Founder Paul Hardy reflects on FRLT's roots
“Anyone who cares about this land can make a difference. Relationship to land can start anywhere, as long as the experience is real.” For FRLT’s founding Executive Director Paul Hardy, that relationship started right here in Sierra Valley, on what is now FRLT’s Sierra Valley Preserve.
As a four year old boy, Paul remembers heading out with his family in the old Chevy truck with buckets and shovels to hunt for worms for the opening day of fishing season. Memories of the big, beautiful valley bursting with the life of spring blend with boyhood adventures of jumping ditches, finding frogs, trying to catch catfish with bare hands, flushing out ducks, and of course, hunting for the biggest and best cow pies, “because that’s where all the worms were.”
“As a child, you don’t even know you’re creating a relationship to land,” says Paul. “You’re just playing and learning in a particular place, but soon, the land becomes part of who you are.”
When you feel very connected to the land, and you see a special place being developed, you feel that you're losing part of your Self. It's just natural and instinctual, like the immune response of a white blood cell, to want to do something about it.
—Paul Hardy, on founding the Feather River Land Trust
Anyone who cares about this land can make a difference. Relationship to land can start anywhere, as long as the experience is real. As a child, you don't even know you're creating a relationship to land. You're just playing and learning in a particular place, but soon, the land becomes part of who you are.
—Paul Hardy, on the importance of relationship to land
As a land trust, we can’t do it alone. It’s really our job to be a conduit of our community’s impulse to protect and take care of what it loves.
—Paul Hardy, on the importance of community
Over the years, Paul graduated from worms to flyfishing, and he deepened his relationship with Feather River lands by doing restoration work, fighting fire, and completing wildlife surveys for the US Forest Service. As his love of the land deepened, so did his scientific knowledge of the habitat requirements for wildlife species to thrive, as he graduated with degrees in Wildlife Biology from UC Davis and the University of Arizona.
Every time he came home from school, Paul became more aware of how land use planning and development decisions were affecting the places he loved. He speaks of the pain of seeing areas where he had fished, hiked, and ridden horses being developed and gated off, and knowing that his kids would never experience those magnificent places in the same way. Also, the scientific knowledge that development was causing irreparable damage to habitat and species survival spurred him to action. “When you feel very connected to the land, and you see a special place being developed, you feel that you’re losing part of your Self. It’s just natural and instinctual, like the immune response of a white blood cell, to want to do something about it.”
While in graduate school, Paul was increasingly called upon as an expert witness in federal endangered species cases. But he found that this type of activism just wasn’t the right fit for him. “It just wasn’t me to try to oppose people. I wanted to work with people who wanted to do the right thing, who wanted to work for the benefit of the community and wildlife.”
Paul remembers a quantum moment—the moment he knew, with his whole being, that he wanted to move back to Plumas County and start a land trust. He moved home, found a job, and started sharing the idea with others. People responded to Paul’s fervor in kind—”People were right there with it. They had very little hesitancy.”
And so, in February of 2000, Paul and a small group of volunteers formed the Feather River Land Trust. From a circle of 40 charter members with no paid staff, FRLT has grown into a nationally accredited, effective land conservation organization, 1,100 members strong.
Paul's passion for the land and the Feather River country's unique rural character was contagious, so I offered to help. We found that others in our community shared our excitement and were ready to take action to protect this special place.
—Bob Cobb, founding board member
I think back to the day we first gathered, in June of 1999, to see if it would be viable to start a land trust to protect this place we love. We had a dream, a vision, and our passion. We had no staff, and almost no money. It's so gratifying to look back over what we have accomplished together.
—Bob Cobb, founding board member
When FRLT celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2010, Paul commented, “Land conservation is technically difficult and financially demanding. In these challenging economic times, we could be anxious about the future. But then we think back to our roots. As long as people love this place and are inspired to act to protect it, that is what truly carries us forward. As a land trust, we can’t do it alone. It’s really our job to be a conduit of our community’s impulse to protect and take care of what it loves.” By 2010, FRLT had conserved 30,000 acres of important lands and waters in the Feather River Watershed, and set a goal to protect another 30,000 acres by 2020. And because of you, we’ve exceeded that goal.
In 2016, Paul passed the leadership torch to a new Executive Director, Shelton Douthit, who had been leading some of FRLT’s key conservation transactions since 2014. Paul commented that, “Shelton is a great fit with FRLT. He’s been the Executive Director of two other growing land trusts and has lots of experiencing scaling organizations, managing multiple staff, and developing financial systems that work. He’s one of the nation’s leading experts in land and conservation easement stewardship.”
We’re grateful Paul continues to work with FRLT and other land trusts, bringing his expertise as a biologist and conservation specialist to help communities protect the lands and waters they love.
FRLT in 2021
We're completing our 20th anniversary year, and because of the tremendous support of our community and conservation partners, we have conserved over 62,000 acres of special lands and waters. With your help, we will conserve 120,000 acres of globally unique wetlands, headwaters, and wildlife habitats over the next few years.
Protect what you love
Join us in conserving headwaters and habitats for wildlife, plants, and people
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