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Nature Conservancy’s new director wants conservation, economic progress to coexist

  • Mark Zankel was recently named the director of the New Hampshire nature Conservancy. He was photographed at Cedar Swamp in Manchester on Friday afternoon, March 1, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Mark Zankel was recently named the director of the New Hampshire nature Conservancy. He was photographed at Cedar Swamp in Manchester on Friday afternoon, March 1, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Mark Zankel was recently named the director of the New Hampshire nature Conservancy. He was photographed at Cedar Swamp in Manchester on Friday afternoon, March 1, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Mark Zankel was recently named the director of the New Hampshire nature Conservancy. He was photographed at Cedar Swamp in Manchester on Friday afternoon, March 1, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Mark Zankel was recently named the director of the New Hampshire nature Conservancy. He was photographed at Cedar Swamp in Manchester on Friday afternoon, March 1, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Mark Zankel was recently named the director of the New Hampshire nature Conservancy. He was photographed at Cedar Swamp in Manchester on Friday afternoon, March 1, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

The new state director of The Nature Conservancy hopes to find a way for the concepts of conservation and economic progress to coexist.

Mark Zankel, who began his job a week ago, is no stranger to the organization. He worked for the chapter for more than a decade as The Nature Conservancy’s director of conservation programs, then as deputy state director, before leaving about a year ago. During the time he was gone, his family, which includes two children, toured the world for six months, exploring Europe, Asia and Africa.

Zankel returned to Hopkinton a little more than a month ago, was offered a chance to fill the state director’s job and took it.

In the past, Zankel was part of several important initiatives with The Nature Conservancy, including the effort to conserve 171,000 acres of working forest and natural areas in the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters; developing landscape conservation plans for the Ashuelot River and coastal watersheds; restoring shellfish reefs to improve habitat and water quality in the Great Bay estuary; and protecting and restoring thousands of acres in the Ossipee Pine Barrens.

Zankel has a challenging road ahead of him.

He spoke with the Monitor late last week to discuss his plans for the Conservancy.

What do you think you are bringing to this position? What are your strengths do you think?

I’ve been with The Nature Conservancy for 16 years and have been involved really in all facets of our conservation work – from land protection, to our stewardship, to conservation science and planning, and to our work in marine and estuary areas.

So I’ve got a pretty deep background, and I know and understand what it takes to get conservation done on the ground and in the water. So that’s probably the first and most important thing.

But I think the other piece that I really bring is throughout my career I’ve really emphasized working with partners, whether it’s other nonprofits or state and federal agencies or people in local communities.

What are the biggest challenges ahead of you as you go into this position?

In many ways New Hampshire is in a very good situation in that . . . more than 80 percent of our state is still forested;
. . . our rivers, our wetlands and our lakes are generally high quality and intact; and we have a couple of precious estuaries on the coast.

So you know, we are starting with a lot of assets here.

My vision is, in a world that’s changing rapidly, that people in New Hampshire can continue to rely on our forests, our rivers, our wetlands, our estuaries, the things that we’ve come to count on: clean air, clean water, natural resource-based jobs like forestry and fishing. And some of the best hiking and hunting and fishing that you’ll find anywhere on Earth. That’s what I’m about.

We have some issues maintaining clean water, particularly around the coastal watershed.

And that affects wildlife and habitat, and it also affects people who want to swim and boat and fish and recreate on our waterways.

So we’ve got a lot of work to do with coastal communities. And we’ve got the overarching issue of: What are the effects of global climate change and what will they be in New Hampshire?

I think we’re seeing some of the effects with coastal flooding and changing precipitation patterns. I think the challenge is both to have our state be part of finding solutions to offset climate change but to also help communities adapt to those impacts and to come up with smart solutions.

How do you strike a balance between conservation and, for lack of a better word, progress?

Granite Staters have long recognized that the natural environment of our state is a linchpin for not only the state’s heritage but our economy and our attractiveness to business and quality of life. And that’s a good thing. People in New Hampshire get it.

This is not an either/or situation. It’s not either economic development or conserving the state’s precious natural resources, that we need to be working closely together. And I think there’s a lot of . . . people coming together, rolling up our sleeves, and working together to solve a problem.

There’s no kind of blanket solution here. We as a conservation community can’t and don’t exist in a vacuum. Our state has budget challenges, we have underemployment issues. We just have to be part of the solution.

In my mind, the solution is not either/or, it’s doing both.

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