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Climate Resilience Leaders – Rusty Painter

Photo of Staff Member Rusty Painter

Rusty Painter’s Master of Environmental Management from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University wasn’t the end of his connection to the school and the future of climate protection. He returns each year to present to classes on a variety of topics, from CTNC’s strategic approach to address climate change and more. “I’m motivated by my son and future generations, from whom we are all ‘borrowing’ this planet.”

His background and his master’s degree in forestry are invaluable as Land Protection Director for CTNC. Rusty joined the CTNC family in 2001. He oversees CTNC’s land protection efforts along the Blue Ridge Parkway and our collaborative partnerships with local land trusts. Recent successes include the preservation of the Florence Boyd Home / Asutsi Trailhead Property, and the Cranberry Creek Expansion project, both of which will be transferred to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Rusty Painter tours the Florence Boyd/Asutsi Trailhead property with Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Swartout, Chloe Ochocki, & Caitlin Markus (L to R).

When did you first realize the real and present impacts of climate change?
The concept of global warming due to the greenhouse effect made sense to me the first time I heard about it, but I guess I really grasped the severity of the problem when Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth came out. What a shame that our political, social and economic systems continued to drive us down this path. Think how much progress could have been made over the last 30 years had we committed to solving the problem back then.

What does climate resilience mean to you?
Adaptation using a combination of evolution and technology – applying our experience, and projections based on sound science to adapt to our changing climate. We must realize that adaptation isn’t the only path forward. Humans must commit themselves to actions that will minimize the need to adapt, or the extent to which we must adapt.

How have you seen climate change impact North Carolina?
One example that I struggle with in my work at CTNC is the expansion of tick habitat. I never used to get ticks while visiting our conservation properties along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but climatic shifts have enabled ticks to colonize areas that were previously too cold, so I’m now getting ticks while out on properties in the mountains. Yuck!

What are actions that organizations in NC can take right now to make our state more resilient?
Conserve energy. Simply using less results in immediate reductions of carbon emissions and has the potential to save far more resources (of all kinds) than our slow, incremental conversion to renewable energy sources. I challenge everyone to consider every action they take throughout the day and do it with half of what they currently use. You’ll find it’s not as difficult as you think. That approach can be applied to most organizations, corporations and government agencies as well. Once ingrained in our psyche, daily routines, organizational procedures, and subsequently, our infrastructure, carbon neutrality on a timeline that will make a difference becomes legitimately achievable.

What’s one thing everyone should know about climate action?
It’s up to all of us to change our mindset and daily routines, but also to support groups doing good work, and electing leaders committed to making the difficult decisions & changes we must make.

Working in climate resilience can be overwhelming. How do you keep going?
I remain optimistic because of the resilience of the human spirit and advancements in technology. Organisms change and adapt…daily, yearly, and over generations. Humans have evolved to the point where we can adapt naturally, like other species, but also use technology to ‘artificially’ adapt. I just hope society is willing to change sooner rather than later, so future generations don’t have to rely on artificial adaptations that will diminish our connection to the natural world.

If you have questions about how CTNC’s land protection enhances climate resilience, contact Rusty to start a conversation.

Climate Resilience Leaders – Mary Alice Holley

Mary Alice Holley’s conservation roots run deep. Her dedication to protecting the land on which we live and play is evident to everyone who meets her.

Mary Alice has been with Conservation Trust for North Carolina since 2016 and currently serves as Director of Community Innovation. In her current role, she works with CTNC’s staff, board, and partners to ensure the organization advances its mission to build resilient, just communities for all North Carolinians.

She has built on a long career in nonprofit communications and public relations. She has been at the forefront in helping change the conversation about climate change from oppositional to encouraging a community effort. Prior to joining the organization, she put her B.A. in mass communications and rhetorical writing from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to work as she supported conservation organizations throughout the state in building smart communication strategies that better connect supporters to their missions.

