For the Forest joins forces with ACES

By Real Aspen
Real AspenDecember 27, 2011
The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) and For The Forest (FTF) announced today a strategic alliance in which FTF is joining and becoming part of ACES.

The decision brings together two of the valley’s most visible and active environmental groups. Under the agreement, which grew out of informal conversations between board members of the two organizations, the two nonprofits will combine forces under the umbrella of ACES, with ACES assuming FTF’s programming.

ACES was founded in 1968 by Elizabeth Paepcke, who envisioned a place that would provide a bridge back to nature for an increasingly urbanized society and provide a sanctuary for wildlife in the heart of Aspen. In 1969, she donated the 22-acre property behind her West End home for the development of an environmental center and preserve. Over the years, ACES has provided programs in ecology and the natural sciences for everyone from school children to community leaders and decision makers. In addition to its adult naturalist programs, ACES educational programs make some 30,000 contacts with students every school year.

For The Forest (FTF) was founded in 2008 to promote the health of local forests through stewardship, science and education. In its three years under the leadership of former Aspen mayor John Bennett, FTF has undertaken a variety of projects, such as supporting City/County efforts to safeguard forest health on Smuggler Mountain and the successful Hope Mine biochar restoration project to stabilize steep mine waste slopes above Castle Creek. Earlier this year, FTF organized a public symposium on climate change and forest health with Vice President Al Gore, Undersecretary of Agriculture Harris Sherman, Gov. Bill Ritter, Sen. Mark Udall, NPR’s Renee Montagne and leading scientists from around the nation.

Citing similar missions and common goals, Tom Cardamone, executive director of ACES, expressed his enthusiasm for the union: “For the Forest’s existing programs of forest stewardship and education fit well with ACES programs, including our school and naturalist programs. They will enhance our ability to educate the public about the importance of ecological restoration, and will augment our local projects as positive examples for the region and beyond.”

This news comes on the heels of an announcement that ACES is undertaking a search for a new executive director. In the meantime, ACES will operate under the interim co-direction of Tom Cardamone and John Bennett. Cardamone will transition into the role of chief ecologist, while Bennett will guide For the Forest’s integration with ACES in early 2012 and become a member of the ACES board of trustees after the transition is complete. Kate Holstein, FTF’s program director, will oversee FTF programs within ACES.

“Since ACES' work is building a community of informed, motivated, and capable environmental stewards, it's only natural that healthy, wild forest ecosystems, with all their elegant interdependencies, provide a model for ACES' organizational character,” said Cardamone.

Both organizations have long worked through alliances. For 43 years ACES has found vision, mission, and program alignment with schools, businesses, and other non-profit organizations, enhancing its effectiveness by embracing collaboration. For the Forest, too, has combined efforts with other organizations, including the City of Aspen, Pitkin County, ACES, Aspen Valley Land Trust, the Aspen Institute, CORE, the Flux Farm Foundation, and the U.S. Forest Service.

“Working with ACES on programs has brought us close together," Bennett said. "Tom has been a terrific collaborator in our forest preservation and education projects. We have tremendous respect for Tom and ACES, and look forward to making For the Forest programs part of what ACES does on an ongoing basis. This is exciting."

This is not the first effort of ACES to consolidate forces with other non-profits in the valley. Last spring, the ACES board approved the merger with Tomorrow’s Voices, a Carbondale-based organization focused upon collaboration with local schools to promote intelligent conversations about social justice and responsibility.

“Encouraged by the thoughtful advice of community leaders, and carefully considered through internal trustee-staff discussions, the ACES Board of Trustees has determined that our environmental education and stewardship goals are very closely aligned with For the Forest,” said Jeff Berkus, president of the ACES board. “Going forward, we will be able to engage with a broader audience and we will be capable of more effective fulfillment of ACES’ mission.”

Other nonprofit leaders in the valley have expressed their support for the merger.

“The effectiveness of nonprofits hinges on consolidation of efforts,” said Martha Cochran, executive director of Aspen Valley Land Trust. “Aspen Valley Land Trust’s merger with Western Colorado Agricultural Heritage Foundation is a great example and has let AVLT do more to further the mission of both organizations.”

“It’s great to see nonprofits combining forces rather than approaching their important work in isolation. In the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys, there are a plethora of nonprofits serving the needs of individuals and families," said Tamara Tormohlen, executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation. "Strategic and dedicated collaborative efforts are critical to the ability of our nonprofit sector to solve problems and create social change to ensure that our community is vibrant.”

"In this difficult economy it is high time two such successful environmental organizations walk to the alter hand in hand," said Bill Stirling, a former Aspen mayor and board member of ACES. "Our goals are in synch, and our efforts and resources should make a perfect marriage.  For the Forest's programs fit perfectly with ACES sites.  It just makes sense, as both groups are not only identifying the great challenges of our day but are actively seeking solutions."

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