For release Monday, June 14, 2021
NATIONAL WILDERNESS ADVOCATE AARON MAIR TO DIRECT ‘FOREVER ADIRONDACKS’ CAMPAIGN
TO PROTECT ADIRONDACK CLEAN WATER, JOBS & WILDERNESS
ALBANY, N.Y. – National wilderness advocate Aaron Mair will direct a new “Forever Adirondacks Campaign” as a staff member of the Adirondack Council, where he will lead an effort to bring new funding and policy changes to protect clean water, create new jobs and preserve wilderness.
“The Adirondacks are a national treasure, but are facing the threat of overcrowding, erosion of trails, and overdevelopment,” said Mair. “The Forever Adirondacks campaign will bring together a coalition of allies inside and outside the park, across the political spectrum, and from Buffalo to Brooklyn, all of us with the shared goal of preserving our waters, our wilderness and creating new jobs.”
Mair, of Schenectady, has long been active in local, regional and national environmental causes, working to preserve wilderness and curb climate change, among many other issues. In 2015, he was elected as the 57th President of the Sierra Club, serving as the organization’s top official on national and international environmental issues. He was the first African American to hold that post.
Retiring in June as a public health epidemiological spatial analyst for the NYS Dept. of Health, Mair had helped the state track, map and prevent the spread of infectious diseases. His retirement left him free to accept a full-time position as director for the Forever Adirondacks Campaign.
Mair has been an urban environmental pioneer against solid waste incineration in poor minority communities and an innovative environmental policy trailblazer.
Mair founded Albany’s Arbor Hill Environmental Justice Corporation, which was a member of the White House Council on Environmental Quality from 1998 to 2000. He also founded, served as board member, and lectured at Albany’s W. Haywood Burns Environmental Education Center.
“We are very pleased to have an opportunity to add Aaron to our growing team of advocates and conservationists,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “His talents and experience will make the Council a better organization and bring a fresh perspective to issues affecting the park.”
“Having grown up in the Hudson Valley, the Adirondacks were always part of my backyard,” said Mair. “My work for the health department and for the Sierra Club often took me to other parts of the state and the world. But the Adirondacks have always held a special place in my heart. I am very happy to be here, working to make the Adirondack Park a healthier and more vibrant place to live, work and play.”
“My plan is to work with park residents, state officials, federal officials, and other nationally known advocates and organizations to help bring attention to this national treasure’s need for clean water, new jobs and well-protected wilderness,” Mair said. “That means building the economies of the park’s 130 small communities to be more sustainable, year-round hubs for residents and visitors.
“It means maintaining healthy private forests and the long-term employment they provide, as well as creating new jobs providing clean water, installing and improving wastewater systems and preventing invasive species,” Mair explained. “It means buying new wilderness lands from willing sellers, but also taking care of the lands we already own and managing them to prevent overuse or a lack of fair access for all.”
While not well-represented among the park’s year-round population, people of color don’t need to be persuaded to protect the Adirondacks, Mair said, noting that New York’s Black and Latino voters always rank among the top supporters for Adirondack Park ecological protections and wilderness preservation in opinion polls.
“I also want to lead by example. I hope to inspire other African Americans and environmental activists of all ethnicities and backgrounds to see a place for themselves in this campaign and this great park,” he said. “The park was created for, and belongs to, everyone. Everyone should feel welcome and comfortable here. Everyone will need to trust that their children will be safe and happy here. That will give the Adirondack Park its greatest chance to succeed.”
Mair’s campaign drew strong support from many quarters.
“Aaron Mair has been at the forefront of the national movement for environmental justice,” said renowned environmental author, climate activist/expert and park resident Bill McKibben. “What good news that he is bringing his passion and expertise to bear on the six million acres inside the Blue Line, where I have no doubt he will make a tremendous difference!”
“Aaron Mair is a proven, national climate and Environmental Justice movement coalition-builder and leader — who has advised Congress and the White House — and whose skills are essential to protect the wilderness of regions of New York State and the nation.” Dr. Robert D. Bullard, Distinguished professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University and Co-chair of the Historically Black College and University Climate Change Consortium.