During her career, she’s worked on a variety of climate change communications campaigns including the Audubon North Carolina Birds and Climate pilot program and served as the Z. Smith Reynolds Conservation and Climate grant program lead on behalf of North Carolina land trusts. Most recently, she developed a climate communication tool kit in partnership with Land Trust Alliance to provide Southeastern United States land trusts with a guide to engaging their supporters on climate change issues locally and regionally.

When not working to protect the planet, she’s hard at work making her own land more resilient by building rain gardens, pollinator habitats, and a vegetable garden on her 1-acre homestead in Orange County, NC. She also finds time to manage a flock of chickens, 2 dogs, honey bees, and an ever-expanding system of raised garden beds.

She’s incredibly passionate about protecting our state’s communities by managing our water. “For North Carolina – climate change is often thought of as a sea-level rise issue – and I believe this challenge reaches far beyond our coastlines. North Carolina is in the top 10% of states in the United States with land situated along coastlines, rivers, and streams. Our ability to protect our communities and maintain our resilience in the future is wholly reliant on our ability to better manage water quantity and water quality challenges. Water issues will impact every North Carolinian across the state and we have the opportunity to come together as one state to find innovative solutions.”

When did you first realize the real and present impacts of climate change?
From a young age, I knew changes were occurring with more frequency and severity. I can remember when my hometown was covered in a foot of snow in the middle of spring, or when the Tennessee River was inundated from storms and our community park was underwater for two weeks before the floods receded. These weather events were not at that time normal or expected – but today they are. It took time for me to study environmental issues and to connect these events to global warming and climate change – but once I could identify the root cause of these events, I began to see my role in identifying and implementing solutions. I felt empowered to think about how my actions could either contribute to climate change or contribute to the effort to create a better outcome. Since then, I’ve committed myself to making decisions for myself, my household, my family, and my community that offer solutions to the climate crisis on small and large scales.

How have you seen climate change impact North Carolina?
North Carolina has nearly 38,000 miles of river in our state. I have been fortunate enough to paddle many of our rivers and even more of our lakes and marshlands. They’re incredibly beautiful and scenic, but our river systems are also critical to the health of human and natural communities. As climate change brings more frequent and severe storms to our state, these rivers will be our first line of defense to hold water and protect communities from the destruction caused by floods. But that will only happen if we bring together experts, policymakers, and funding resources to evaluate how we can better utilize our rivers as assets to face the climate crisis.

In Princeville, residents and community leaders have been dealing with the threat of floods since its founding. Their position along the Tar River has caused extreme challenges for their residents – but that experience as a town that floods has now positioned them as a leader in the effort to find innovative solutions to live with flooding rivers in the face of climate change. They’re marrying the best of science, technology, and conservation to tackle this challenge head-on and their counterparts in more communities across the state are taking notice. Our climate will continue to change and we will continue to feel those effects, but we can’t let the opportunity pass by to change our habits and policies to better equip ourselves for these future realities.

What actions can organizations in NC take right now to make our state more resilient?
A resilient community is one where people are meaningfully engaged and empowered, where leadership is responsive to community needs as defined by its residents, and where its people are able to respond to climate-related disasters by rebuilding or adapting in ways that make them stronger and more prepared for future challenges. What better way for organizations to have an impact than to partner with each other, with funders, elected officials, and local community members with a shared goal to collaborate toward finding and implementing solutions to the climate crisis? We as mission-oriented, community-driven organizations have a responsibility to the people of North Carolina to do whatever we can to increase our resilience because everyone will benefit from this collective effort.

Working in climate resilience can be overwhelming. How do you keep going?
I remind myself that every action I take as an individual has an impact on someone else – so why not channel that energy toward being a climate champion and environmental steward? Within my home, my family are all committed to reducing our climate impact by composting our food waste, reducing our energy consumption where possible, growing food for ourselves and our neighbors, and sharing our passion for conservation and environmental stewardship with others. Professionally, I have dedicated my career to supporting initiatives that have a net-positive effect on the climate crisis whether that be educating North Carolinians on the importance of land conservation as a climate solution or helping other organizations communicate about and celebrate their own climate impact successes.

