After serving seven years as president of the Natural Lands Trust, Philip Wallis is leaving the post at the end of this year, the Media-based group announced last week.
"We have accomplished most of the goals that I established at the start of my tenure," Wallis, 45, said in a prepared statement. "Natural Lands Trust is well equipped to save much more land, particularly in the critical landscapes that we have identified in the region."
Wallis did not specify his plans following his departure from the trust, one of southeastern Pennsylvania's leading nonprofit conservation organizations, but explained that he sought new challenges in the field.
"It is healthy for any organization to get an infusion of fresh ideas and energy, and for me, as an individual, to do the same," he said. "The land and our relationship to it are vitally important to me and I look forward to finding new ways to have an impact on both."
A few of the region's other land management leaders recalled Wallis' strengths in the field, while also speculating on the qualities the trust might seek in its next president.
"He's passionate about his work," said David Shields, associate director of land stewardship for the Brandywine Conservancy. "And he loves dealing with people. He's definitely been good for conservation in this area."
In recent years, land planning experts have warned that preserving scattered islands of open space in the midst of developed land may not in the end amount to much of a contribution.
By adopting strategic planning to connect and integrate preserved land, as well as scientific methods to maintain it, Wallis "made the Natural Lands Trust live up to its name," Shields said. "They are not afraid of taking on the hard projects.
"I hope he stays local," Shields added. "We need him around here."
George Martin, vice president of the Pennsylvania League of Conservation Voters and a past president of the Green Valleys Association, also worked with Wallis during his tenure.
"I think the thing that most impressed me about Phil was, he was very effective in getting things done," Martin said. "It's not an impossible job, but (the trust) will have to do a lot of looking before they find someone that compares to Phil."
After Wallis, it'll be a big role to cast. "You definitely need a leader, a strong leader," said Sheri Evans-Stanton, director of the Brandywine Conservancy's Environmental Management Center. "Someone with a good, solid background in natural resources. And a team player, someone who's committed to working with other land trusts."
As regional approaches to land preservation gain currency, this is essential. "You can get better bang for the buck by working together with partners," Evans-Stanton said.
Martin added that a bit of business smarts would be required as well. "The one thing that is obvious to everyone is, the price of land has risen," he said. "Competition from developers has increased. It's a lot more difficult to preserve land now than it was even seven years ago."
Shields noted that there's a lot of heart in the job, too, motivating and representing not only oneself but also one's staff, public, lawmakers and landowners. "You have to have a passion for the (preservation) business. It's not a nine-to-five job... There's so much passion left in this region for the land.
"A lot of land trusts talk a good game, but don't get it done," he said. "Natural Lands Trust has made a name for itself by being a do-er."
At the Natural Lands Trust, members said, an internal and external search for its next leader will be conducted over the next six months.
Peter Hausmann, chairman of the board of trustees, expressed confidence in the trust's future.
"While it's tough to lose somebody with Phil's personality, the organization is very strong," he said. "Change can be invigorating for individuals and organizations. A change of energy can be good.
"I'm excited for the future, because I really believe we have depth ... and strength," Hausmann said. "I think we're well poised to do significant conservation in the future."
Founded in 1953, the Natural Lands Trust has helped to preserve more than 105,000 acres of undeveloped land in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. It owns and manages 45 nature preserves that total 15,000 acres.