Stronger for the Effort: CEO Ashley Boren on Success & Opportunities Ahead

January’s here – and almost gone! This month, we sat down with Chief Executive Officer Ashley Boren to get her thoughts on 2020 and what’s in store for Sustainable Conservation in the year ahead.

What are you proudest of that Sustainable Conservation accomplished last year?

I’m proud of lots of things we accomplished – first and foremost, that we’ve been able to help keep our staff healthy and supported during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization is strong, possibly stronger than ever. Everyone really came together. I’m also proud that we not only completed our manure SDI project, but that it was recognized by the state and national dairy industries for the fantastic technology that it is and the environmental benefits it provides. Over the past six years, our team and partners worked hard to craft technology that puts dairy waste to good use and protects the environment.

It’s a great success story, and we have 28 farmers who’ve signed up to install the system. This bodes well for the long-term environmental benefits this system delivers in terms of water quality and greenhouse gas reductions. That’s what our work is all about.


Ashley Boren, John Cardoza and Ryan Flaherty share our deep gratitude at last year’s California Dairy Summit.

What’s our biggest challenge in California, and is there an opportunity for Sustainable Conservation to make lasting change?

One of the biggest challenges is how complex and integrated both our natural and institutional systems are. There are never any quick, easy fixes. Real solutions require coordination, communication and finding common ground with a lot of different people and communities. It also looks like it is going to be another dry year, and when it’s dry in California, divisions become more pronounced. The benefit here is that those divisions are easier to see, but co-creating solutions does become harder when it’s clearer just how much is at stake.

Our biggest opportunity is that we’re well set up at Sustainable Conservation to get people to the table and keep them there, and our track record shows it. From our Brake Pad Partnership to PlantRight to our great SDI success with the dairy industry. A solution to a complex problem often requires a long-term vision and deep buy-in from many stakeholders. That’s really the only way forward, and we’ve refined this approach over almost 30 years now.

Restoration needs to happen now, not years from now, to protect and rejuvenate critical habitat and combat climate change.

What are you most looking forward to this year?

I’m very enthusiastic about the work we’re doing to ensure our regulatory system is encouraging restoration, which is badly needed. This year, we’re going to complete two major, statewide programmatic pathways for restoration with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the California State Water Quality Control Board. These projects have been years in the making. They’re going to make a huge difference for people who work on restoration projects, for folks who’ve been considering them but who may have hesitated and for the health of our aquatic ecosystems and the species that depend on them.

We’re particularly optimistic because the Newsom Administration also wants to accelerate restoration, as evidenced by Secretary Crowfoot’s and the California Landscape Stewardship Network’s Cutting Green Tape recommendations, which aim to get more beneficial restoration on the ground more quickly. The expedited permit pathways we are working on are one way to help restorationists do this critical work.

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