Bob O'Connor: A Big-Picture Thinker
Bob O'Connor is Forest & Land Policy Director for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs (EEA). Bob’s responsibilities for the Commonwealth encompass an extraordinary array of all things land conservation and forestry, plus all EEA grant programs, plus a variety of other important conservation-related initiatives, like the relatively new Land Conservation Tax Credit and Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act.
His contributions to the success of land conservation in this state certainly don’t stop with the many grant programs and sensible policies he’s worked to manage and/or create over the years. He also is known for creating efficiency and harmony with just about every stakeholder working group with which he is engaged.
As Celia Riechel, Land Forest Program Coordinator at EEA, observed, “Bob has an amazing ability to make productive and valuable dialogue happen. He can sit around a table with foresters, loggers, and environmentalists, who some might assume would naturally be at odds, and get everyone working together and making progress.” With his involvement, many groups who have historically had issues with one another have established a rapport with each other that allows them to really solve problems.
According to Bob Wilber, Mass Audubon’s Director of Land Conservation, “Bob is a big picture thinker with a can-do attitude—a fantastic combination for someone in his important position.” The state’s Landscape Partnership Grant program is a great example of that. That grant program, conceptualized by Bob O’Connor, makes significant grant funding available for land conservation but only for projects that will result in the protection of a minimum of 500 acres. The effect of this grant program has been dramatic: the largest remaining tracts of unprotected land in the state are being conserved at a rapidly increased pace.
“One of the most impressive things about Bob is his ability to effortlessly transition from conceiving big new ideas back down to smaller scales, like considering the implications of the minute details of the tax code,” said Celia Riechel. Mass Audubon certainly appreciates how detail-oriented he is. For example, Bob has been instrumental in making changes to grant application processes to enable private conservation organizations to more easily understand requirements and specifications, reduce risk, and conserve their limited time and financial resources when interacting with the environmental agencies of the Commonwealth.
He is known and appreciated by many as a creative thinker and a master at instilling efficiency and productivity into nearly everything he touches. He is continually coming up with creative ways to get more conservation done, and to make it easier for landowners and private conservation organizations, like Mass Audubon, to work with state agencies.
We know we speak for the entire land conservation community in Massachusetts when we say that he has our most sincere gratitude for all he has done for this state. Without overstatement, Bob O’Connor is one of the primary reasons Massachusetts has some of the most effective conservation partnerships and state land conservation programs in the nation.