I find energy from modeling my life in ways that can inspire others. If I am able to wake up every day and know I contributed to a national movement to conserve land in ways that absorb more carbon, protect people from the harm of floods, support climate-smart agriculture and farming practices, and increase the number of people who are committed to taking small actions in their everyday lives – I will have been successful. I believe that people’s actions coupled with smart policies will change the course of our climate future.

Do you want Mary Alice to speak at your next event? Contact Mary Alicemholley@ctnc.org.

Stewarding Land — Forever

Each CTNC property is a commitment to conservation of land in perpetuity

“We’re in this forever. It’s about the work that’s done after the signing of the documents. After the glory and success of protecting a new property, the real work begins. We’ve made a commitment to the donors, landowners and government agencies to uphold the conservation values of every property we protect.”

– Land Protection Director Rusty Painter

It is always exciting to share each new conservation success with our supporters. Once an acquisition is closed or a conservation easement is recorded, behind the scenes, the real work to steward land begins and, where we hold the land or easement forever, lasts in perpetuity. 

CTNC is driven by a goal to be good stewards of more than 30,000 acres currently under our protection so all people can share in the benefits that land provides. These 77 properties require annual inspections, management reviews and, at times, enforcement action.

Stewardship and Monitoring Ensure Resilient Lands

While we transfer many properties we acquire to public agencies, conservation easements held by CTNC on private land remain under our care and supervision forever. 

CTNC is required by law, Land Trust Alliance accreditation standards, and our founding mission to steward, monitor, and be prepared to legally defend every property we own or on which we hold a conservation easement. CTNC’s Stewardship, Monitoring, and Legal Defense Fund is our primary source of funding to ensure these services continue in perpetuity. 

Summer Intern, MC Murphy, monitoring Flatwood Farm

Each year, CTNC’s Land Protection Director, Rusty Painter, and his summer interns travel to each property ─ from the Blue Ridge Parkway, to the Piedmont and on to the coast where we hold easements on Bald Head Island. 

In 2020 alone, CTNC will monitor 31,290 acres on 77 individually protected properties across the state. This is rewarding work, but requires significant time, cost, and staff resources – nearly $30,000 annually. This includes costs for mandatory annual monitoring visits to each property, employees and the technology needed to maintain each property and providing CTNC with the financial resources to defend property rights and conservation values if needed.

Legal Defense Upholds Our Commitment to Conservation

Unfortunately, our commitment to our protected properties will occasionally require legal action to stop imminent or ongoing threats to conservation land. As partners in protection of the property, this often means working with the landowner to defend the landowner’s property rights along with our conservation easement. An example might be a logging operation on a neighboring property that cuts timber from the protected property. The landowner and CTNC would pursue action as needed to recoup the lost timber value and ensure restoration of the protected property. While litigation in defense of an easement is rare, CTNC must be prepared to uphold our commitment to conservation.

“Property monitoring visits give staff and interns the opportunity to put boots on the ground, experience our conservation work first-hand, and sustain strong relationships with our landowner partners. Forming these lasting connections with the land and the people who love it is crucial to our stewardship work.”

Rusty Painter, CTNC Land Protection Director

Our annual monitoring ensures that CTNC-conserved lands remain intact, that established conservation agreements are followed, and that the natural and scenic value of these properties is preserved, forever. Building resilient, just communities starts with stewardship. 

Continue learning about our recent land protection projects driven by our partnership with the National Park Service along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Margaret Newbold honored with the Order of the Longleaf Pine

Conservation Trust for North Carolina congratulates Margaret Newbold, former Senior Associate, who was recently honored with the Order of the Longleaf Pine by the Governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper in appreciation for more than 20 years of exemplary service for land conservation through her work with the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

Margaret has forged partnerships across the state to support the growth and development of local land trusts. She focused on diversifying the land trust community and making conservation more inclusive through CTNC’s comprehensive diversity and equity program, which included an internship program, workshops and trainings, and small grants. Margaret’s passion, expertise, guidance, and commitment to partnerships has led to North Carolina’s land trusts, other conservation organizations, and local communities across our state protecting and elevating the importance of our natural and cultural treasures.

