Natural Lands has announced that effective January 1, 2019, Oliver Bass will become its next president. Bass, currently vice president of communications and engagement, succeeds Molly Morrison, who will retire at the end of the year after a 14-year tenure in the role.
“We undertook a rigorous, six-month, national search and selection process managed by the Boston-based firm Isaacson-Miller,” said Peter Hausmann, chairman of the board of trustees and the search committee. “Oliver distinguished himself as the candidate best suited to steward Natural Lands’ vision, culture, strategic direction, and record of success. The search committee was unanimous in its enthusiasm for his leadership and confident in his ability to take the reins from Molly—with whom he has worked closely for nearly two decades—to guide us into the future.”
“While we can take immense pride in our past accomplishments,” continued Hausmann, “to remain relevant, Natural Lands’ future—which will continue to emphasize the organization’s traditional strengths in saving open space, caring for nature, and connecting people to the outdoors—must incorporate new audiences and expanded definitions of conservation. Since he joined the staff in the late 1990s, Oliver has been at the heart of Natural Lands’ efforts to open doors to nature engagement. He will continue to make it an organizational priority.”
Bass has worked at Natural Lands for 21 years, the last seven as vice president of communications and engagement, a position created to bring greater emphasis to the organization’s evolving efforts to connect more people to the outdoors through its regional network of nature preserves. Bass took an entrepreneurial approach to his role: establishing a new department, greatly expanding participation in public programs and volunteerism, elevating the organization’s public profile, and launching a new initiative to improve equitable access to green spaces in underserved communities of our region’s suburbs. As a result, visitation to preserves has grown by 220% to 120,000 people a year; more than 100 programs each year are attracting 5,000 participants; the Force of Nature® program has graduated 200 volunteers; and overall volunteer participation has doubled to more than 5,000 hours annually.
“As a member of the board of trustees, I have admired and appreciated the artful and strategic manner in which Oliver builds constituencies and partnerships for conservation in our region,” said Jane Pepper, former president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and a member of the search committee. “Working with partners, he initiated a highly collaborative, public-private effort to revitalize parks and program outdoor spaces in Coatesville. He has also developed the Powered by Nature education program that is providing an innovative outdoor education experience for all 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in Pottstown School District. In these and many other areas, Oliver has earned and enjoyed the respect of others, which reflects well on him and on Natural Lands.”
“I could not be more thrilled that Oliver has been selected as Natural Lands’ next president,” added current president Molly Morrison. “As a member of the senior management team, he has been intimately involved in organizational policy setting, financial and operational management, and staff development. His specific guidance in evolving the organization’s strategic approach to connecting people to the outdoors and to engaging younger and more diverse audiences is positioning Natural Lands well to serve the region into the future. He is a perfect fit for our staff of 80-plus, whose esteem and support he has as he steps into his new role.”
Bass takes the reins at Natural Lands during a period of remarkable growth. Over the last decade, the organization has preserved permanently more than 32,000 acres of open space in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. This includes landmark additions to its network of 44 nature preserves such as the 1,282-acre ChesLen Preserve in Chester County; the 3,565-acre Bear Creek Preserve in Lackawanna County; Natural Lands’ first Berks County property, the 201-acre Green Hills Preserve; and the organizations’ first public garden, Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden in Montgomery County. Having successfully preserved the entire 1,505-acre Bryn Coed Farms in Chester Springs, Chester County, in 2017, Natural Lands is poised to open its new 520-acre Bryn Coed Preserve later this year.
“Natural Lands is an exceptionally effective and successful organization with a seasoned senior management team, a nationally regarded staff, a knowledgeable and engaged Board of Trustees, and a loyal and dedicated base of supporters and volunteers,” said Bass. “I am honored and humbled to have been given the opportunity to serve as Natural Lands’ next president.”
Bass, who grew up in rural east Texas, graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Early in his career, he held fundraising positions with West Virginia Public Radio and WXPN-FM public radio in Philadelphia. He spent five years working in the performing arts community in Philadelphia prior to coming to Natural Lands.
“Growing up, I spent much of my youth outdoors,” said Bass. “The east Texas forests of yellow pine were my backyard and the large wooded lot next to our house was my playground. My friends and I had the freedom to explore the nearby creeks, climb trees, build forts, and get dirty. Nature became a place of play, discovery, and joy. Natural Lands has afforded me the opportunity to invest my career in providing places where others can have the same chance to enjoy and learn from nature.”
“Our mission—to save open space, care for nature, and connect people to the outdoors—has a tangible and permanent impact on the environmental, economic, and social health of our region,” Bass continued. “There is nothing I can imagine to be more fulfilling than working alongside the Board and my remarkable colleagues to extend these benefits to even more of the region’s communities.”