Solving big environmental problems with TNC

We are excited to unveil an interview with Mike Sweeney, the executive director of TNC’s California chapter. He joined The Nature Conservancy in 1998 and has had 16 years of experience solving major environmental problems in the US. Before TNC, Mike worked for Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt working on the Clinton administration conservation priorities. Here he tells us where he sees TNC in 10 years, what he thinks TNC California’s must-watch project is, and what will be impactful about partnering with Bain. Read on to find out the details!

TNC - Sweeney

Mike Sweeney, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in California

What is top of mind when you think about TNC’s future as a conservation leader in the next 5 years? 10 years?

People have now converted 75% of the land surface of the planet for our use – and a lot of what’s left is rock and ice. This means saving nature today depends as much on how we use our farms, ranches, rivers and seascapes as it does on our traditional parks and protected areas.  At the Conservancy, we need to lead the way in showing the power of teaming up with the people who use nature to conserve it and building new tools to do the job.

What concerns do you have about environmentalism in the modern day? What is TNC doing to mitigate these concerns?

Many people think of environmentalism as just keeping people away from nature, when we need to find solutions that work for us all. If something doesn’t work for nature – whether it’s water, land use or fishing – it won’t work long for people either. At the Conservancy, we’re pushing for solutions that can help land owners and resource users become agents of change, like rice farmers building habitat for birds.

What is TNC CA’s ‘must-watch’ project right now? Why?

In this drought, we’re all starting to see that when rivers don’t meet the sea and wildlife struggle, our own water supply is in trouble. The problem is that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and there is an alarming lack of data available. How many wells are sucking water from the ground? How much of this groundwater do we have left? No one knows, so we’re looking at new tools to figure that out.

What do you think will be the most impactful outcome from the Bain-TNC partnership?

As the world changes – through climate, growing population and technology – conservation is often playing catch up when we need to be leading the pack. I think working with Bain will give us new ideas and skills to help the Conservancy do just that. You can really help us make the transition from an organization that identifies and protects special places to one that demonstrates and solves big environmental problems.

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