Hilary Harp Falk will serve as the next president and CEO of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation starting in January. Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has named Hilary Harp Falk to be its next president and CEO, starting in January.

The non profit foundation on Monday announced that its board has selected Falk to succeed William C. Baker, who plans to retire at the end of 2021. Baker began working for the foundation as an intern in 1976 and has been its President and CEO since 1981.

Falk comes to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) from the National Wildlife Federation, where she was its Chief Program Officer, leading and integrating all national and regional programs while serving as strategic advisor to the CEO.

Previously at the Wildlife Federation, Falk held the position of Vice President for Regional Conservation, where she was responsible for leading the organization’s seven regional offices with a focus on regional growth and strategic plan implementation.

She also served as the federation’s Regional Executive Director for the Mid-Atlantic and Director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, creating a coalition of more than 200 advocacy organizations working together to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay.

“Today, we stand at a crossroads for Bay restoration. Finishing the work of Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint by 2025 and leaving a restored Bay to our children and grandchildren is possible. But it is not certain,” Falk said in a statement. “I am humbled and honored to now be charged with leading this prestigious institution. Together, we will build a future that brings people together for clean water and a healthy Bay.”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been championing the science-based Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint to achieve pollution reductions necessary and ensure clean water for future generations.

Leaders say that the blueprint is working, that less pollution is entering local waterways and underwater dead zones are shrinking. But they also say the ecosystem remains “dangerously out of balance” and that significant challenges remain, including the perils of climate change and states that are behind schedule on much-needed pollution reductions.

Currently, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is suing the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency in federal court for not holding the states, particularly Pennsylvania, accountable for their clean water commitments.

“Hilary Falk is a proven leader,” Baker said in a statement. “She got her start at CBF over 20 years ago, but she has had Bay water in her veins from a much earlier age. Hilary has the experience and wisdom necessary to continue the work that CBF launched 55 years ago to save this national treasure. Enforcing the Clean Water Act and investing in the pollution-reduction practices that provide clean water and mitigate climate change will be paramount to CBF success going forward.”

According to the foundation, Falk is a champion for women’s leadership and advancing equity in the conservation movement. She was a 2016-2017 fellow with the International Women’s Forum and co-chaired the National Wildlife Federation’s Women in Conservation Leadership Advisory Council. Inside the National Wildlife Federation, Falk led the implementation of the organization’s foundational 2018 strategic plan and was an advocate for a more equitable and inclusive workplace.

“Strong leadership skills, a commitment to equity in the environmental movement, and a devotion to following the science to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay made Hilary Harp Falk the clear choice for leading CBF during this critical time,” said Elizabeth Oliver-Farrow, Chair of the CBF Board of Trustees. “I look forward to working with Hilary to achieve the goals we all share – abundant wildlife, clean water, and vibrant communities enjoying the benefits of a saved Bay.”

“Our national search looked at more than a hundred candidates,” said Harry S. Gruner, the foundation board member who headed the search committee. “Ms. Falk’s commitment and experience placed her head and shoulders above the other candidates.”

Falk’s father is David Harp, a well known photographer of the Chesapeake Bay and other natural settings. Falk began her career in environmental conservation as an intern with CBF in 1997. After graduating from Franklin and Marshall College in 2001, she returned to CBF and spent three years at CBF’s Port Isobel Island Education Center teaching students of all ages – children, teachers, farmers, and decision-makers – about the Bay and its ecologically sensitive island communities.

“My lifelong interest and commitment to conservation began by assisting my father, a professional photographer, on assignment. Although he took a diversity of photos, his favorite ones – and mine – were on the Chesapeake Bay trekking through soft shorelines and messing about in boats. I fell hard in love with the Bay at a young age and knew then that I would spend my life protecting the environment,” Falk said.

Falk lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with her husband and two children. Her first day on the job at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will be Jan. 3, 2022.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.