Ole Amundsen ’90 has good reason to love his work as in the field of conservation. “There’s nothing like being involved in a project and at the end of that project you look out at a hundred-acre farm field that you helped conserve or a thousand acres you added to a state forest,” he said. “That’s a very concrete and rewarding feeling.” 

Ole Amunsen ’90
Ole Amundsen ’90

These days, though, Amundsen would have to log some serious miles to see all of the land he’s helped preserve.

As the author of Strategic Conservation Planning, he’s worked with more than 400 land trusts, helping them navigate the complex world of land conservation. And as a planner for the New York-based Conservation Fund, he’s helped select and finance dozens of conservation-related projects around the country.

He says his career path was sparked by taking Environmental Economics, a course taught by Thomas Tietenberg, Mitchell Family Professor of Economics, now emeritus. “It really opened my eyes to how one could actually use the power of the free market to provide solutions and furnish public benefits,” Amundsen said.

He recalls his first job interview with a top economist at the Environmental Protection Agency, who said, “Oh, Colby. That’s where Tom teaches.” With that, Amundsen was off and running: two years at the EPA, four years at the Department of Energy working on nuclear-weapons site cleanup. He paused to get a master’s degree in planning at MIT, then was assistant director for land policy for Massachusetts. He also taught at Cornell University for four years.

Amundsen was consulting for land trusts when he was hired by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to write a guide that would help organizations navigate the planning process. That pilot project was for a Maine coast conservation organization, but Amundsen was then asked to rewrite the guide for general use. He did, using a draft version to work with land trusts while he waited for its publication as part of a series. Strategic Conservation Planning was published by Land Trust Alliance in 2011 and now is used by conservation organizations of all types, from all-volunteer local groups
to multistate trusts with multimillion-dollar budgets.

“The real challenge was to craft one planning process that would be appropriate for these land trusts that have different missions,” Amundsen said.

The missions can range from preserving thousands of acres of wildlife habitat to protecting a cave used for spelunking, he said. But no matter what the scope, organizations benefit from strategic and careful planning. 

The land trusts that have formal plans conserved twice as much land as the land trusts that don’t have plans, Amundsen said. “There’s fairly ample evidence that these plans do help organizations become more effective, more efficient, and create more compelling materials for attracting donors for doing projects.” 

“I think there’s a real hunger out there for something that gives that big picture view in terms of a planning process.”