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “Aaron Mair is a pioneer of the Environmental Justice movement and a powerful force for fairness and equity. Throughout his long and storied career, he has proven himself as an environmental leader on the most pressing issues facing our planet and communities. Aaron has earned the trust, respect, and admiration of his colleagues and all those with whom he has worked—of all political stripes. I am fortunate to count him as a friend. I look forward to working with Aaron in his new capacity at this critical moment for nature, equity, and job creation.”
“I have been consistently very impressed with Aaron, and his national resume obviously speaks for itself,” said Bill Farber, Chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors. “I am intrigued by the prospect of Aaron joining the effort to strengthen Adirondack Communities. He obviously brings a perspective that changes the conversation away from some of the traditional Adirondack debates, and offers a fresh way of seeing both issues and interests. I welcome that and am prepared to work with him to strengthen the communities within the Adirondacks.”
“We look forward to the perspective and leadership Mair brings to the Forever Adirondacks campaign, focusing on clean water, working forests, wilderness preservation and sustainable communities,” said Donna Wadsworth, Communications Manager at International Paper’s Ticonderoga Mill.
“Aaron Mair is a respected national leader dedicated to environmental justice and activism,” said Lori Fisher, Lake Champlain Committee Executive Director. “We are excited that he will be working in our region to engage more people in protecting water quality and wilderness. We welcome him warmly and look forward to collaborating.”
“I have known and admired Aaron Mair’s commitment to communities and the environment. As Union Falls Pond resident and a lover of the Adirondacks, I wish to congratulate the Adirondack Council in its hiring of Mr. Mair,” said Wesley L. Holloway, Golub Corp/Price Chopper Supermarkets, VP of Diversity, Retired.
“Congratulations Adirondack Council on your hiring of Aaron Mair. Mr. Mair understands ecotourism and collaboration with private sector businesses like mine,” said Muhammad Ahmad, owner of the Frontier Town Gateway, which he is converting into a privately operated rest stop, restaurant and High Peaks Wilderness welcome center at Exit 29 of the Northway. “I look forward to being a ‘Forever Adirondacks’ partner and voice in shaping our unique Adirondack wilderness.”
“Aaron is a proven conservation leader and community builder, said Erin Crotty, NYS Commissioner of Environmental Conservation during the Pataki Administration. “Naturally collaborative and deeply committed to ensuring our natural resources are protected and accessible to all, I congratulate the Adirondack Council on bringing Aaron onto their team to elevate the Wilderness, Clean Water and Jobs discussion.”
“Congratulations to the Adirondack Council and Aaron Mair for launching the ‘Forever Adirondacks’ campaign to protect the irreplaceable resources of the Adirondacks, strengthen its local economies, and attract new visitors. This comprehensive initiative sets the stage for an Adirondack renewal and Aaron Mair, with his impressive and far-reaching career in environmental justice and health policy makes him an excellent choice to lead this effort,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of the Open Space Institute.
“The Adirondack Park has long been celebrated as a globally notable, if yet incomplete, melding of wilderness protection and local economic vitality. Having Aaron Mair leading the Forever Adirondacks campaign is wildly encouraging and will help advance work toward fundamental ecological justice, where everyone is welcome and all beings—people and our more-than-human kin—have freedom and opportunity to flourish,” said Tom Butler, Senior Fellow, Northeast Wilderness Trust.
“Aaron has a unique sense of purpose that transcends and is yet perfectly suited for the moment in which we find ourselves, where climate justice is being led by those of us who are disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities,” said Nicole Hylton-Patterson, Director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative. “I look forward to working closely with Aaron, as he charts a path forward, with the recognition that environmental justice IS racial justice.”
