If you care about climate change in Massachusetts, you’ve likely come across the work of Katie Theoharides.
A scientist by training, she spent five years orchestrating the state’s ambitious climate goals as part of the Baker administration, where she served as secretary for Energy and Environmental Affairs. But this year, she stepped into a new role, one that in many ways she said she’s been working toward her entire career: She became president and CEO of the Trustees of Reservations, the country’s oldest land trust, which maintains over 120 properties in the state.
“My heart and my passion has always been land conservation,” Theoharides said.
Theoharides sat down with Boston Globe business reporter Janelle Nanos for the latest interview in the Globe’s Bold Types video series. The Trustees has seen significant growth in the wake of the pandemic — membership has spiked by 66 percent since 2019 — and today Theoharides sees each property as an engine of hope. She says her goal is “accelerating the pace of land conservation, addressing climate change and really connecting more people to this mission and to the work of saving our special places everywhere.”
Right now, Theoharides is overseeing the acquisition of new properties into the Trustees portfolio, including the Millborn Farm in Sherborn, which would provide a vital link in the Charles River Valley to several other Trustees properties and create a nine-mile navigational “blue trail” for paddlers. The Trustees is also pushing into urban landscapes, and has raised over $30 million to develop a salt marsh, sandy beach, and kayak launch at Piers Park III in East Boston.
But Theoharides is looking to Western Massachusetts, where she grew up, in the hopes of expanding the organization’s reach even further, and is currently leading a coalition of land conservancies to preserve some large tracts of open farmland in the southern Berkshires and northwest Connecticut.
“We have significant rural area remaining in Western Mass. that’s unprotected that will see generational turnover as people sell off and move on,” she said. “And that land is really important from a climate perspective.”
For Theoharides, keeping special places special isn’t just an aesthetic goal (though she does believe a walk in the woods can do everyone a bit of good). There’s a bigger mission too.
“There is work to do to provide hope on climate change and solve climate problems and I really do believe our properties can be the center of those solutions,” she said.
Preserving green spaces helps with carbon sequestration and land management to mitigate the effects of climate change. So she’s looking at every property from that perspective: hoping to ensure the 350 buildings, 120 miles of coastline, and roughly 47,000 acres the Trustees manages across the Commonwealth are doing their part.
“We are net negative as an organization in terms of our emissions because of all of the land that we hold and the sequestration that we have, but we want to do much more,” she said. “We have historic buildings, we have art museums, and we have working animals on our farms and we want to decrease those emissions significantly.”
She’s also working to ensure more Massachusetts residents have access to green spaces, and putting an emphasis on trying to be more inclusive in the organization’s outreach. Last year, the Trustees had 230,000 people attend its varied events, like hikes, cooking classes, and mushroom foraging sessions. She wants to do more to bring those opportunities to everyone.
“We have to increase the number of parks and green space in urban communities that don’t have access to that type of landscape,” she said. “We need to do more to connect the next generation to nature and provide access to everyone to our green spaces, particularly underrepresented communities.”