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John has been working for forests since 1991. Early in his career he realized that the analytical tools and insights of economics were almost entirely missing from the conservation movement and were crucial for understanding the pressures on nature and the solutions most likely to succeed. In 1998 he founded Conservation Strategy Fund, a group that delivers innovative training and analytical collaborations for activists, governments, and development agencies. The organization has worked with the governments of Brazil, Indonesia, Peru, Bolivia, Uganda, Mexico, California, and others; with the World Bank, USAID, the Inter-American Development Bank, and UN agencies; and with hundreds of environmental and Indigenous organizations in over 90 countries. This practical applied brand of “conservation economics” won CSF the 2012 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Through it all, John got the greatest satisfaction teaching and mentoring emerging environmental leaders from around the world.

Stepping down after 18 years, in 2016 John took several months off to reflect—in the wild forests of the Amazon and Patagonia—on what to do next to help nature persist. One day he was sitting atop a granite dome overlooking the upper Rio Negro in Brazil, watching an electric  storm cruise west along the far bank of the river. Everything he could see to every horizon was forest. And all of it was under the formal stewardship of Indigenous communities. It hit home that 1. vibrant, diverse, enormous forests were still with us here on Earth, and 2. that there were stunning success stories of people keeping them intact.

It was also clear that economics, while strategically handy, was failing to appropriately value very big forests. It really could only see the value of their parts, often after disassembly. A new logic—or perhaps old wisdom—needed to guide the policies that would save our big places and planet in the process. Puzzling over these questions would eventually draw him into partnership with Tom Lovejoy, and to his current post with Nia Tero, an organization that supports Indigenous guardianship of vital ecosystems. John serves as Senior Economist and leads partnerships with several Indigenous peoples in the Brazil, Peru, and the US.

John’s previous writing on nature and economics has appeared in the New York Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Scientific American, Conservation Biology, the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications. He has a degree in English and Spanish from Amherst College and a Master in Public Policy from Harvard University.

To contact John, please write to johnreid64@gmail.com.

Lovejoy Cecropia leaf at Camp 41 taken by Slodoban Randjelovic July 2014 1


Tom’s first encounter with a large forest was when he arrived at Belem, Brazil, the port city of the Amazon, in June of 1965. The dreams he had of a PhD in East Africa were immediately and permanently eclipsed by the experience of being in the world’s largest tropical forest, which was the size of the contiguous 48 states. It was beyond a biologist’s wildest dreams, vast, brimming with biological diversity (a term yet to be coined) myriad indigenous peoples, and encompassing parts of eight countries.

Part of Tom’s role in conservation has been generating new ideas. He was the first to use the term “biological diversity,” in 1980. That year he produced the first projection of global extinctions for the Global 2000 Report to President Carter. Tom also developed the now ubiquitous “debt-for-nature” swap programs and led the Minimum Critical Size of Ecosystems project, a large-scale field experiment that’s been running for over 40 years, showing how forest fragmentation impacts plant and animal species, climate, and other aspects of ecosystems. With two co-edited books, Tom is credited with founding the field of climate change biology. He also founded Nature, the popular long-term series on public television.

Until his death in December 2021, Tom served as Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation and University Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University. Previously he held senior positions at the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment, the World Bank, Smithsonian Institution, and World Wildlife Fund. Tom served on science and environmental councils under the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations. He received his undergraduate and doctoral degrees in Biology from Yale University.