Statement on the passing of WWF Founder and Chairman Emeritus Russell E. Train (1920-2012)

Russell E. Train, Founder Chairman Emeritus of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and one of the most influential and well-known leaders in American conservation, passed away Monday morning at the age of 92.

Train served as the first vice-president of WWF-US and directly guided the organization’s growth for nearly three decades, from its founding in 1961 as a small grant-making organization to a global conservation force with over 1 million members in the U.S. Train remained active on the WWF-US Board of Directors and within the larger conservation movement until his last days, urging legislators to put aside partisan issues and embrace conservation as the most fundamental of human concerns.

“Russ Train has long been one of my heroes,” said Carter S. Roberts, President & CEO, WWF-US. “A Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, the second administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, a founding director of World Wildlife Fund, architect of the modern conservation movement – Russ was a true national treasure and an inspiration to all of us who embrace conservation as their life’s work. He will be well remembered, and forever missed.”

A lifelong believer in the importance of providing local people with the capacity to manage their own natural resources, Train founded the African Wildlife Leadership Foundation in 1961; that same year World Wildlife Fund was founded and Train became the first vice-president of WWF-US. In 1965, Train became President of The Conservation Foundation, a small environmental think tank, and began to bring the issue of the environment to the American public’s consciousness, lobbying for a policy group at the highest level of the national government. In 1968, Train was selected by President-elect Richard M. Nixon to serve as Chairman of the Task Force on Environment. Train’s selection, and the creation of the task force, signaled the growing acceptance by the incoming administration of ‘environment’ as a public policy concept.

As environmental issues began to gain traction in the 1970, Train found himself at the center of the scene, first as Undersecretary of the Interior, and next as the first Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). While at CEQ, Train put environmental issues on the presidential agenda, helping to bring their importance to the American public. With Train’s encouragement, President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), his first official act of the new decade and one that set the stage for an extraordinary array of environmental initiatives, both domestic and international. Under Train’s leadership at CEQ, a proposal was added to the 1971 President’s Annual Message to Congress on the Environment recommending a World Heritage Trust. The following year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted a World Heritage Convention at its Stockholm Conference in June 1971. The World Heritage Trust program provides vital protection to 730 cultural and natural sites around the world, and builds on the American national park concept. Train is considered the father of UNESCO’s World Heritage program, having developed the concept and promoted its establishment.

Succeeding William Ruckelshaus as Administrator of the EPA from 1973 to 1977, Train was a major force behind environmental policy throughout the 1970’s, a decade in which a wide array of now- accepted environmental ideas and initiatives were born – ideas such as coastal zone management, national land-use policy, trading for sulfur dioxides, new rules on ocean dumping and environmental impact statements.

Train left government service to become president and later chairman of World Wildlife Fund (1978-1990), where he exerted an enormous influence on international conservation. Under his guidance, World Wildlife Fund expanded its focus from species conservation projects to protecting habitat by establishing national parks and nature reserves. The organization developed innovative financial mechanisms, including the concept of using developing country debt reduction to protect the global environment. Through these ‘debt for nature’ swaps, WWF converted portions of national debts into funding for conservation beginning in the mid-eighties. Train also grew the organization itself: when he became president of WWF-US in 1978, the organization had a staff of thirty and a budget of $2 million. Train expanded WWF’s mission and capabilities, hiring field staff and creating a science department. Under his guidance, the organization’s revenues increased 20-fold and membership grew to one million by 1990.

Through Train’s efforts, the WWF-administered J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize was developed, with awardees being honored in the White House Rose Garden by President Ronald Reagan, who called the prize “the Nobel Prize for Conservation.” Begun in 1974, the Getty Prize originally honored outstanding contributions to wildlife conservation and now focuses on the education of future conservationists.

In 1994, Train was elected Chairman Emeritus of WWF, and the organization launched the Russell E. Train Education for Nature Program (EFN) to help provide academic and mid-career training in conservation for future generations of conservation leaders in Africa, Asia and Latin America. To date, EFN has provided over 1,300 scholarships and grants to individuals and institutions in 45 countries. The program supports Train’s goal of educating local people to manage their own natural resources.

In 2003, Train published Politics, Pollution and Pandas: An Environmental Memoir. A chronicle of his career, the book is also a history of the birth and growth of U.S. national interest in environmental issues. In 2006, Train received the prestigious Heinz Award, honoring individuals who have made extraordinary achievements on issues of importance. Train was recognized as “a tireless advocate for the cause of the environment since 1961,” “the architect of an environmental agenda without parallel in history in its scope” and as a “truly outstanding example of how a single life can make a difference in the world.”