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Ann Van Leer’s experience steers Conservancy’s mission

Ann Van Leer’s experience steers Conservancy’s mission

If you ask Ann Van Leer what she does as executive director of The Escondido Creek Conservancy, she’ll tell you – what needs to be done.

Some days it might mean reviewing contracts, writing or editing grants, meeting with a funder or preparing for a board or committee meeting. Other days you might find her out at the site of the Conservancy’s new office, Boulder Outlook, helping board member Kevin Barnard move sheets of roofing. A favorite activity is helping the land team pull weeds, remove trash, or help restore damaged land.

Ann finds it very satisfying to see progress associated with physical activity as a lot of her working day is tied to the desk and computer screen and takes years to accomplish, such as helping the Conservancy purchase conservation land, or working to secure funding for outdoor education. A licensed real estate broker, Ann has helped the Conservancy purchase over XX conservation acres during the past 10 years.

It is the land that brought her to this work. In grade school, her first job was feeding horses and picking up horse poo at a barn adjacent to the community of Isla Vista where she grew up. In exchange for her services, seven days a week, before and after school, she got $20 month and riding opportunities. It was through riding that she learned to love the land and the outdoors.

“When you are horseback, you have time to let your mind wander across the landscape. I was gifted with many extraordinary experiences while riding, observing wildlife in their natural surroundings,” says Ann.

Growing up, she was exposed to people at all income levels and walks of life who committed themselves to making change in their community.

“I’ve always felt an obligation to the planet, its corny but the idea that our purpose on this Earth is to make things better is in my DNA,” says Ann.

Her journey led her to get a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Barbara, the first in her family to complete college. After college, she knew she wanted to gain greater exposure to the world and set out on a cross country trip to Washington, D.C. with her bicycle and an idea she would work in Congress. A few waitressing jobs later, she began a low-level job with a member of Congress, later becoming a legislative director and working on the Appropriations Committee.

While she covered many different issues, her first love was environmental policy. After six years in D.C., including environmental policy work with a state government, she got the itch again to explore, and headed to the London School of Economics for a master’s degree. Living in London and meeting students from all over the world was an opportunity to learn many perspectives. She especially liked living in London as it is filled with parks and natural green space but still a dense and walkable city.

“In southern California it’s easy to think of cities as places of sprawl and concrete and nature as elsewhere. Our goal should be to have dynamic cities that include nature for people and places where wildlife will always thrive,” says Ann.

Her journey to San Diego County after grad school was influenced by her sister Gayle, who had settled here. San Diego County seemed a place where people cared about environmental protection and land preservation.

After yet a few more waitressing jobs, Ann began working in local government, doing many things but always with an interest in environmental policy. Around the time she got married and had a daughter, she knew it was time to exit government work and make her passion for land protection her job. She met the Conservancy when she brokered a land transaction for them, later the board asked her to both broker land deals and serve as the Conservancy’s executive director.

“The executive director role is really a little of everything, it’s both implementing big ideas and making sure the small details aren’t missed,” Ann said. “Having worked in big, complex organizations, I’m very appreciative that the Conservancy’s board has a big vision and a willingness to take risks.”