© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former Baker cabinet member Theoharides steps in as new head of The Trustees of Reservations

Katie Theoharides, President and CEO of the Trustees of Reservation.
Krista Guenin
© Krista Photography | Krista Guenin - www.kristaphoto.com
Katie Theoharides, President and CEO of the Trustees of Reservation.

Massachusetts nonprofit The Trustees of Reservations has named Katie Theoharides its new President and CEO. Founded in 1891, the Trustees is the oldest land preservation organization in the world. It manages more than 120 properties across Massachusetts – including two dozen in Western Massachusetts – over 27,000 acres. From 2019 to 2022, Theoharides served as state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs under Governor Charlie Baker before leaving to work for German renewable energy company RWE Renewables. A Western Massachusetts native, Theoharides previously was the Executive Director of the Trustees affiliate Hilltown Land Trust from 2010 to 2011. She spoke with WAMC about her work in the world of conservation and her goals in the new role.

THEOHARIDES: I've spent about 20 years of my career working on conservation and climate change. I served as Governor Baker's Secretary of Energy and Environment from 2019 to 2022. Before that in the administration, overseeing all of the climate work, and prior to that, [I] had a number of roles in land conservation, climate change, and helping people conserve special places. And most recently, I've been with a company called RWE, working to figure out how to deploy offshore wind and reduce emissions.

WAMC: You're stepping into this role at the head of the Trustees of Reservations- Talk to me, what does this assignment mean to you?

Well, this is a job that spoke to my passion and what I feel is my calling. I love bringing people together, to protect special landscapes and to build more resilient communities, and really building teams. And there's such a strong team of staff in place with the Trustees who care passionately about this mission, just as I do. And, you know, the Trustees work by connecting people to nature through their landscapes, and they use music and art and farming and history. And they're able to build that love and connection, which I think then motivates people to find solutions to some of our most pressing environmental challenges. And I think the way they work is a way that really speaks to the work I've done in my career.

Looking at the Trustees of Reservations, where do you see the mission going from this point onward now that you're stepping into take up its leadership?

I think it's really about building on the organization's strengths. I think some areas of focus will continue to include accelerating the piece of land conservation, really pulling forward climate solutions. And the Trustees have a great portfolio of properties and historic buildings and farms and art museums to demonstrate, how do you decarbonize a building? How do you build a resilient beachfront? We also really need to take advantage of this moment in terms of keeping people in the outdoors after the pandemic, and then making sure that we're building [Diversity, Belonging, Inclusion, and Equity] into all of our engagement on properties and into our workforce, and bringing in diverse voices and communities into the space. And then I think making sure we're building a sustainable organization for the next 130 years. The organization has been around for a long time, it's always been an innovator in land conservation and work with communities, and this is a time for us to make sure it's ready to go for those next 130 years.

What are you bringing with you from your time spent in the public sector working for the Commonwealth to this role?

So, I focused my time in the state a lot on working with communities on local solutions to what I would call global challenges, particularly thinking about climate change. And I think one of the things that I learned early on, in working with Governor's team and across Massachusetts, was just how deeply people in communities care about their natural resources, about the way the community grows and prepares for the future, and engaging in the policy space. And so, I have really fond memories of spending significant time working with local officials out in places like the Berkshires and the hill towns of Western Mass, and understanding those challenges and bringing them back to the governor's office and to the policies we were making to make sure we were designing solutions that worked for local communities. And so, I think bringing people's voices into the decision making and into the work we're doing to protect landscapes and engage people in nature, it's something I will bring with me from that experience. And then I think the other thing, which is a big one that hit during the pandemic, was just keeping people in the outdoors and keeping people engaged and making sure our parks were accessible and safe and open. But continuing to see that momentum is something that's very important to me.

The impacts of climate change continue to grow more and more apparent on almost a daily basis. When you think about this existential threat becoming more and more manifest, how does that apply to the mission of the Trustees?

So, the Trustees are as an organization have a commitment to continue to reduce their own carbon emissions footprint and their net negative in terms of the sequestration they already are responsible for with their open space, but they want to push their properties down to net zero. And so that's one of their big goals, and I think an opportunity for us to demonstrate how you decarbonize such a diverse portfolio as the Trustees has. So, an opportunity for innovation and leadership and giving people hope on real world climate solutions. And on the resiliency side, this is a tremendous portfolio and opportunity to model best practices in the stewardship work we do from coastal reservations to inland forests, to making sure the buildings and roads we maintain are built in a way that can weather the climate impacts to come. And so, I think it's a great opportunity for innovation and sharing best practices. The Trustees has always been a leader on the stewardship side, and getting ready for climate and reducing our contributions to climate is a key way the Trustees can move forward on this. And the other piece of that is making sure we're bringing communities into those discussions, having everyone's voices heard, and making decisions that fit within the local community.

I'm interested in the in the efforts to diversify the audience that the Trustees supports and works towards encouraging visit their various properties. Talk to me about that- How do you sort of open up the window on equity for the out of doors in Massachusetts?

I think that is an area that Trustees has done significant work on. They have a Diversity, Belonging, Inclusion, and Equity roadmap. And it's both for their internal workforce and creating an inclusive workforce, and also for the work they do to engage communities and visitors in the properties. And some of that involves expanding the properties they have and the resources they have into urban communities, into communities they haven't worked in in the past. They have a great set of community gardens now, for example, that engage visitors in urban centers in working the land, being outside in a very accessible space, but their programming and making sure they have a diversity of programs and ways to bring people in is a key part of that. And then making sure they're engaging communities in the decisions that are being made about land use on the reservations, in protection of new properties and partnering with local community groups to understand what a community would actually be looking for within different cities and towns in the commonwealth I think is a key part of that work.

I'm speaking to you from beautiful Berkshire County where the Trustees of Reservations have a nice handful of properties. I would be remiss not to ask if you, during your tenure as leader, have any thoughts or goals for what the Berkshires represent to both the organization and what they represent to the community here moving forward?

Well, the Berkshires has always held a special place in my heart as someone who grew up in Western Mass and got to head out that way a lot as secretary. And I think the opportunity in the Berkshires is vast. There are significant remaining open tracts of resilient landscapes that will help buffer us from the impacts of climate change and protect biodiversity and offer just really beautiful scenic vistas and opportunities for recreation. And then there's so much cultural and historic heritage and arts and music in the Berkshires. But the opportunity to continue to build that capacity for engagement in a region that's so beloved is one that really speaks to me and so I hope to spend significant time out west in this new role.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
Related Content