On that first Earth Day in 1970, I was a sophomore at the McKeesport campus of Penn State majoring in forestry. Although I consider myself to have been mostly a spectator that day, the impact of the day on campus and the national news had a profound impact on me. Wanting to make a difference in the world, at the suggestion of my advisor I decided to switch from forestry to a new major, Environmental Resource Management (ERM). I was among only 10 ERM students at Penn State in 1970 and by the fall of 1971 I had transferred to Penn State’s main campus.
Being in the first class of ERM, there was a lot of new ground for teachers and students. Only in my senior year did we break away from required general science courses and get into the environmental resource management courses that had been created and taught for the first time ever. The idea for ERM was to bring an environmental focus to government and infrastructure planning. It’s hard to imagine now what an innovative concept this was, but the truly multi-disciplinary, collaborative, and scientific approach of the program meant we became well-versed on a wide range of business processes, laws, and regulations, and could communicate with a wide range of decision-makers.
During the summer breaks from Penn State and after graduation in 1973, I worked as a laborer and park ranger at Pymatuning and Poe Valley State Parks. That work gave me the opportunity to see first-hand what it takes to manage Pennsylvania’s state park system, protect our natural resources, and interact with the public in both positive and negative situations. This experience was doubly important as it became apparent on graduation that the field of environmental resource management was so new that few employers understood my academic training and expertise. Over 100 letters to agencies and companies who I was sure would need my brand new expertise yielded little success; this wasn’t unusual, only five of my fellow ERM graduates had by then succeeded in finding a position that tracked with our studies. Sometimes it is very hard to be the trail-blazer!
Eventually, though, the Department of Transportation saw the wisdom in hiring me and I became
Assistant Planning and Programming Engineer in Engineering District 9-0 in Holidaysburg in 1974, launching my 35-year career working in the transportation field focused on planning and environmental management. I was able to serve as, among other positions, Director of the Bureau of Environmental Quality for PennDOT and as time passed and I transitioned into private industry, I am happy to note that the dreamed-for consideration of environmental impacts on transportation issues has became standard.
Looking back, one of the ERM courses that influenced me the most was a seminar with guest speakers from government and industry. Most prominent among these speakers was Maurice K. Goddard, the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Resources, a relatively new state agency created in 1970 from the Department of Forests and Waters. His lecture began my exposure to the environmental leaders in the Commonwealth. Over the course of my career, I would have the pleasure to work with other prominent and influential environmental leaders in the Commonwealth such as:
- Ralph Abele-Executive Director of the PA Fish and Boat Commission
- Glen Bowers-Executive Director of the PA Game Commission
- Pete Duncan-Secretary of the PA Department of Environmental Resources and Executive Director of the PA Game Commission
- David Hess-Secretary of the PA Department of Environmental Protection and author of the PA Environmental Digest
- Larry Schweiger-Executive Director of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation
- Franklin Kury-Attorney and State Representative primarily responsible for the Environmental Amendment to the State Constitution
- John Arway-Executive Director of the PA Fish and Boat Commission
- Walter Lyon-Secretary of the PA Department of Environmental Resources
- James C. Nelson-Director of the Bureau of Forestry in the PA Department of Environmental Resources
- Brenda Barrett-Director of the PA Historical and Museum Commission Bureau of Historic Preservation and the National Park Service Heritage Park Program
- Greg Grabowicz-Director of the PA Game Commission Bureau of Land Management
All the while I was working at PennDOT and in my consulting practice, I pursued my strong interest in promoting conservation leadership and the Commonwealth’s Conservation Heritage. Beginning with helping to organize and conduct the Maurice K. Goddard Symposium in 1997, I joined an ad hoc group of conservation professionals who would dedicate their passion and energies to researching, documenting, and telling the stories of the Commonwealth’s rich conservation heritage over the next two decades.
In 2009, representatives from some of Pennsylvania’s prominent historical and environmental organizations came together in partnership with the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation to create the Goddard Legacy Project. The mission of the Project was to answer a simple question, “Where will we find our future conservation leaders?” Using the Goddard Legacy as a springboard, the partners have now expanded the search for future leaders to the Conservation Heritage Project. The overarching mission of the Project is to create a comprehensive archive of the important story of conservation in the Commonwealth, including profiles of some of the very people I’ve listed above as having been so important in my own career.
In summary, I have been inspired and motivated by Earth Day 1970, subsequent Earth Day events, and prominent conservation leaders in the present and the past to dedicate much of my personal and professional energies to promoting conservation and stewardship. I have been blessed with good health, fortune, opportunities, family, friends, education, community, and a strong belief that people will do the right thing if they understand why.
I thank all of the conservation and environmental professionals whose work continues to change lives and inspire dedication to the Commonwealth, for all they stood for, and for the foundation they laid.
Now retired, Wayne Kober is Co-Chair of the advisory committee for paconservationheritage.org/Pennsylvania’s Conservation Heritage, a project devoted to honoring the contributions of Pennsylvania’s conservation heroes. Over the course of his career, he helped found the Pennsylvania of Environmental Professionals( PAEP), and served on the Greenways Partnership Commission, Governor Tom Ridge’s 21st Century Environment Commission, the Environmental Quality Board, the Sound Land Use Committee, and the Green Government Council.
This blog post was originally a part of the EarthDayPA50.org website, created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020. The website has since been retired but the sentiment – and our appreciation for our partners like Wayne – go on!