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YorkU Fall 2014

The magazine of York University

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18 YorkU Fall 2014 ohn Lounds doesn't often step into the spotlight or rub shoulders with the rich and famous. But on Nov. 22, 2012, the chief executive officer of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) hobnobbed with 400 of Canada's cultural and business elite at NCC's 50th anniversary gala in Toronto. While theatre impre- sario Albert Schultz acted as MC, Lounds worked the room. He posed for photos with "Hockey Night in Canada" co-host Don Cherry and Canadian ambassador to Washington Gary Doer, and welcomed Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy and a who's who of investment bankers, entrepreneurs, media executives and philanthropists. He was positively beaming the whole evening – and for good reason. That night, he and his guests were celebrating the finale of the most ambitious fundraising campaign ever mounted by a not-for-profit conservation organization in this country. Called A Force for Nature, it had raised $500 million and conserved 300,000 hectares of land in five years. Campaign leaders had deliberately set the bar high – and to their delight had sur- passed the goal. "It was audacious," says Lounds. Until the age of 35, Lounds worked in Ontario's civil service. The son of pharmacists, he grew up roaming fields, forests and the local golf course in Meaford, Ont. He excelled at geography and computer science, and imagined a future designing well-ordered cities. At university, he studied urban and regional planning and later enrolled in York's master's program in environmental studies. It was the 1980s and the oil crisis had fuelled interest in alternative energy. Lounds wrote his thesis on planning for energy-efficient communities and – after teaching English in Japan for a year – landed a job in Ontario's growing Ministry of Energy. During the next eight years, he rose through the ranks. His future looked golden. But after serving two governments, Lounds was ready for a change. So when the NCC put out feelers of interest, he couldn't resist a challenge of national scope. NCC was founded in 1962 by four men determined to save Canada's natural areas from encroaching human settlement. The not-for-profit organization encourages landowners to sell, donate or sign long-term agreements to preserve – forever – bogs, dunes, old-growth forests and prairie grasslands. In so doing, NCC can help protect skinks, bitterns, grizzlies, monarch butterflies and numerous other at-risk species. J Since he took the helm in 1997, Lounds has transformed NCC into Canada's leading land conservation organization. Some scientists say 25 per cent of the landscape must be conserved to sustain ecological biodiversity. "Our work begins there," says Lounds. "And we can point to real progress." From the beginning, Lounds has worked to intensify NCC's conservation efforts. "When I joined [NCC], we secured 25 properties a year. Now we secure two per week," he says. The conservancy uses the latest research to create ecosystem blue- prints showing where biodiversity is richest, where threats to native species are greatest and where land conservation can have the biggest impact. "There are no random acts of conserva- tion," he says. "We're focused on what needs to be conserved." Not surprisingly, much of NCC's work is in southern Canada where most Canadians and 80 per cent of this country's at-risk species live. To care for NCC's growing land acquisitions, Lounds has increased NCC staff to 220 coast to coast and established an $85-million stewardship endowment fund. Volunteer ranks have also swelled to 1,800 people who turn out every year to beat back invasive plants, build boardwalks, run bird-watching programs and keep their eyes open for conservation opportu- nities. "The reason a property is important today is because somebody's been taking care of it for many years," he says. Always searching for creative solutions, Lounds is taking NCC in new directions these days. The conservancy is joining forces to protect land it doesn't own but still cares deeply about. For instance, NCC and its American counterpart recently helped broker a deal that led to British Columbia enacting legislation prohibiting coal mining and oil and gas exploration in the Flathead River Valley spanning the Canada- U.S. border. "Our work can't just be about nature conservancy, about buying and taking care of land. That's not enough," says Lounds. Now, he is looking to Canada's north for new conser- vation opportunities, broadening NCC's focus beyond the populous southern latitudes and planning the next fundraising campaign. Lounds characterizes his role as chief relationship builder, but he has no problem making the big pitch. "I believe in what I'm doing," he says. "It is important work and Canadians are proud of what we do." Y John Lounds is dedicated to conserving environmentally sensitive landscapes by martha tancock photography by sof ie kirk

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