After more than a decade of working for the prestigious Audubon society, most recently in the role of Director Land and Water Conservation, Meghan Hertel joined Land Life last week as our North American Regional Director. She is based in Sacramento, California, and will be leading the North American team to expand the pace and scale of reforestation in the North American region.
We spoke to her to find out a little bit more about who she is, why she joined Land Life, and what she is excited about in this new role.
Hi Meghan, could you tell me a bit about yourself?
Hello! I have a passion for restoring degraded land to improve biodiversity and ecosystem function while providing benefits to people and surrounding communities. Some of the experience I bring is that for the past 11 years I have worked for the Audubon Society in California. While I was with them I held six different roles, which was a pretty special experience. This was everything from working on the ground with farmers to do farm edge restoration and thinking about how they are growing their crops to increase benefits to birds and biodiversity, up to helping lead the state program for a short time and ultimately leading statewide conservation programs, focused on inland lands and water. So a lot of working with farmers and ranchers; partnering with agencies and other non-profits; learning how to better address equity, diversity and inclusion issues in conservation; and wrestling with some really big Western water issues.
Amazing! Could you tell us about your background before that, what you studied and how you got into conservation?
Sure! Growing up I didn’t know you could do conservation work for a living. I didn’t realize it was possible to get paid while also trying to make the world a better place for plants, animals, and people, so for my undergraduate degree; I went into political science with a specialization in international relations. I did my master’s degree in environmental science and policy. This led me to California, one of the main states on the leading edge of environmental conservation and protection. California is really pushing the bar on these issues. I was very lucky to get a job with an environmental foundation, which led me 3,000 miles across the country from America’s east coast to here in Sacramento. I’ve now been in California for a little over 15 years.
Sounds super interesting and diverse, so in the end, what attracted you to working at Land Life?
For the last 15 plus years of my career, I have been working in the non-profit space of the environmental movement. I was really interested in contributing my skill set to the for-profit side and seeing how that business model might be a good complement to the work agencies and non-profits are doing in the USA. I want to see if the for-profit model can scale things faster, implement at a longer time scale and also be able to take more risks and innovate more. Land Life is doing all of these things which really attracted me to this company and this position.
The other part of it is that I live in Sacramento, and climate change is very visible to us here. Every summer we are experiencing mega-fires, which frequently make it unhealthy for people to go outside for weeks at a time. You don’t have to drive far out of the city to see massive forest burn scars and the impacts of climate change on our forests and natural resources. I wanted my work to be more directly related to addressing climate change and Land Life gives me that opportunity.
Makes a lot of sense, how does your experience complement what you’re going to be doing with us?
I think my experience will complement in a few different ways. One is that I love building teams of people to tackle complex environmental challenges and thinking about ways to test new efforts or strategies. Also, I have significant experience building partnerships, which are crucial to getting durable projects on the ground, as I feel strongly that no one group can get everything done alone. So my excitement and experience in those realms fit really well with where the North American program at Land Life is at right now. Also, I have done restoration work which while in a different ecosystem, will provide a good foundation to add to my strengths in team building, strategic planning and partnership engagement.
That sounds promising! Tell me the one thing you’re excited to tackle as you start.
I am excited about the scale of the opportunity that we have in North America to do the types of projects that Land Life is looking to implement., Both from a degraded land perspective, particularly when you think about California and the fires I mentioned before, but also the opportunity to contribute to the growing body of reforestation science and technology. Finally, the opportunity to build partnerships with the non-profits, agencies, and communities that are out on the land also working on these issues. So yes, I’m excited about the many opportunities that come with starting at Land Life; it’s impossible to pick just one!
What would you say are the biggest challenges you may face as you start this role?
One of the biggest challenges is thinking about where to engage first and how to prioritize, as there is such a big scale of the opportunity. We are still a small but growing team with resources, talented staff, and a lot of great ideas, so the challenge is honing in to those places where we can build on the work we have already done while also looking for new places to pilot work that will show success and grow the model strategically but quickly.. As a green tech scale up we want to do all of the things all at once, as it is all important, but with the team that we have in the USA, we will be focusing on where and how to best implement successful reforestation and ecosystem restoration using Land Life’s innovative technology.
There is so much to do there so I can imagine that deciding where to start is hardest. Now for something a little more personal, tell me something fun we should know about you!
Well, I have a passion for animal welfare but I love it too much to do it for a job, it would be too intense. So my husband and I volunteer at our local animal shelter by fostering dogs. We’ve always owned big dogs as we love to backpack and hike, but we particularly love fostering very small old chihuahuas that have medical problems! We’ve fostered about 15 dogs and most of them have been chihuahuas.
That is so lovely, I’m just imagining your entire house filled with chihuahuas now! Final question, what is your favorite tree?
So my favorite tree would be a blue oak tree. This is an endemic species found only in California and is very beautiful. They are slow-growing, but they have these beautiful spread limbs and broad canopies, and in summer they are a pop of green and welcome shade in California’s golden rolling hills. Sadly, we are having a hard time getting them to regenerate and they’re not growing back as quickly as they once did. When I go on a hike in the hills around this region and find one of those trees to sit under it is magical. These trees can be hundreds of years old, some 600 years or more, and as California is a pretty young state as far as western development,it just reminds me that not long ago indigenous people may have also sat under that same tree for shade and rest which is pretty cool.
Thank you so much for your time Meghan and good luck in your new role!