During her tenure, CTNC was able to conserve 34,500 acres of land along the Blue Ridge Parkway, support local land trusts with $15.05 million in low-interest loans leveraging protection of $46.6 million in land value, and connect hundreds of young people from diverse backgrounds to careers in conservation through the Diversity in Conservation Internship Program, NC Youth Conservation Corps, and CTNC AmeriCorps.

Thanks to Margaret, CTNC is recognized as a national land trust leader tackling issues related to racial equity, diversity, and inclusion seeking to build a conservation sector that represents all of North Carolina’s communities. Margaret has enabled CTNC to thrive as a leader because of the strong foundation she helped to build. Margaret’s impressive legacy for land and communities in NC will live on for generations to come.

“I feel strongly that the conservation sector must work closely with the community economic development sector to chart a course that fosters healthy, whole communities, as land is the foundation of this work and the common ground we all share,” said Margaret. “I am filled with gratitude to be recognized with this incredible honor and join the ranks of Order recipients who came before me. I accept this award on behalf of all my partners and colleagues who have worked with me to conserve our land for the enjoyment of all.”

Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Chief Deputy Secretary Reid Wilson presented Margaret with this distinguished award on behalf of the Governor. A group of Margaret’s friends, family, and colleagues gathered for the celebration at Irvin Farm, a Triangle Land Conservancy property.

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is among the most prestigious awards presented by the Governor of North Carolina. The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is presented to individuals who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state. Margaret joins an esteemed group of award winners, which includes Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, and fellow land trust staff colleague Janice Allen of the Coastal Land Trust.

In addition to the Order, Margaret was also named Land Conservationist of the Year during the North Carolina Wildlife Federation 55th Annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards.

Margaret Newbold Retires After 20 Years of Service

It is with great pride but also a bit of sadness that CTNC announces the retirement of Margaret Newbold, Senior Associate. Margaret joined CTNC in 1997. We are grateful for Margaret’s 20 years of dedicated service to CTNC, the NC Land Trust Council, and the greater conservation community. She has been a driving force for significant transformation in land conservation.

With Margaret’s passion, expertise, guidance, and commitment to partnerships, CTNC has become a leader on emerging issues facing land trusts, conservation organizations, and local communities across our state. During her tenure, CTNC was able to conserve 34,500 acres of land along the Blue Ridge Parkway, support local land trusts with $15.05 million in low-interest loans leveraging protection of $46.6 million in land value, and connect hundreds of young people from diverse backgrounds to careers in conservation through the Diversity in Conservation Internship Program, NC Youth Conservation Corps, and CTNC AmeriCorps.

“We are incredibly lucky to have been the beneficiaries of Margaret’s passion for the outdoors, her generous spirit and her deep commitment to the land. Her imprint on the conservation community will be felt for generations,” said Kelley Russell, CTNC Board President.

“CTNC is recognized as a national land trust leader tackling issues related to racial diversity, equity, and inclusion seeking to build a conservation sector that represents all of North Carolina’s communities,” said Executive Director Chris Canfield. “I am grateful to Margaret for all she has achieved and am assured CTNC will continue to thrive as a leader because of the strong foundation she helped to build.”

“I am so thankful to have been able to work with and learn from so many champions for land conservation and community economic development,” said Margaret. “The conservation landscape has evolved significantly and as we face new challenges, I am excited to pass the torch to smart, new leaders who will continue the important work that will be required to protect North Carolina’s most unique and special places for future generations.”

Newbold added, “As we tackle new challenges in a changing landscape, the conservation sector must work more closely with the community economic development sector to chart a course that fosters healthy, whole communities. Land is the foundation of this work and the common ground we all share and it connects us all.”

