Shelley Ratay to Take Helm at Sempervirens Fund

Sempervirens Fund, the oldest conservation group in California, welcomes Shelley Ratay as its new executive director effective April 1.

by Traci Hukill

March 16, 2015—Since Shelley Ratay arrived at Sempervirens Fund in February 2014 as deputy executive director, the plan has been for her to take the helm of the organization upon the retirement of Executive Director Reed Holderman. On April 1 the plan will reach fruition as Holderman ends a successful run guiding Sempervirens through turbulent waters and the oldest conservation group in California welcomes a leader who was not yet born when the National Environmental Quality Act became law.

Ratay, 38, who holds an undergraduate degree in international relations from Brown University and an MBA from Stanford University, takes over daily operations at an organization that has had to recalibrate in the wake of the Great Recession as both its private and public conservation partners tightened their belts. In 2010, Sempervirens Fund announced the purchase of the 8,500-acre Cemex property (since christened San Vicente Redwoods) in a complex transaction involving a half-dozen partners. On the organization's plate now: completing the 200-square-mile Great Park, developing a visitor center at Castle Rock State Park, overseeing the campaign for Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument and launching a creative regional land management initiative called Stewardship 5.0.

"We're more nimble, innovative and collaborative in pursuit of our mission," says Ratay of the new Sempervirens Fund. "We're doing more in partnership, not only with our land trust peers, but also with groups like the Girl Scouts of Northern California, who are educating the next generation of redwood stewards at their camps in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Since we're likely to hold and manage lands longer than we did in the past, we now have an increased focused on stewardship and restoration of the lands in our care."

Sempervirens Fund Board President Fred Keeley praises Ratay's breadth of experience, citing her work on affordable housing issues at First Community Housing in San Jose in addition to her conservation work at such organizations as Conservation International and the Trust for Public Land. "As the world becomes more compound and complex, we need people who are more compound and complex," says Keeley.

Ratay is also part of a new demographic taking its place at Sempervirens Fund, where recent additions to the board of directors include Santa Cruz-raised Google recruiter Austin Swift and community outreach specialist Amanda Montez.

"The generation that is now engaged deeply in learning about, understanding and enjoying the redwood forest is a different demographic," Keeley adds. "It is younger, there are more persons of color, and both our board and our leadership at the staff level are going to reflect that with Shelley’s arrival."

Ratay's workspace will reflect it too. Asked about imminent changes to the decor in the corner office, she sent the picture at left and these thoughts: "Pictures and artwork from my kids, who inspire me daily to do the work that I do. Here's a favorite by my daughter. Translation = 'In the woods I ramble around.' You can imagine the pride and joy I felt when she brought this home from school."

Read about The Great Park
Read Meet The San Vicente Redwoods