, talented younger activists (seminar participants) whose efforts exhibit energy, passion and entrepreneurial creativity.  A common thread is that we are all operating on local and state levels, doing work that has important global implications. 

The seminar envisions benefits and knowledge flowing in both directions.  Participants will discuss goals and challenges in their regions, and learn about strategies and tactics that have advanced conservation and changed public attitudes about environmental stewardship.  The participants’ interactions and experiences at the seminar will provide knowledge, inspiration and friendships to make them more effective and fulfilled in their careers. 

The seminar will also illuminate gaps that could be filled to make success more likely – communication strategies that connect with the interests and passions of millennials, stories that inspire civic engagement and precipitate change, metrics that can help measure progress and keep activists and organizations on track, alignments that can make advocacy more effective and fulfilling, science that can inform strategy and tactics, and pitfalls to avoid along the path forward.

Reading Material

(More forthcoming)

A Wholly Admirable Thing: Defending Nature and Community on the South Carolina Coast.   Virginia and Dana Beach, Evening Post Publishing.  2019

Ecological Literacy.  David Orr

Sand County Almanac, A Land Ethic.  Aldo Leopold

Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (selected excerpts)

Revisiting ‘The Problem of South Carolina.” Article by Princeton historian James Banner, S.C. Historical Society Magazine, January 2006 

The Shorebird: Rachel Carson and the Rising of the Seas.  Article by Harvard historian Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, March 26, 2018

Encounters With the Archdruid, by John McPhee (Part Two, “An Island”)