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Roger Mangham, Arkansas State Director of The Nature Conservancy, Focuses on Collaboration

6 min read

Roger Mangham was named Arkansas state director of The Nature Conservancy on Feb. 13. He joined TNC Arkansas in June as director of external affairs and governmental relations. Before that, he spent 2½ years as deputy director of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. He previously served as TNC’s Alabama state director from 2016-2019.

Mangham earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry from Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas in 2000 and a master’s degree in biology from Texas A&M University in 2008.

What is the goal of The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas?

The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas (TNC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the lands and water on which all life depends. In Arkansas this impacts us in three places. First, it’s critical to maintain the forests that stitch our natural state together from south Arkansas to the Ozarks, providing rural communities with economic viability through timber, wildlife and recreational opportunities. Second, Arkansas is blessed with beautiful rivers and abundant groundwater. Rivers provide our drinking water, clean power and an indispensable foundation for our agricultural economies. It is critical that we conserve the state’s rivers for the long term. Third, people need access to nature. We invite everyone to be inspired by nature and to care about its well-being globally, which starts at home in Arkansas. We do this by providing accessible natural areas for people to enjoy hiking, paddling, biking or to reengage with nature. Take a walk in the forest, decompress under the trees, and discover something new at places like Rattlesnake Ridge Natural Area just west of Little Rock or Logan Springs Preserve in Siloam Springs. Arkansas is truly the natural state, not just because it’s a beautiful place, but because the natural resources we have in timber, agriculture and wildlife fuel the economy.

What do you hope to accomplish as director?

Because I’ve had the opportunity to work in other states and countries, I know firsthand that Arkansas is unique. For decades, the conservation community has worked closely together to build partnerships and do more collaboratively. One of my highest priorities is to maintain and deepen these public-private partnerships. It’s what we do best and what continues to produce big conservation wins. Second, we must continue working with large timberland owners to keep Arkansas’ forests forest. Our forests directly impact the quality of our water and air; it’s vital to our people and economy to utilize our timber resources sustainably. We must work together to keep our forests healthy and vibrant for future generations because the choices we make today will impact the viability of our forests for decades to come. Third, we must work with our agricultural communities to solve water quantity and quality issues. Agriculture is one of the leading industries in the state and feeds people globally. It depends on the availability and sustainability of water to be successful. And finally, I want people to get outside and be inspired by their natural surroundings. Compared to most urban centers nationally, Arkansas is truly blessed with breathtaking beauty that’s quickly accessible. Whether you love to ride bikes, hunt, hike, bird-watch, fish, rock climb, paddle or just smell fresh-cut grass — let’s get back outside in a meaningful way. Most importantly, let’s get our kids outside. Their outdoor experiences can truly be life-changing. What better way to inspire a new generation of conservationists in our young people!

Last year, The Nature Conservancy bought Blue Mountain, the westernmost peak in the Pinnacles chain. What is the goal there?

The goal with Blue Mountain Natural Area is to conserve an ecologically significant habitat while giving people another special place to hike, bike and be in nature. Thanks to close partners like the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC), Blue Mountain will increase access to nature for the growing urban communities in central Arkansas. We know access to the outdoors and recreation is increasingly important for recruitment and retention of employees, not just in Arkansas, but across the country. The ability to work remotely and the sophistication of technology make outdoor access more desirable for new recruits. TNC and ANHC have a great partnership to make the entire Maumelle Pinnacles landscape a unique conservation and recreation destination with incredible trails and a natural experience. Whether you are an outdoor newbie or an advanced outdoor enthusiast, you are going to love Blue Mountain and all it has to offer.

What other land deals are underway or being considered?

We are always exploring, as well as being presented with opportunities across the state to protect Arkansas’ special lands and waterways — just like Blue Mountain Natural Area. Stay tuned for more announcements, including Blue Mountain’s opening to the public in late spring 2023.

How does The Nature Conservancy work with businesses in Arkansas?

TNC is a conservation organization that takes a businesslike approach to the work, partnering with everyone to advance conservation. Rooted in science and research, TNC strives to build a world where people and nature thrive, recognizing the balance. By caring for lands and waters, our businesses and communities will have the opportunity to thrive. Businesses have always and continue to be important philanthropic partners in our work. Many companies are establishing their own goals for sustainability, which is exciting, and we appreciate being in conversation with them about how we can accomplish their stated conservation goals together.

How important is fire restoration in Arkansas and what challenges do you face in that project?

Arkansas was born of fire. Historically, millions of acres were burned by native people, giving us the forests we know and love today. Each year, TNC’s burn crews work with conservation partners like the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Arkansas Forestry Commission, U.S. Forest Service and private landowners to burn many thousands of acres, keeping them open and full of wildlife. Short-interval prescribed fires prevent large wildfires, so this is a winning strategy for nature and people. In the past 20-plus years we have educated close to 1,000 fire practitioners on how to properly manage controlled burns. Still, more prescribed fire is needed in Arkansas. We have strong partnerships that are working hard to scale such fires on private lands. We should be very proud that Arkansas is supportive of prescribed burning. There are operational challenges to expanding prescribed burning that can be addressed with additional financial investments and new technologies like fire drones. Additional state and federal policies that promote more prescribed burning in the state are welcomed.

How do you balance conservation and sustainability with business needs?

This one is simple for me. Sustainable use of natural resources is great for business. For example, earth elements like clean water and timber are extremely valuable, and Arkansas is rich in both. Soil health benefits crop yields, and reducing erosion benefits producers. This is conservation in action. The outcome is more productive agricultural lands, cleaner water, improvements in fish and wildlife habitat and better summer swimming holes. Arkansas’ natural assets are its economic base, so pragmatic and scalable conservation initiatives make good business sense, for both people and nature. We are lucky to live in Arkansas. Many places across the globe don’t have these enabling conditions, where conservation is so closely aligned with economic viability.

You previously worked for the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. How might the Conservancy partner with Game & Fish to meet its goals?

Since TNC’s inception, we have worked hand in hand with AGFC to add thousands of acres to wildlife management areas and partner on burning for wildlife habitat restoration. I’m so proud to have worked for AGFC and I would like to continue investing in more prescribed burning to benefit wildlife — like turkey and quail. The AGFC is working to expand fire efforts on private lands in focal landscapes and this is something in which TNC can partner and scale the work.

What has been a good leadership lesson that’s helped you?

  1. Don’t wait — move forward with your partners, relying on good intent and unwavering integrity.
  2. Forge deep, meaningful partnerships expanding well beyond the conservation space. For me, such bonds are forged in the field, at a farm or on a river, not in a boardroom.
  3. Understand the grind and embrace it.
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