ACR Executive Director John Petersen will retire at the end of March after a 35-year career in conservation. A Board-directed executive search is underway; Nils Warnock, Ph.D., currently director of conservation science, has been appointed as the interim executive director, beginning on April 1.

“Under John’s leadership, ACR is tackling the region’s ongoing conservation challenges of dwindling biodiversity and climate-driven wildfire in ways that have delivered better outcomes for ourselves, our wild neighbors and the complex ecosystems of Northern California. His persistence in these areas will improve quality of life for generations of North Bay residents,” said Phillip Carlsen, president of ACR’s Board of Directors, in a note to supporters.

In the nearly four decades since John arrived at ACR as a fresh-faced ecologist, conservation science and environmental education have evolved to become structural underpinnings of daily life in the San Francisco Bay Region. Building on the legacy of the grassroots battles of the 1960s and ‘70s to protect critical habitat against commercial development, John was part of a new generation of scientists and educators. They recognized the role environmental organizations like ACR, regional lands trusts and others could play in supporting a year-round natural-sciences workforce, professionalizing nature-based education curricula, collecting long-term data sets on key species, and supporting public policy with science-based recommendations.

In his announcement to staff and volunteers earlier this year, John highlighted collaboration with the community as the key to ACR’s success, noting “I’m proud to have spent the majority of my professional career with such a great group of people united in action. It’s been an honor to have known and worked with ACR’s visionaries; David Bouverie, Clifford Conly, Jim and Shirley Modini, and Marty Griffin, as well as a highly accomplished staff of nearly 40, our supporters, and the thousands of dedicated volunteers, some actively marking their 40-50-year anniversaries with ACR.”

John is ACR’s longest-serving employee, initially hired in 1986 as the first resident biologist of the Bouverie Preserve, and has served the organization in several leadership roles culminating in his appointment as executive director in 2014.

As resident biologist in the 1980s and ‘90s, John established Bouverie Preserve’s stewardship program including oak and grassland restoration, Stuart Creek newt monitoring (now marking 30 years), and added more seasonal opportunities for Sonoma County schoolchildren to connect with the richness of plants and animals endemic to their own backyard.

In 2008, John assumed the operational responsibilities of the organization and was key to expanding ACR’s preserve holdings into Northern Sonoma County to safeguard important creek and riparian areas within the Russian River watershed—as landowners Jim and Shirley Modini put it, to “save it for the wildlife”—as well as expanding the reach of ACR’s nature education program into Bay Area neighborhoods through its cross-cultural environmental leadership (XCEL) program.

John’s appointment to lead the organization in 2014 was in part a recognition of his vision to deepen ACR’s partnership with the community from preserve-based nature education and wetland species monitoring to programs that operate across suburban and rural landscapes, work side-by-side with local residents and public and private land managers, and press the region into action, exemplified by ACR’s Living with Lions and Fire Forward programs.

John has not only championed the precious landscapes of Marin and Sonoma counties but also the cultural legacies ACR stewards, as seen by the resurgence of interest in the great American author M.F.K. Fisher and her Last House on the Bouverie Preserve.

As for what’s next for John, he said “I now look forward to doing the other things I love, including spending more time with family (and new grandson Leo!), traveling, hiking, pursuing my photography, and indulging in other various distractions.”

A Board-directed executive search is underway to find the new leader who will bring ACR into the next decade and beyond, as the organization looks forward to celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2022. Nils Warnock, Ph.D., currently director of conservation science, has been appointed as the interim executive director, beginning on April 1 until a new ED is hired. Prior to joining ACR in 2018, Nils served as the executive director of Audubon Alaska and a vice president of the National Audubon Society. Nils has deep roots in the North Bay, having begun his career in West Marin at Point Blue, where he was the co-director of the Wetlands Division from 2000-2008.

“John has assembled a talented and dedicated team, who stand ready to guide the organization through a smooth transition in leadership,” said Board President Carlsen. “We invite all to celebrate John’s successes and bid him a happy landing into his well-earned retirement years.”