She continued, “I feel so lucky to have been able to do what I love and work with so many committed and dedicated individuals throughout the years. Getting out and enjoying nature has always been what renews my spirit. Being able to do that and encourage others to experience nature in their own way has been a great gift. We all have our own unique relationship with the natural world around us – as a hiker, farmer, fisherman, artist, or just for solace. I believe the key is valuing and learning from everyone’s experience and making sure we have places to support all our needs in the future.”

The CTNC Board of Directors and staff extend our deepest gratitude to Margaret for her years of service and wish her many new, fun adventures.

Chris Canfield Named New CTNC Executive Director

The Conservation Trust for North Carolina is excited to announce Chris Canfield as its new Executive Director. Chris has a deep history of collaboration with the land trust community across North Carolina and the country. He is committed to solutions that honor complex relationships, balancing conservation and economic needs. Chris has the vision and leadership to serve as a voice for the 23 NC land trust partners as we play a growing role in conservation policies and issues across North Carolina.

CTNC selected Chris through a nationwide hiring search led by moss+ross, a triangle-based search firm.

“We could not be more excited with the hiring of Chris given his talent, his commitment to our core mission, and his extensive knowledge of our state and the issues it now faces,” said CTNC Board President Ray Owens. “With his help, and with that of our staff and dedicated donors, we are well-positioned to meet the challenges of conserving our land and protecting the quality of our water.”

“CTNC plays a pivotal role in the history of North Carolina’s conservation movement and must continue to lead and serve as the challenges of our state change,” said CTNC Executive Director Chris Canfield. “I am proud to guide the CTNC team and further the organization’s commitment to land conservation, community engagement, and expanding the diversity of those working in the conservation field.

Canfield added, “It’s a privilege and tremendous opportunity to continue CTNC’s leadership. Together, we can create a future where every North Carolinian, regardless of background or geography, has access to clean water, healthy air, local foods, and open spaces where they can connect with nature.”

Before joining CTNC, Chris worked with the National Audubon Society for 17 years as the executive director of Audubon North Carolina and VP for the Gulf and Mississippi Flyway. Chris led Audubon’s response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster where he successfully implemented Gulf-wide conservation efforts in concert with federal and state agencies, local communities, land trusts, and national funders. In 2009 he was awarded the Charles H. Callison Award, Audubon’s highest recognition for staff conservation achievement.

Chris graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Birmingham-Southern College where he earned a B.A. in mathematics. He earned a M.Phil. in 20th-century English literature from the University of Oxford where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He served on the Advisory Board of the NC State University Natural Resources Leadership Institute and was a member of the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition Steering Committee in Asheville.

A long-time North Carolina resident, Chris lives in Pittsboro with his wife, Kate. He will join the CTNC team on Monday, July 31.

CTNC Thanks Melanie Allen for Six Years of Leadership and Service

Diversity Program Director Melanie Allen has accepted a position with the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation where she will serve nonprofit organizations as a network officer. In this role, Melanie will work in eleven southern states to alleviate poverty and increase social and economic justice.

CTNC thanks Melanie for six years of leadership and service to the NC land trust community.

During her tenure, Melanie developed curricula to help land trusts identify and dismantle systemic inequality in the conservation sector. She developed programs to bring conservation resources and tools to rural areas to help families create wills, access legal services, retain land assets, and make them profitable. Under her leadership, the Diversity in Conservation Internship Program has connected nearly 100 students from diverse backgrounds to the conservation sector through paid summer internships, creating an employment pathway to develop future leaders.

“Melanie’s contributions to CTNC and the land trust community will have a lasting impact ensuring the conservation community fully represents and engages all North Carolinians,” said Margaret Newbold, CTNC interim executive director. “Because of her vision and dedication, CTNC is more attuned to the history of land ownership, land theft, and land loss, and will continue to be innovative and intentional in finding ways to lead the conversation on what it means to be equitable and diverse in conservation.”

“I’m proud of the work we’ve done together to increase understanding of and commitment to diversity and equity at CTNC and in the broader land trust community,” said Melanie Allen. “Land trusts have invited me to their board rooms, staff trainings and some of our state’s most beautiful places. It has been a privilege to work with each of them, and I plan to continue supporting this important work as a donor and volunteer in the future.”

