May 18, 2021 marked the 50th anniversary of the Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Pennsylvania Constitution. The ERA states in part that:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

All year long we are celebrating this momentous occasion and highlighting the people who helped make the ERA dream a reality. One such person was Ralph Abele.

Ralph Becomes a Professional Conservationist

Ralph always had a passion for the outdoors, which he channeled into his volunteer role as a scout leader of Troop 230 in Mt. Lebanon. In that position he helped the young scouts develop a conservation ethic. However, it was in 1969, when Ralph decided to leave his steady job as a food broker in Pittsburgh to become executive secretary of Pennsylvania’s Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee, that his conservation career began to flourish. During his tenure there, he helped write many important environmental laws including the 1970 Clean Water Amendments, the Clean Air Act, the Sewage Facilities Act, and the ERA. As a budding champion for Pennsylvania’s living creatures that could not protect themselves, Ralph’s motto was “Do your duty and fear no one!”

He took that motto to the PA Fish Commission, where in 1972, he was appointed executive director of the agency. In that role, he and his staff took on polluters, restored shad to the Susquehanna River, and taught younger generations why the environment is important and how they can play a role in its conservation. Ralph was also an avid writer for the “Straight Talk” columns in Pennsylvania Angler. His honest criticisms of polluters gained him both admirers and enemies. Ralph retired from the Commission in 1987, but his management philosophy, which was coined “Resource First”, continues to guide the Fish and Boat Commission to this day.

Ralph Is Recognized for his Dedication to the Environment

Over the years, Ralph received numerous awards including the American Motors Award for Professional Conservation, the Pennsylvania Wildlife Federation’s “Conservationist of the Year” award, and Trout Unlimited’s Professional Conservationist of the Year. At Ralph’s retirement banquet, he was awarded the Pennsylvania Meritorious Service Medal from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, which is “the highest award the Commonwealth can bestow on an individual for civilian service in a position of great responsibility”.

He didn’t rest of those laurels after retirement, however. Ralph remained active in the conservation field as regional director for the National Wildlife Federation, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Pennsylvania Nature Conservancy, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, among others. 

Learn More about Ralph’s Legacy

Intrigued by this man of strong words and actions? There is much more to Ralph’s story! You can read Ralph’s full biography at and watch the Pennsylvania Conservation Heritage documentary about his life, “Straight Talk: The Ralph Abele Story”, at Then go to to learn how you can celebrate Ralph’s legacy and the ERA anniversary.

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Straight Talk about a Conservation Hero: Ralph Abele