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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

John Sawhill Remembered

Air Date: Week of

Host Steve Curwood remembers John Sawhill, president of The Nature Conservancy, who died this past week.


CURWOOD: We note this week that the president of The Nature Conservancy, John Sawhill, died at the age of 63, from complications related to diabetes. And with his passing goes one of the major architects of today's conservation movement. John Sawhill's blueprint was simple: to halt the largest mass extinction of species in the history of the human race by purchasing and protecting habitat. A consummate insider with a gentle smile and an easy laugh, John Sawhill knew how to get things done in the world of high-level politics and corporations. So, when he took over The Nature Conservancy in 1990, he called on contacts he made as president of New York University and as President Carter's Deputy Secretary of Energy, to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to buy natural space. Under John Sawhill's tenure, The Nature Conservancy secured more than seven million acres. But he made sure that the land wasn't simply locked up. Where it made sense, John Sawhill wanted the land kept in the local economy for sustainable use. A few years ago, in an interview with Living on Earth, he explained why he saw no conflict in letting some lands be responsibly logged or drilled for oil.

SAWHILL: We realize that people live in and around the areas that we're trying to protect, that people have to extract value from the land. We just want that to be done in a way which is compatible with protecting the ecology in the area. So, if we don't accommodate the needs of people, we're not going to provide for the needs of nature.

CURWOOD: John Sawhill leaves his wife Isabelle, a son James, two siblings, and a grandson. He also leaves a financial powerhouse for conservation. The Nature Conservancy is now the nation's 14th largest charity, with annual revenues of $800 million. More lasting, though, is John Sawhill's dedication to a network of more than 1,300 private nature reserves, where plants and animals can thrive undisturbed, and where people, if they tread lightly on the land, can enjoy it, too.



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