We extend our deepest gratitude to Melanie for her commitment to land conservation and all she accomplished for CTNC, and we wish her well as she transitions to this new role at the Babcock Foundation.

Melanie will continue to serve on the board of directors of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. CTNC will continue to serve as a national leader championing equity and diversity in conservation and identifying pathways to engage every community in our mission to protect North Carolina’s natural areas and connect all people to the outdoors.

For questions, contact Communications and Marketing Director Mary Alice Holley at 919-828-4199 x 17.

CTNC Board of Directors Extends Heartfelt Thanks to Departing Executive Director Reid Wilson

On January 19 North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced his appointment of CTNC’s executive director, Reid Wilson, to be Chief Deputy Secretary of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The Board thanks Reid for 14 years of leadership and service to CTNC and the NC land trust community.

“On behalf of the Board, we are proud that Reid was recognized by the Governor for such a position of honor at a critical time for our state,” said CTNC Board President Ray Owens. “Reid’s distinguished career in conservation, his strategic mind, his ability to listen, and his passion for conservation issues is exactly what our state needs. He has the qualities and skills necessary to help lead the department and protect North Carolina’s natural resources for the health of all citizens.”

During Reid’s tenure, CTNC conserved thousands of acres along the Blue Ridge Parkway, dramatically boosted financial support and assistance to 24 local land trusts, built diversity and inclusion into its work, and created an Emerging Leaders program (including Diversity in Conservation internships, NC Youth Conservation Corps and AmeriCorps) to cultivate the next generation of conservation leaders and supporters.

Reid’s achievements will have a lasting impact on the conservation community. CTNC has built a strong foundation to continue working to ensure Blue Ridge Parkway vistas are protected, more families have access to parks and natural areas, and natural lands are protected for open space, fresh local foods,  and clean drinking water for generations.

“It’s an exciting time to join the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to protect, enhance and promote the state’s diverse natural and cultural resources for the benefit of public health, quality of life, and economic development,” Reid said. “Having said that, I have mixed emotions because I will miss my CTNC family – tremendous board, talented staff, and committed supporters.  Fortunately, our paths will continue to cross.  So much important and urgent work lies ahead for CTNC, and I am confident that the organization will continue to grow, innovate, thrive, and lead.”

We extend our deepest gratitude for Reid’s commitment to land conservation and all he accomplished for CTNC, and we wish him well as he transitions to this new role within the Cooper administration.

Associate Director Margaret Newbold will serve as CTNC’s interim executive director. Margaret’s experience and love for the organization make her an invaluable asset during this transition. With Margaret’s leadership, our talented staff, and dedicated supporters like you, CTNC will continue to serve as a national leader in land protection, providing assistance to land trusts, connecting young people to nature, and championing equity and diversity in conservation.

The CTNC Board has launched a job search for a permanent executive director. We are confident we will find someone well-equipped to lead CTNC and help achieve our vision for growth. For questions, contact Communications and Marketing Director Mary Alice Holley at 919-864-0428.

Melanie Allen named Audubon Toyota TogetherGreen Fellow

After a competitive nationwide selection process, Melanie Allen, CTNC’s Conservation and Diversity Coordinator, has received a fellowship award to initiate a project that works to bridge the gap between limited resource landowners and conservation professionals. This work will build upon the work CTNC is doing with the North Carolina Farm Turnaround Team, which meets with family farmers at the kitchen table to help identify and correct deficiencies and inefficiencies in their land management operation, and provide short term and long term strategies for turning things around.

TogetherGreen, a conservation initiative of the National Audubon Society and Toyota, selects 40 high-potential local leaders annually to receive a $10,000 grant. With the funds, Fellows conduct community projects to engage diverse audiences in habitat, water, or energy conservation. In addition to receiving support launching their conservation initiatives, the Fellows also benefit from specialized training and the opportunity to become part of an exciting alumni network of conservation professionals.

Learn more HERE about CTNC’s support to limited resource and minority landowners.

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