During his tenure as New York Governor (1995-2006), Pataki advanced many cutting-edge policies in conservation. Pataki was instrumental in conserving important habitat across the state, was a vital advocate for cleaning up the Hudson River, and pushed for stricter environmental regulations and penalties. His successes include the protection of over one million acres of open space, the adoption of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the implementation of the nation's first green building tax credit, landmark brownfield cleanup legislation and programs to enhance the production and use of alternative energy.
Pataki also created the first in the Nation Bird Conservation Area (BCA) initiative, based on Audubon's Important Bird Areas program. This program uses scientific criteria to safeguard bird populations and manage their habitats. The Pataki administration designated 48 BCAs in the state, covering more than 50,000 acres.
"George Pataki will be remembered for many things, but for Audubon, he will be remember as the Governor who focused on protecting birds, other wildlife and their habitats, even in trying economic times," said Albert E. Caccese executive Director of Audubon New York. "We are proud to honor such a deserving, visionary leader for his legacy of conservation with the 2009 Thomas W. Keesee Award."
After leaving the Governorship, Pataki joined the law firm Chadbourne & Parke in their renewable energy practice. Pataki formed an environmental consulting firm with his former chief of staff John Cahill, and works with the Council on Foreign Relations on climate change issues. In 2007 the White House appointed Pataki as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations.
An avid bird watcher, Pataki emphasized that one must always "think not about the next election, but the next generation."
Peter Berle, President of the National Audubon Society from 1985-1995, died November 1, 2007, but his conservation legacy was honored in memoriam.
"Peter Berle led Audubon during an important time in the environmental movement," said Audubon CEO and President, John Flicker, who succeeded Berle in 1995. "Peter made sure our voice in Washington was strong during critical debates on legislation like the Clean Air Act and on important conservation programs like the national wetlands protection efforts."
In his own words, Berle wanted Audubon to be "an effective force for change." In 1991, Berle spearheaded the innovative renovation of Audubon House on 700 Broadway in New York, considered the first Green building in New York. "It was an opportunity to build a structure that would both save Audubon money and provide a model for others to replicate," Berle told TIME magazine. The trend continues with top LEED standards set by Audubon's new headquarters and several Audubon Centers.
Berle's passion for the outdoors coincided with the rise of the environmental movement in the early 1970s. A lawyer, he founded Berle, Butzel & Kass, one of the first firms in the country devoted to the new field of environmental law. As a member of the State Assembly, he played an important role in the passage of some of New York's earliest environmental laws. Governor Hugh Carey appointed him Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, where he was involved in the first regulatory actions at the Love Canal chemical dump at Niagara Falls, and where he took a stand against General Electric for polluting the Hudson River with PCBs. In addition to his efforts to save the Northern Spotted owl, Berle showed unwavering support for the California condor program. During the mid-1980s, when some protested the idea of developing a captive-breeding program, preferring to let the species go extinct "with dignity," Peter Berle supported the recovery effort. Today there are 301 condors in the world population, up from 23 in 1982.
After leaving Audubon, Berle was appointed by President Clinton to the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation, and hosted "The Environment Show,' a syndicated Public Radio program. Berle was also president of Sky Farm Productions Inc., which produced television programs about the environment. Accepting the Award for the Berle Family, Lila Berle fondly recalled her husband's great proactive nature, and urged all in the audience to take action on behalf of the environment.
Audubon President John Flicker announced that the Century Foundation, in cooperation with the National Audubon Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Law Section of the New York State Bar Association, and former colleagues of Peter Berle, have created a new award to recognize environmental integrity demonstrated by public officials and private citizens in the United States.
The Peter A. A. Berle Environmental Integrity Award will be given annually to up to two U.S. citizens who, through action or scholarship, provide innovative leadership in helping the United States and the world confront the challenges of climate change, renewable energy, depletion of the oceans, species extinction, air, water and soil contamination, and the urban environment. The winners will be selected by a panel that includes individuals from The Century Foundation as well as from the three leading environmental organizations that joined in announcing the award. The first award will be presented in Spring, 2009. Nominations for the award, which includes a prize of $2,000, must be in writing and should be submitted via e-mail on or before February 1, 2009, to "Berle Environmental Integrity Award" at BerleAward@tcf.org
Peter Berle was a member of the Board of Trustees of The Century Foundation from 1971 to 2007, serving as its chairman and treasurer during his tenure; was president of the National Audubon Society from 1984 to 1994; and worked closely throughout his career with both the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Audubon New York established the Keesee Award in 2001 to honor individuals whose contributions, talent and commitment to the environment have advanced conservation and environmental education. Previous recipients include Adrian Benepe, New York City Parks Commissioner, and Wendy Paulson, a leader in Audubon's For the Birds program.
The Awards luncheon will benefit Audubon New York's statewide programs, including work on two of the honorees legacies: habitat protection in the Adirondacks, and the Bird Conservation Areas program, modeled on Audubon's Important Bird area program.
Benefit Chairs include Margot Paul Ernst, Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff, and Virginia Stowe.
Audubon New York is dedicated to the protection of birds, other wildlife and their habitats through advocacy, science and education, serving as the state program of the National Audubon Society. www.ny.audubon.org
Read a profile of Governor Pataki in Audubon magazine
Read a tribute and obituaries of Peter Berle in the New York Times and LA Times.