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Beth Conover has spent her entire career working at the intersection of environmental policy and community development. She joins Colorado State University this month as director of the Salazar Center for North American Conservation, which is housed in the School of Global Environmental Sustainability (SoGES).
The Salazar Center for North American Conservation was established in August 2017, thanks to the vision of former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and with support from a significant gift from Bohemian Foundation.
Conover most recently served as senior vice president at the Gates Family Foundation in Denver, where she had worked since 2011. She worked for John Hickenlooper from 2003 to 2007 when he was mayor of Denver.
During her tenure at the city and county, Conover developed the Greenprint Denver sustainability office and created a climate action plan for Denver. She was one of four senior policy advisors to the mayor, now Gov. Hickenlooper, and his former chief of staff and now U.S. Senator Michael Bennet.
Salazar, who preceded Bennet as U.S. Senator, applauded this new role for Conover at the center that bears his name.
“CSU’s North American Conservation center will teach our continent the best conservation practices to protect our land, air, water and wildlife for generations to come,” said Salazar, a native of Alamosa, Colorado. “CSU is a giant among universities in its work on conservation and sustainability. And we are fortunate to have Beth Conover appointed as the first director of the Center. Beth is a stellar and proven leader in planning and conservation in Colorado and around the nation.”
An early interest in environmental issues
Environmental issues are a part of who Conover is, dating back to when she was a child. When she decided to major in environmental studies as an undergraduate at Brown University, Conover said her relatives thought it was a crazy decision.
“They thought I would never find a job,” she recalled. She went on to receive two master’s degrees in public and private management and environmental studies from Yale University.
“I’ve always been most interested in the natural world and the human relationship to natural systems, both positive and negative,” she said. “I have worked in diverse roles, from organizing refugees in urban community gardens to rural reforestation work in Zimbabwe, and community conservation on the Colorado Plateau. But my focus has always been on how communities make decisions about their environment.”
“Beth’s broad experience in city government, natural resource conservation, and the philanthropic community will be a tremendous asset for the Salazar Center, and, more broadly, for the School of Global Environmental Sustainability and CSU,” said University Distinguished Professor Diana Wall, SoGES director and a professor in the Department of Biology.
Peter Backlund, associate director of SOGES, also hailed Conover’s strengths and background.
“Beth’s work at the intersection of urban redevelopment, sustainability, climate change, and conservation makes her a perfect fit for this position,” he said.
“It’s been an honor to be at the beginning of the period when people have begun to understand environment health as a value in its own right,” Conover said.
Tackling big topics
Conover said that she expects to tackle big topics in her new role at the center, including land, water and climate issues in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
“Climate is a cross-cutting theme,” she said, noting the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which detailed the urgent and potentially irreversible threat to humans and the planet. “We will also be examining environmental equity, engaging new audiences and empowering young leaders.”
In a nod to Salazar and the Bohemian Foundation, Conover said that she’s looking forward to building upon the initial investment in the center.
Salazar endorsed a founding gift of $500,000 to get the project off the ground. An additional $1 million gift from the Fort Collins-based Bohemian Foundation is meant to support the center’s early projects, and CSU hopes to raise $40 million to sustain the center for the foreseeable future.
“I’m excited about how to leverage the initial investment into huge impacts,” Conover said.