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Keeley to Head Sempervirens Fund

California's oldest conservation organization elects longtime Santa Cruz political leader Fred Keeley as board president.

By L. Clark Tate

July 14, 2014—Don’t you just love it when one of your favorite players gets put in the game? You know your team’s capabilities, you know your guy’s stats—from there it’s all buzzy excitement and anticipation: will the chemistry work on the field? That’s a little what it felt like when we heard that Fred Keeley had been elected as the President of Sempervirens Fund. Except that with this player and this team we’re pretty certain it will work just fine. (Full disclosure: Sempervirens is one of our sponsors, and Keeley is an uncompensated member of the Hilltromper Board of Advisors.)

So, the team: Sempervirens was founded in 1900 as the Sempervirens Club to preserve the irreplaceable coastal redwood forests remaining after the crush of nineteenth-century development. That initial campaign created what is now Big Basin Redwoods State Park. But the goal was always much bigger. As early Sempervirens leader Carrie Stevens Walter wrote in a 1902 San Francisco Chronicle article:

Imagine a time in the not very remote future when the whole peninsula from San Francisco down to San Jose shall become one great city; then picture, at its very doorway, this magnificent domain of redwood forest and running streams, the breathing place of millions of cramped and crowded denizens of the city.

“And remember this was before the national park system, even before national forests,” says Reed Holderman, Sempervirens Fund’s Executive Director.

Keeley is already a conservation giant. Having penned the two largest voter-approved park and environmental protection bonds in U.S. history as a California State Assemblyman, Keeley sits on numerous boards, including that of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation in Washington D.C.

Keeley wasn’t exactly a surprising choice. He's served on the Sempervirens Fund board for four years, the last two as Vice President. “I used to be the Dick Cheney of this operation, now I’m Richard Nixon,” Keeley jokes (we hope). Keeley was elected unanimously, along with new VP Jacqueline Wender of Menlo Park. The timing couldn’t be better.

As far as coastal redwoods are concerned, the equivalent of a World Series is on. Sempervirens Fund is gearing up to pull together a park so groundbreaking it’s named simply “The Great.”

Learn more about Sempervirens Fund.

The Great Park is Sempervirens Fund’s bid to achieve its ultimate goal— articulated so wonderfully by Carrie Stevens Walter—to preserve a fully functioning redwood ecosystem in perpetuity. When complete it will measure almost 200 square miles and span the western flank of the Santa Cruz Mountains from summit to sea and from Pescadero to Santa Cruz, linking parklands like Wilder Ranch and Big Basin with protected private land.

The Great Park is already 99,000 acres into its 138,000-acre goal. In just two years Sempervirens Fund has raised $15 million of the $22 million necessary to complete its current campaign. That leaves one year to source the remaining $7 million.

According to executive director Reed Holderman, this extraordinary success is largely due to the board of directors’ active engagement and their passion for the Fund’s mission. “The Sempervirens board is just amazing,” Holderman says. “They roll up their sleeves and get to work, and then ask for more. You can’t manufacture that. It has to come from the heart.”

Conservation Acceleration

As president, Keeley “will basically run the organization,” Holderman says. He’ll approve projects and funding, speak for the organization, run board meetings and the like. But that’s not where it ends. “Fred has shown an amazing aptitude and desire to get engaged in a lot of things that we deal with.”

And the biggest of those things is The Great Park. “Ideally we’ll complete The Great Park while he’s president,” Holderman says. “We’ve been building to this point. Now’s the time.

“This has been part of the vision all along. To know that we’re at the last turn of the crank is both humbling and exhilarating.”

Keeley is already looking to the future. According to him, Sempervirens' 114 years of progress is due to its “consistent and sustaining vision” to protect a universally shared value: “sustaining redwood forests and their habitat.”

Moving forward though, he's concerned about rallying the non-group–joining, highly individualized Millennial generation to the organization’s campaign. This is particularly important as the next stages of fundraising will be critical to acquire the parkland, and then to maintain it, which is never an easy sell.

“We can only be successful if we are constantly relevant to every generation,” Keeley says. “We cannot skip a generation or we will fail.” With that in mind he is working to recruit help from the Silicon Valley tech community, many of whom have some savvy about engaging a younger constituency.

Here’s hoping that folks figure out a way to care for another 114 years.

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