“Aaron Mair has collaborated with Scenic Hudson over the past several decades to defend and protect the Hudson River Valley ecosystems and communities from violations of the Clean Water Act and other state and federal laws,” said Ned Sullivan, President of Scenic Hudson. “I’m thrilled that the Adirondack Council has selected Aaron — one of New York’s most passionate and effective environmental leaders — to its excellent team of professionals to lead the Forever Adirondacks campaign. I am confident he will bring to bear his commitment to intersectional holistic community and wilderness protection. Scenic Hudson joins with organizations and communities — from Lake Tear of the Clouds to New York Harbor — in celebrating this wonderful addition to the Adirondack Council’s leadership team.“
“Aaron Mair has long been a national leader on environmental conservation and environmental justice, including as the first African American President of the Sierra Club,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “Aaron’s expertise in movement building will be an incredible resource for conservation, labor, climate and wilderness advocates in New York and beyond. The Sierra Club congratulates Mair on his new role and looks forward to continuing our work together to build a clean energy economy that works for all while protecting 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.”
“Sustainability is much more than healthy ecosystems. It includes the interdependence of regenerative economies, healthy communities, and the well-being of every individual,” said Heather Sullivan-Catlin, lead convener for the North Country Partnership for Environmental Action, Community, and Sustainability, co-chair of SUNY Potsdam’s President’s Sustainability Team. “With his incredible combination of expertise in public health, conservation, and environmental justice, Aaron Mair is perfectly poised to lead the ‘Forever Adirondacks’ campaign. After playing a role in establishing the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, I applaud the Adirondack Council on taking another important step for the future of the Park, our bioregion, and the world.”
Working in what would become the Environmental Justice movement in 1987, Mair’s leadership led to the 1994 national Executive Order 12898 – Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.
Mair was tapped in the mid-1990s by Governor George Pataki and the Rockefeller Brothers Family Fund in an effort that brought diverse stakeholders together to bridge differences, arrive at consensus between business and environmental groups to create New York’s Brownfields policy and regulations for the reuse of abandoned contaminated commercial sites. He was an active Sierra Club leader in the 1996 grassroots environmental voter-support effort that led to passage of the $1.75-billion Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act that fueled NYS’s open space preservation, funding for many communities to update wastewater and sewers, close landfills and many other critical environmental protection projects around the state.
1n 1998, Aaron was one of the first environmental leaders tapped by DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty to assist NYS, corporations and others in the first Environmental Justice working group. This led to the 2003 Commissioner’s Policy 29 on “Environmental Justice and Permitting.”
Since 1999, Mair has held many leadership positions with the Sierra Club: National Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Chair 2010–present; National Diversity Council 2008-2010. Atlantic Chapter: Environmental Justice 2003-2004; Chapter Chair 2002-2003. Hudson Mohawk Group: International Human Rights/Environment 2003–present; Environmental Justice 2002-2008; Wilderness, Water Quality/Habitats 2006-2011.
He is a graduate of Binghamton University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in History and Sociology and a certificate in Southwest Asia and North Africa Studies. Aaron also received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for his international work on climate at the Paris Climate summit from Binghamton in 2018. Mair also trained at Rhode Island’s Naval Education and Training Center and attended The American University in Cairo. He participated in Binghamton University’s Political Science Doctoral Program but left the program to begin State service in 1988.
In 1995, Mair founded the Arbor Hill Environmental Justice Corporation, which was a member of the White House Council on Environmental Quality from 1998 to 2000. He also founded, served as a board member, and lectured at the W. Haywood Burns Environmental Education Center in the Albany Capital region of New York. In 1999, Mair was a member of Friends of Clean Hudson. In 2000, Mair received an EPA Environmental Quality Award for cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the Hudson River. Mair also served as a board member at the New York League of Conservation Voters in 2000.
He has served as a commissioner for New York State Albany Pine Bush Preserve, Albany; holds a seat with the NY League of Conservation Voters Capital District board and hosts a weekly public affairs program on five radio stations operated by Albany Broadcasting in Latham.
The Forever Adirondacks campaign believes the Adirondack Park is home to irreplaceable wildlife and natural places that should be managed and enjoyed responsibly; Adirondack trees and forests filter our water and air, so we have clean water to drink, clean air to breathe; and the Adirondack Park needs investment to upgrade green infrastructure, put people to work, and foster more vibrant communities. In sum, New York’s Adirondack Park is a national treasure we must preserve now and for future generations.
John Sheehan, Adirondack Council, 518-441-1340
Photo Credit: Aaron Mair at Brant Lake in 2021, by Nancie Battaglia.