Alexander "Alex" Brash, an 18-year resident of Riverside, has been tapped as the new president of the Connecticut Audubon Society, one of the oldest organizations in the state, dating from 1898. From its Fairfield headquarters, Brash will oversee the organization's five nature centers across the state, its environmental education initiatives, conservation-driven advocacy campaigns, and its 19 nature preserves.
Brash paused briefly on his Riverside porch between trips to Fairfield to address his new position, which officially begins Sept. 9.
"It's an opportunity," he says, "to step into a organization that has been around 100 years or more, that has a great lens on the world, looking at the world with an eye on birds as a metaphor for a whole lot of issues -- the environment, education, and science -- and it is poised for a great leap forward in playing a role in the state."
Ralph Wood, the society's board chairman cited Brash as "a very articulate and forward-looking person, " who had beat out up to a dozen candidates. "It came down to a horse race between two candidates," Wood said. "Brash offered more fundraising experience. He shows well with what he's done in his career."
Brash described his new job has combining his passions, "my avocation and vocation," he says. "Since I was 10 years old I've had a passion about birds. I was looking for owls. By ninth grade I knew what I wanted to do."
So, first it was the World Wildlife Fund, then the Nature Conservancy before he took on New York City's Parks Department, then graduated to senior director of the northeast region of the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit that works to protect and support the national parks.
Brash intends to bring his expertise for raising the ante on the care and conservation of the nation's national parks to the state's varied landscape.
"Connecticut has great areas of these unique habitats -- the mid-altitude coniferous forests of the northwestern part of the state, the sphagnum bogs on the northern part of the state, to the great river valleys of the Saugatuck River, the salt marshes of Branford and Hammonasset, to the unique offshore islands like Falkner Island off Guilford and Great Captains Island off Greenwich.
"Connecticut Audubon should take the lead, to preserve and restore these habitats to the best of its ability."
He said he holds a "deep belief in the public trust to leave the land as good as we got it. It's an obligation to ensure it for our children and their children.
"What's exciting about working in Connecticut, is Connecticut has a great ornithological history. We have great ornithologists, Noble Proctor and Roger Tory Peterson and David Sibley. Humans have always loved birds. And birds have enlightened humans before we ever realized that birds are a great mirror of our societies."
Two species of birds he noted that have disappeared from the state are salt marsh sparrows and seaside sparrows. "They've declined as we have lost the salt marshes," he said. "The salt marshes are critical for water sources and for birds.
"Birds play a major role as indicators. They can be very helpful to show the toxic issues of water and air such as pesticides that Rachel Carson so famously described in her book `Silent Spring.' Air pollution coming from acid rain impacts the forest." So habitat is his concern along with air and water quality.
Brash outlined what he sees as his mandate as CAS president.
"The CAS organization has an historic mandate in three areas. The first is experiential educational programs that are offered to school kids in all five of our nature centers," he said. "We are using nature as a way to teach science and math. This is the best educational program. We are expanding this. We need to educate the entire student body in the State of Connecticut about sustainability and environmental issues.
"Secondly, we have 20 great preserves including Trailwood -- the house of Pulitizer Prize-winning Edwin Teale up by Pomfret. We work with land trusts on wildlife policies, in efforts to string together land trusts and nature preserves for opportunities to conserve open space. We need to pull together with partners in the state, with the different land owners and NGOs, look at all the pieces together and combine our skill sets on regional planning, on open space use.
"The third is advocacy. We seek to be a leader in the state. Connecticut is a progressive state and we can identify the best sustainable policies and move them up on the agenda. We can prioritize a couple of those policies and take advantage of our leverages, align them and drive those policies forward. Connecticut is a microcosm for truly bringing together a whole set of issues that represent how birds and Connecticut Audubon can work together in a new world."
Brash took a moment to differentiate his CAS organization with the three National Audubon Society centers in the state, located in Greenwich, Sharon and Bend of the River.
"National Audubon pulled most of the Audubon centers together to build a network across the country," he said, "but CAS chose to stay independent. Any support that goes to CAS stays in the state." Massachusetts Audubon and New York City Audubon he noted are also similarly independent of National Audubon.
One other aspect of Brash's new job that will give him particular pleasure is overseeing its EcoTravel program based in Essex.
"I'm looking forward to doing more birding trips," he said. "I once spent three years studying a very small warbler -- the common yellowthroat."