NVCT's Newly Elected Board Chair Ranjit Singh Sits Down for an Interview
Northern Virginia Conservation Trust is proud to announce its newly elected board chair for a two-year term, Ranjit Singh. The avid hiker, kayaker, and angler is also a professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington. Ranjit grew up in Stafford County, and his growing concern for diminishing local nature is what set him on the path to conservation and joining NVCT. We asked Ranjit about his love for nature, his new role as board chair, and what he envisions for the organization’s bright future.
Congratulations on your new position as Board Chair! With NVCT coming off one of its most successful years during a global pandemic, what were some of the conservation successes of 2020 the organization should look to build on?
Thanks! The Trust has had a remarkable year, to say the least. Our success is a real testament to the leadership shown by outgoing Board Chair Katy Densmore, Executive Director Alan Rowsome, and all the board and staff.
With ten new land projects scheduled to be completed this fiscal year – and more in the hopper — we passed the milestone of over 8,000 total acres conserved.
NVCT also won several competitive grants, secured the future of the 110-acre Potomac heronry in Stafford County (now part of the Crow’s Nest Nature Preserve), and is playing a leadership role in the ongoing effort to save Fairfax’s historic River Farm from development. These are exactly the things the Trust was created to do more than 25 years ago. And all this despite a pandemic that nixed our annual Spring event, shut down our office, and more.
As a person that loves nature, what are some of your favorite outdoor activities?
Like most NVCT people, I try to carve out lots of time for the outdoors. That’s my proactive mental health program. Pretty much the only company I like to keep is my two boys, ages 11 and 13. My wife enjoys camping, but she’s also highly civilized (no hot dogs, pop tarts, or freeze-dried food) and isn’t much into all the fishing and kayaking we do. My youngest has the born angler’s patience and sixth sense. My oldest and I started backpacking this year. I can also spend hours looking for arrowheads, an activity that takes me to a different world. I started doing this as a farm kid and have quite a collection. I was a very proud papa when my boys gave a scout troop a flint-knapping demonstration last year!
Every leader has his or her own vision, talents, and perspective. What do you bring to this position that will change or enhance the trajectory of our organization?
Job one is to ensure the Trust remains as successful as before. But I do hope that my turn as Board Chair will help put the NVCT where it needs to be five or even ten years from now. I think I bring a valuable perspective to the Trust. I came to the NVCT from “the ground up,” so to speak. I first learned of the Trust years ago while volunteering with the effort to conserve Stafford’s Crow’s Nest Nature Preserve. That successful experience taught me the value of a local land trust. Also, I work in Fredericksburg and was raised on a family farm in Stafford. That makes me the first Chair from the southern part of our service area. Land conservation faces somewhat different challenges in Stafford or Spotsylvania County than it does, say, in Alexandria or Fairfax. The Fredericksburg area is changing rapidly – in demography, infrastructure, and land use — rather like Fairfax did 25 years ago. I recently interviewed more than 50 private landowners in my area, including some who don’t typically see themselves as conservationists. Most want to conserve land before open spaces, natural habitats, and beautiful scenery becomes scarce.
One landowner even told me that conservation is one of the few areas in our civic life where people across the political spectrum can come together. I thought that was incredibly poignant and accurate. It’s an idea worth keeping in mind.
Since NVCT’s service area includes both urban and rural landscapes, what does the future of conservation look like if the organization has its way?
If the NVCT has its way, I think the future of conservation will be strategic, thoughtful, responsive, and rooted in strong partnerships. Conservation needs “buy-in” to be sustainable. We’re committed to listening carefully to the needs of landowners, local officials, businesses, and communities. It is our job to make the case that voluntary conservation is an excellent option for addressing community concerns like recreation, clean air and water, mitigating climate change, and fiscal responsibility. We certainly can make this case. The facts are on our side.
What is the long-term strategy in getting diverse communities involved in the preservation of natural open spaces?
The broader environmental movement’s longstanding lack of diversity is both an ethical problem and a powerful limit on its effectiveness. The NVCT must reflect the region it serves – one of the most diverse in the country. So expect continued communication, opportunity, and outreach. We also have to keep in mind the many forms of diversity out there. Racial, gender and economic diversity are essential, of course. But so are farming families who may have lived on the land for generations. They can feel pretty left behind as our area’s population grows, and their few votes don’t carry much political weight. I think we need to be talking to them, too. As one farmer told me, “Nobody wants to see their farm get paved over.”
Can you provide some board background? What are the board’s major goals over the next two years?
The NVCT’s core mission doesn’t really change regardless of who is Chair of the Board: We’re here to “save nearby nature.” That said, every successful organization has to be willing to adapt, rethink, and improve. A non-profit cannot afford to sit still! So we will focus on ensuring we always have the resources we need to do our work. We will continue to build support for and understanding of land conservation, especially that it is a voluntary activity. And we will work effectively with new and established local partners. In short, our overarching goal is to ensure our resources and activities enhance our ability to conserve land in the future.
What committees are board members involved in, and what are some specific goals for these committees?
Like all non-profits, we have a number of board committees, such as the land stewardship and finance committees. They work with staff to ensure we’re getting the job done the right way. Committee work is rarely called glamorous.
Okay, never – but it’s through committees that we keep meeting our goals and thinking up new ones. I’m especially excited about the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) committee that formed shortly before I started as Chair of the Board.
Readers should keep tuned in for exciting new opportunities to contribute to land conservation in our region!