Land Trust of Santa Cruz County announces new executive director

Land Trust of Santa Cruz County announces new executive director

SANTA CRUZ — The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County announced this week that Felton resident Sarah Newkirk will lead the organization as its new executive director effective Aug. 9.

Newkirk comes to the land trust with decades of experience in climate change and conservation work, as well as litigation. Previously, she worked on sea level rise and wildfire impacts with the Nature Conservancy.

She succeeds Stephen Slade, who retired this year after leading the land trust for 15 years.

“My vision for the future with the land trust is a reginal conservation leader that acquires and uses conservation assets to solve the community’s biggest problems — like climate change and the housing crisis — but also delivers benefits the community values the most, like open space, wildlife conservation and recreation,” Newkirk said.

On the scarcity of affordable housing, Newkirk said the land trust and other conservation groups must collaborate.

“Conservation groups cant stand in conflict of that … housing and conservation can exist side by side, in order for that to happen we need to plan side by side,” she said.

Under her leadership, Newkirk said she also wants to see careful, prescribed fire used more often throughout the Santa Cruz region.

“Our natural environment, and most places, are very adapted to fire, it’s really our human communities that are not,” Newkirk said. “We need to promote, in the redwood forest and in Santa Cruz County, more low intensity fires.”

The Felton resident also wants to bring her experience working on wildfire adaptation to the land trust.

“My family had to evacuate last summer and there’s nothing quite like your child tearfully telling you he hopes his home doesn’t burn down,” Newkirk said.

In the executive director role, Newkirk will work on the Nature Connection Campaign, which aims to raise a collective $41 million in donations and grants to fund trail building through the San Vicente Redwoods. The organization also plans to put those funds toward conservation efforts at Rocks Ranch, a 2,700 acre property that straddles San Benito and Monterey counties.

Newkirk, who holds a law degree from Pace University and a master’s in marine environmental science, worked on various climate change programs with the Nature Conservancy for 16 years. In that role she worked to establish open space buffers in communities vulnerable to sea level rise and wildfire. She hopes to bring similar strategies to the Santa Cruz area.

“I’m so excited to bring that knowledge to the ground, to this place that I care about more than any other place in the world,” Newkirk said.

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