Biography - Josh First
Josh First is President and CEO of Appalachian Land & Conservation Services Co., LLC
Mr. First has served the environmental and conservation communities in a variety of capacities, and from his experience he has developed a unique, powerful, and pragmatic vision for conserving America’s open spaces. While completing his graduate studies in 1990, Mr. First worked with the US Army Corps of Engineers; his thesis was on the high sustainable economic value of Army Corps recreational water projects and contrasting low agency budgets.
From 1991 to 1998 he worked at the US EPA in Washington, DC, as a staffer and team leader. His primary focus was on national and international pesticide and agricultural policy, and environmental legislation. Much of the work involved classic risk-benefit analysis and working with the globe’s largest agricultural businesses.
In 1998, Mr. First left EPA to take an appointed position in the Tom Ridge administration in Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, where he served on the executive staff as Director of Environmental Education & Information, under legendary conservationist John C. Oliver III, the first secretary of PA DCNR.
In 2000, Mr. First was hired by two other legendary conservationists, Pat Noonan and John Turner. He opened the Pennsylvania office for the Conservation Fund and served as the group’s first Pennsylvania state director for three-and-a-half years. During his tenure at TCF he developed a national reputation for land conservation and leadership at the state level, and helped protect about 60,000 acres in Pennsylvania. Among his more notable accomplishments was the 12,000-acre Litke property acquisition and the creation of a 1,200-acre dedicated ATV recreation area on it in Centre County, the design and implementation of the 2,200-acre land protection plan for the United Air Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County, where he also led the negotiations for the acquisition of 800 acres from PBS Coals and a donation of 160 acres from Consol Energy that formed the foundation of the new national memorial, the acquisition of the last parcel of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg National Military Park (the “Home Sweet Home” motel), the acquisition of 500 acres and a mile of pristine shoreline on Lake Erie in partnership with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and Reliant Energy Co., and the acquisition of 9,300 acres from Philadelphia Suburban Water Co. in Cumberland and Northumberland counties. Mr. First led and assisted on many other land protection projects, and conducted several ground-breaking planning projects, including designing a land protection plan for 20,000 acres of power utility lands along the Lower Susquehanna River, conducting an assessment and mapping of all of Pennsylvania’s protected lands; Mr. First also designed a cutting-edge GIS land protection analysis and plan for Lancaster County in partnership with the Lancaster County Farmland Trust, and served as a founding member and vice-chairman of the highly successful Conestoga River Nutrient Credit Trading Project in Lancaster County. Mr. First also initiated the first Forest Legacy project in Pennsylvania, garnering $500,000 from the US Forest Service with PA DCNR to acquire a conservation easement on 540 acres owned by Glatfelter Paper Co. on the lower Susquehanna River.
From December 2002 to March 2003 First served on the Governor Ed Rendell Transition Team for Conservation and Natural Resources.
Josh First served as the project lead for two prominent Conservation Fund projects, both of which were described as “Gifts to the Nation” in the Fund’s 2003 Annual Report: The acquisition of 800 acres at the Flight 93 national memorial, and the acquisition with Western Pennsylvania Conservancy of the new 500-acre Erie Bluffs State Park on Lake Erie.
Mr. First left TCF in October 2003 and served as volunteer interim executive director for the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy for six months, while also continuing to serve on the board. While at CPC, he moved the office to a premier location in downtown Harrisburg, got the website up and running, wrote op-eds and garnered press with resulting memberships, wrote a PA DEP grant, designed the executive director position and advertised it nationally, and helped raise $100,000 for operating costs from the R.K. Mellon Foundation —critical funding to hire the full-time executive director. Mr. First served on the CPC board for over three years and was board secretary when he resigned in 2004 to found Pennsylvania’s first and only state-based, state-wide land trust, Penn’s Woods Conservation Trust (www.penns-woods.org), where he serves as board president.
Early in 2004, while serving at CPC, Mr. First began to implement the beginnings of Appalachian Land & Conservation Services Co., LLC, by purchasing a critical 100-acre inholding at Bald Eagle State Park in Centre County. By the spring of 2004, Appalachian was fully functional and engaged in active land protection, donating conservation easements to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and carbon credits from 350 acres it had acquired at Bald Eagle State Park to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, setting the stage for Pennsylvania’s first carbon credit transaction. The year of 2004 was spent acquiring land and developing leads on new acquisitions.
In early 2005 Mr. First was a volunteer with the non-profit conservation community and DCNR to promote a large environmental bond. As a businessman he championed the bond’s sustainable development potential. Later in 2005 he served as Treasurer for the Growing Greener II Campaign (technically the “Pennsylvania Conservation Campaign”), was a key member of the campaign committee and architect of the campaign, actively lobbied the Pennsylvania legislature for several months over the campaign, and successfully fundraised to support the effort. Growing Greener II created a $650 million environmental and conservation program.
Mr. First has served as a moderator and panelist (click here for an "Inside Out" TV intervew) and has spoken widely on environmental protection, land protection, and conservation abroad, in Pennsylvania, and at Land Trust Alliance rallies and many other conferences and press events around the nation. He has testified numerous times before the Pennsylvania Legislature on conservation issues. He is a member and officer of many conservation groups, including the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, Trout Unlimited, the Pennsylvania Wildlife Federation, and the National Rifle Association. He served a four-year term on the national board of directors of Republicans for Environmental Protection (www.repamerica.org), is a member of the Policy Council for 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, and from 2001 to 2009 was a member of the Policy Council for the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association. Mr. First is Coordinator of the Pennsylvania Habitat Alliance, which annually convenes the state-wide conservation, hunting, fishing, and natural resource non-profit organizations in Pennsylvania, including DCNR, PGC, and PFBC. He is also a past member of the Harrisburg Rotary Club.
Mr. First believes strongly in the power of private markets and in their ability to advance environmental quality. He enjoys hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, canoeing, and managing his own land for wildlife and native species.
(For a five-minute Summer 2006 TV report on Josh taking his oldest children hunting, click here; the download can take up to two minutes depending upon your connection speed) He is married to Vivian, an attorney; they have three children. He owns a certified Tree Farm and Stewardship Forest, and is a Cooperating Landowner with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Mr. First holds a BA in Political Science from Penn State and a MA in Government with emphasis on statistics and economics from Vanderbilt University. He is a graduate of Westtown School in Chester County, Pennsylvania.