Valerie has centered her career around her passion for conservation. Most recently working at National Geographic Society as the Interim Chief Science and Innovation Officer, Valerie spearheaded the organization’s efforts to deliver impact-focused programs and grants related to global conservation, history, and culture. During her tenure at National Geographic, Valerie provided vital program leadership both domestically and internationally on issues like landscape protection, sustainable fisheries, ocean plastics pollution, and illegal wildlife trade. Her strong background in conservation strategy and innovation will be invaluable as the American Forest Foundation continues to increase the conservation impact of America’s family-owned forests.
We sat down with Valerie to learn more about what he’s looking forward to in her new role at AFF.
Favorite Tree— Sugar Maple
Favorite Forest Activity— Camping
Favorite Wildlife Critter— Porcupine
What energy are you bringing to your new position?
I am passionate about the environment and have a strong sense of urgency to make positive change. I am energized by working with and for people, and American Forest Foundation’s focus on family forest owners means I get to work with the incredible individuals and families who are poised to collectively have a big positive impact on the issues of our time - climate change, biodiversity, wildfire reduction, and clean water. I’m very ambitious. It is exciting to join an organization that is not afraid of taking risks and testing new approaches to reach big goals.
What are your top priorities to further the organization’s mission to empower family forest owners?
Family forest owners are a diverse group of people, with a range of histories, values, cultural contexts and priorities. A top priority for me is ensuring that we listen to, and learn from, a broad diversity of people, engaging them in the creation of products and programs that achieve great impact, and do that in a way that is inclusive and equitable. I also strongly believe that great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, and it’s critical to create opportunities for those ideas to come to light. I strive to promote a culture of active listening and inquiry and where there’s always an invitation for connection. Whether it’s a fellow team member at AFF, a long-time partner, or a landowner connecting with us for the first time, I think it’s important to take the time to listen and experience new ideas and ways of thinking.
You have experience across a diverse range of conservation issues, what lessons have you learned and what are your thoughts on the conservation impact potential of America’s family-owned forests?
I started my career focused on improving the sustainability of the global seafood supply. Even though small-scale fishermen represent over 50% of the catch in developing countries, very few organizations attempted to work with that sector because it’s simply harder to work with millions of individuals than with a few dozen major companies, and yet ignoring them means you can never truly get to the level of impact that is needed. Coming into the American Forest Foundation I see a lot of similarities with family forest owners. Private and family-owned forests represent the largest portion of U.S. forestland, which means they are essential to conservation efforts. These forests are owned by millions of individuals, and working with individuals means we have to design solutions collaboratively and in a way that we meet a diversity of needs. It’s hard work, but also immensely rewarding and vital if we are to achieve lasting change.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I love to cook for company! I don’t mind cooking for my family, but I get a lot of pleasure out of sharing a meal with my friends and loved ones and seeing them enjoy something I’ve created. I have a terrible habit though of using my guests as test subjects! I love trying new recipes and company seems to be the perfect excuse to make something out of the ordinary.
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