University of Vermont

Heather (Hibbard) Furman Named Director of VT Chapter of The Nature Conservancy

Graduate alum profile

Heather (Hibbard) Furman is now state director of the Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
Heather (Hibbard) Furman is now state director of the Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

Heather (Hibbard) Furman (NRP ’02) was named State Director of the Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in July 2013.  Most recently executive director of Stowe Land Trust in Vermont, Heather brings nearly twenty years of experience in land conservation and nonprofit leadership and development to TNC.

Prior to her ten-year term with Stowe Land Trust, Heather worked in watershed planning with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and later, in transportation and land use planning with the Vermont Agency of Transportation. She has also conducted conservation initiatives for the World Wildlife Fund and the U.S. Peace Corps in the Nepal Himalaya where she lived for three years. 

She is co-founder of the Climbing Resource Access Group of Vermont (CRAG-VT), a nonprofit dedicated to preserving land in Vermont for climbing and recreation access and habitat.  She served as its board president for six years and remains an honorary director.  At the national level, she helped to protect land for recreation access through the Access Fund, a climbing advocacy organization for which she served as vice president and played a key role in a multi-million dollar capital campaign to raise funds for land conservation priorities around the country.

For her UVM master’s thesis, “Nature, Community and Decentralized Planning: Creating Place in the White River Watershed,” Heather worked closely with her advisor Associate Professor Clare Ginger, her thesis committee members Professor Stephanie Kaza and Associate Professor Luis Vivanco, and the White River Partnership (WHP). WHP is a community-based nonprofit bringing together local citizens and communities to improve the long-term health of the White River and its watershed in central Vermont. Heather studied cultural perceptions of local planning and how a planning organization interacts with local communities.

“I learned how decisions get made at the community level and the mechanisms through which public engagement happens.  My thesis focused on ‘sense of place,’ looking at community from a watershed perspective and at the watershed from the communities’ perspectives.  Much of what I learned, I still use today,” she acknowledges.  “All nonprofits desire to touch people’s lives through community involvement, and to do that they have to focus on what is most meaningful to people.”

During her tenure with Stowe Land Trust, the organization certainly touched lives in the Stowe community.  Heather notes that she was fortunate to take the reins of the land trust at its 15-year point when the organization had a solid foundation of funding and participation. Heather built upon that foundation, contributed to the conservation of several properties in and around Stowe, and advanced the professionalism of the organization to its 25th anniversary.

Her most rewarding project was the conservation of Cady Hill Forest that comprised a 260-acre wooded ridgeline above Stowe village and includes eleven miles of mountain biking trails.  Beginning in May 2011, the Stowe and Waterbury communities, with strong support from a prominent population of mountain biking enthusiasts, came together in a proactive effort to protect the land from potential future development and, at the same time, enhance recreation and tourism in the area.

“The response was astounding,” recalls Heather.  “The project struck a chord with the Stowe and Waterbury communities in the aftermath of devastation from Hurricane Irene. Local businesses jumped on board, donating ten percent of their proceeds to the Cady Hill project.  Together, the towns and the State of Vermont invested heavily in the 1.5 million dollar project.”

Guided by Heather, Stowe Land Trust, alone, raised over $800,000 in private funding in just four months.  By May 2012, the property was conserved and is now owned by the Town of Stowe (Stowe Land Trust retains a conservation easement).

In her new position at the TNC office in Montpelier, Vermont, Heather oversees the Vermont chapter and acts as liaison to the national TNC office in Arlington, Virginia and to other regional chapters.  She works with chapter staff on conservation issues, fund-raising, government relations, and communications.

“A 3800-person, nonprofit organization in 35 countries, TNC has a tremendous, 50-year history in Vermont of protecting land,” Heather says.  “I’m learning every day about the special places that TNC has helped to preserve.”  She recently discovered that TNC originally purchased and protected land that enhanced Kingsland Bay State Park in Ferrisburgh, the setting of her wedding ceremony performed by Stephanie Kaza.  “I hope to continue raising awareness of TNC’s role in protecting places where Vermonters may have some of the most meaningful experiences of their lives.”

TNC has 55 of its own natural areas in Vermont to protect critical species and rare environments and habitats, along with innumerable contributions to the preservation of federal, state, and municipal lands.  More than 100 of these places are open to the public for hiking, hunting, fishing, and other recreation.

Heather’s recreation of choice is ultra-marathon running.  She trains to run 31- or 50-mile races on remote trail systems throughout the country, a way, she shares, to experience special places at an exhilarating pace.  “Training and preparing for an ultra-marathon requires patience, persistence, and knowing how to pace yourself. Protecting the environment, requires these same skills —we’re in it for the long haul,” she says.

“We have responsibility as ‘global citizens’ to engage in new ways to protect our environment in the face of today’s climate, water, and social challenges and to consider protecting places in between already conserved lands to make natural areas more sustainable.”  She points to TNC’s Staying Connected Initiative, a huge landscape-scale project in the northern Appalachians with a mission to maintain ecological integrity of the landscape and habitat connectivity for wildlife. She hopes to continue engaging Vermonters and partnering with state agencies, other nonprofits, UVM and the Rubenstein School, and other colleges in ways to enhance the sustainability of Vermont’s lands and natural resources.

Heather lives in Jericho Center, Vermont with her husband (of the Kingsland Bay ceremony!) David Furman, their black lab MacIntosh, and four cats.  Heather and David met through their mutual love of rock-climbing, and he continues to work in the outdoor industry for the Swiss company, Mammut, whose North America headquarters is based in Williston, Vermont. Their home touches upon a town-conserved natural area, popular with dog walkers, hikers, mountain bikers, and maybe at least one ultra-marathon runner.