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Ron Nargang: Critical Collaborator Award Recipient

April 4th, 2017

Ron Nargang is one of two recipients of the Critical Collaborator award, recognizing an individual over the age of 50 who has used partnership and collaboration to achieve positive and lasting environmental outcomes. At the time of his retirement, Ron Nargang was the State Director for the Minnesota Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), but he’s also held high level positions at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

He also has extensive experience in the formulation, passage, and implementation of public policy initiatives, playing a key role in the Reinvest In Minnesota Program, Wetlands Conservation Act, and Groundwater Protection Act. You can read more about his professional career on our awards page. We hope you join us in honoring Ron at the 25th Anniversary Environmental Initiative Awards ceremony on Thursday, May 25. Purchase your tables and/or seats today »

We have two Critical Collaborator recipients this year, and I got to sit down with them both and talk about their career, passions, and get their advice for those currently working on environmental issues.

SITTING DOWN WITH RON NARGANG

Where do you see the most opportunity for collaborative action on the environment in Minnesota?

This has got to be a difficult time for anyone in the trenches doing this work right now, particularly those trying to do things collaboratively.

I guess I would be inclined to say, in this environment, to look at things that are very provable by science so that you can get truth on the table. Focus on things that are compelling—like any issues related to public health or to water. I certainly think water continues to be an issue that people understand and have a pure concern about because it’s so inherently essential to all of us and everything we do. I’d be looking for something like that that doesn’t have as much gray area associated with it like some of the other environmental issues do.

You’ve been involved with Environmental Initiative for a long time, and your legacy has shaped the way we work and what we value. What made you invest so much of your time into this organization?

I’ve operated on a collaborative basis my whole career, and it was kind of refreshing to find an organization that really built their entire purpose around collaboration and cooperation between parties that are often adversarial. The business community and environmental community, and regulators. I think Environmental Initiative is unique in that respect. There may be a lot of other organizations that have warm fuzzy words built into their mission and philosophies, but I just think that Environmental Initiative distinguishes itself by being totally committed to collaboration. It’s refreshing and proved to be quite successful. It was easy.

What success are you most proud of in your career? Why? 

It would be really tough for me to answer anything but the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge for a whole lot of reasons. It was a tremendous resource management opportunity but it happened to be set in the middle of a place that was hard for conservation—politically. It was intimidating from a cost standpoint because you just didn’t have an individual that was standing there with a deep enough pocket to say, “We’ll take this thing on.” It took some creative approaches to generate operating dollars and restoration money and while still recovering costs so that organizations could put money back into other projects.

During the Bush Administration, this was the only National Wildlife Refuge created administratively— I think Congress may have created a couple of small ones. Getting done with that and being able to sit down with county commissioners, local farmers, environmentalists, agency staff… having everybody feeling good about something like that… and using it as an economic development opportunity for the whole area… that one feels really good to me. Read more about Glacial Ridge here »

What advice would you give those currently working in the environmental sector? 

Train for endurance. I think it’s going to be a bumpy ride. This is not unusual—we’ve seen ebb and flow on environmental issues all through the last few decades. We’ve seen high points with the passage of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, and we’ve seen low points. I think it’s going to be a rough patch for a while. I think the best advice is to keep the faith, cling to the science, and present it as the truth. Keep selling that— that we need to deal with truth on these issues and not let emotions and hearsay dictate what happens.

Your favorite Environmental Initiative memory…

As I thought about it, it’s not one specific event but it’s something that I always watched for and marveled at while doing stakeholder processes. It was to see the emergence of who the leaders were going to be in each one of those processes because every single time, when you’ve got a successful one, it’s because out of the group around that table, somebody steps up and moves the rest. It’s a powerful moment to watch that happen in a group, and I never could predict who might be the one, but it was always such a joy to watch it happen. You could literally see in a matter of moments a transformation in a process and suddenly you’re headed down a different road.

A good example would be the Mercury Reduction Project. It was rough, and the industries weren’t too anxious, particularly the mining industry. But, Xcel Energy stepped up and they laid out what they were going to commit— and then demanded that others do the same. You had to kind of wonder, have they got the gravitas to pull this off? But the way it was presented, the people presenting it, the tension in the room… it was successful. That was the turning point in that process.

There’s always that sort of profound moment that happens, and as I thought back on it, those were the things that tickled me! You knew you had a good one when it happened, and you were going to get a good outcome.


A note from Environmental Initiative
In honor of our 25th Anniversary, we’re taking the time to acknowledge those who’ve been essential and influential in Minnesota’s environmental community. In addition to celebrating outstanding projects, we’re also recognizing the leaders that have helped us get to this point, and those that will continue to improve our community.

Damian Goebel

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Communications Director

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