Our annual conference emphasizes the open sharing of the best science and information that natural areas practitioners can use immediately, on the ground, to benefit the lands and waters they steward. However, even the best information requires a larger context and vision to be leveraged strategically.

Our Opening and Closing Plenary Sessions were conceived to offer some of that context, as well as to serve as an inspirational reminder of the importance of the work of natural areas practitioners. The conversations these sessions stimulate are a starting place for further collaboration and a continuation of the search for the solutions we need. We choose our speakers carefully to represent the cutting edge of thinking about the topics that matter to us all.

Opening Plenary - October 8, 2019 - Sheraton Ballroom

Cindy Dunn

Secretary, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

"Positioning Pennsylvania?s Public Lands to Address Emerging Issues"

Cindy Adams Dunn became sixth secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in June 2015. As secretary, Dunn has helped position Pennsylvania as a leader in land conservation, outdoor recreation, green practices and public land management. During her tenure the department created the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps to connect youth and young adults with job opportunities relating to the outdoors and the environment. She also has directed the agency to provide leadership on planting forest buffers along streams to improve water quality.

Prior to becoming secretary, Dunn had served as the president and chief executive officer of PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy. 


Dr. Mamie Parker

Chair, Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries Commission and Former Head of Fisheries at U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

"Our Core and Our Code: Radical Collaboration and Transformational Actions in the Natural Areas Community"

Parker will share her views on the importance of maintaining our current core and code while moving to radical collaboration and transformational actions related to natural areas. She will discuss opportunities to enhance land protection, including innovative solutions to clean water use, adaptable strategies related to species protection and habitat management in the age of energy development, invasive species with more storms, droughts, flooding and fires. Parker uses story telling to share her journey life lessons from the Mississippi River delta lands to the Chesapeake Bay watershed inspiring the audience to take personal courageous actions to address climate change and other challenges by building stronger bridges to engage more nontraditional partners, and multiple generations.


Charles W. Bier

Senior Director-Conservation Science, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

"Landscapes and Biodiversity of Penn's Woods"

Pennsylvania was dubbed Penn's Woods early on, and is also known as the Keystone State for its important role in the mid-Atlantic region. Spanning from the Ohio River to the Delaware, from Lake Erie sand dunes to the shale and serpentine barrens of the southern counties, the keystone includes enough biodiversity to keep any naturalist and conservationist busy for a few lifetimes. Using approaches of watersheds and ecoregions, this introduction will provide an overview of our biogeography, flora, fauna and range of habitats, along with a few sidebars of land use history and a few of the key early natural historians who studied the region. In addition to an overview of biodiversity, Pennsylvania's globally significant role in conservation will be presented.


Mark Anderson

Director of Conservation Science: Eastern US - The Nature Conservancy 

"Resilient and Connected Landscapes to Sustain Nature's Diversity under Climate Change"

Natural areas are critical for sustaining biodiversity and ecological services under climate change but how do we ensure that our network of secured areas will collectively sustain the full spectrum of nature's diversity and services while allowing for adaptation and movement? Over the last decade, The Nature Conservancy, in collaboration with over 100 scientists, has developed an approach to identifying and mapping a network for the US that is specifically designed to sustain biodiversity under a changing climate. The criteria require sites to be 1) individually resilient, 2) collectively representative of all geophysical environments, 3) configured to facilitate range shifts, and 4) stocked with thousands of high-quality natural communities and rare species populations. These concepts play out differently in different regions of the US and we will look at examples of the resulting network from across the country.  In the Eastern US, the results prioritized a connected network that covered 23% of the region and contains 80,000 confirmed biodiversity elements and multiple resilient examples of all 61 geophysical settings. The Eastern network also accounts for 56% of the above-ground carbon, 75% of the high value water supply land, produces 1.8 billion tons of oxygen annually, and mitigates 1.3 tons of air pollution. The approach highlights the question:  Can we collectively coordinate our conservation efforts to have a greater impact and sustain diversity at a national scale?



We will be announcing our closing plenary speakers soon.


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