Brian Rehrig: Conservation by Inspiring New Conservation Advocates

Brian Dresden

Brian Rehrig is a conservationist who believes that inspiring new conservation advocates is the most powerful way to protect nature. Think of the saying: “Give a man a fish, and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and feed him for a lifetime,” and try to equate it to land conservation. It’d go something like “Give a community a conserved piece of land, and conserve one place. Help inspire people to become conservation advocates, and conserve the nature of our world.”

Brian is Executive Director of the Fields Pond Foundation, an organization with the mission of providing financial assistance to nature conservation organizations with projects that increase community awareness of conservation issues. When the Foundation chooses to grant its assistance for a particular conservation project, it favors those that provide opportunities to actively engage people. For instance, the Foundation favors projects that involve organizing local volunteers to create walking trails on conserved land because the volunteer experience can inspire new conservation advocates in the community.

“People sometimes need to get their hands dirty to appreciate the importance of conserved land,” Brian told me, “they need to have an experience on the land.” Brian is proud of the work the Foundation does that creates opportunities for people to have a special moment that opens their eyes to the beauty of nature and the importance of conservation.

Brian was a kid when he experienced his own special moment. Out on a leisurely drive, his grandfather stopped the car and led him up a small bank into a cornfield, pointed toward a lone Chestnut tree at the far end, and said “Now isn’t that the most beautiful tree you've ever seen?” Perhaps it was, perhaps not; but that moment of quiet reflection was a well-received lesson in the need to stop, look, and appreciate the beauty around us, and to share it with others.

I asked Brian about his proudest moments as a conservationist both personally and professionally through his work at Fields Pond Foundation or as a volunteer board member of the Arlington Land Trust. Not surprisingly, the stories he told me were centered on engaging other people in a conservation initiative, and not about the many spectacular places Fields Pond has helped to permanently conserve.

While Fields Pond Foundation has helped Mass Audubon protect many spectacular places throughout Massachusetts, they do a tremendous amount of work with small, local, land trusts and community-based conservation organizations. Brian explained that he sees great value in Fields Pond working with small conservation groups because “support from a foundation like ours provides much needed encouragement and a type of emotional support to grassroots initiatives and their leaders, who are often volunteers.” Brian and the other staff at Fields Pond try to take time to get to know the leaders of local conservation organizations and provide a supportive relationship.

One of Brian’s proudest personal experiences as a conservationist is seeing his son grow to appreciate the wondrous outdoors, and come on his own to see the importance of conservation advocacy. Brian and his son, Matthew, had many hiking experiences in the White Mountains, often enjoying overnight stays in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) mountain huts. One weekend up in the mountains, 13-year-old Matthew learned that the huts were up for repermitting from the National Forest Service, and that public comment was invited. Without Brian even knowing it, Matthew sent a letter to the National Forest Service in support of the repermitting. The letter recounted some of the wonderful experiences the boy shared in the mountains with his father, and says “if the huts get taken away, I’ll never get to someday show my children this area”. The young man’s unprompted letter is so touching that it’s no wonder the Boston chapter of the AMC proudly displayed it on the wall of their office.

"Give a community a conserved piece of land, and conserve one place. Help inspire people to become conservation advocates, and conserve the nature of our world." Brian Rehrig is making a big difference here in Massachusetts, not just by helping to conserve our beautiful landscape through his professional and volunteer work, but by helping people to get involved and inspired in their own local communities.