Longtime conservationist John Oliver recently became the first secretary of Pennsylvania's new Department of Conservation and Natural Resources after being confirmed by the state Senate Nov. 13. He had been acting secretary since Aug. 1.
While the Department of Environmental Protection is the state's lead agency for dealing with Chesapeake Bay issues, Gov. Tom Ridge said he had asked Oliver to be a "cooperating partner" in the Bay cleanup because "conservation and land management issues also are important to the Bay effort."
The two agencies were created by a breakup of the old Department of Environmental Resources approved by the General Assembly last year. The DEP is in charge of regulatory programs, while the DCNR oversees river conservation efforts, state parks, management of more than 2 million acres of state forest land, and other resource issues. Fish and game management continue to be handled by separate, independent agencies.
For 25 years, Oliver was associated with the Pittsburgh-based Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a private, nonprofit land conservation organization that has helped acquire more than 200,000 acres of wild lands and natural areas, including five state parks. He became president of the group in 1978.
Oliver met some opposition during his Senate confirmation when critics said he had supported excessive land purchases that robbed local communities of tax dollars and people of their homes. But his supporters said he was suited to the job because of his successful record in helping to protect large expanses of land for public use. He was confirmed on a vote of 42-2.
Oliver, who is 56, will oversee an agency with nearly 1,300 full-time and 1,400 seasonal employees and a $177 million budget.
After being confirmed, Oliver said he would move to protect fragile ecosystems in state parks and forests; promote recreation, education and economic opportunities; improve park and forest infrastructure facilities; promote conservation partnerships with urban and rural communities to protect greenways, open spaces, rail trails, river corridors and natural areas; and encourage tourism and economic development by promoting the state park and forest system.
The secretary is a graduate of Kenyon College in Ohio and holds a master's degree in government and political science from American University in Washington, D.C. He is a decorated Navy veteran of the Vietnam War.