After a months-long search, Openlands has announced Michael Davidson as its next president and CEO, set to succeed Jerry Adelmann, who’s retiring at the end of the year.
The last time the conservation organization experienced a changing of the leadership guard, the year was 1988, Ronald Reagan was president, Mike Tyson was heavyweight champ and floppy disks were still a thing.
Throughout Adelmann’s 35-year tenure, Openlands has been a forceful advocate for the expansion of protected green space in the greater Chicago metropolitan region, including championing the establishment of Midewin as the nation’s first tallgrass prairie. To date, Openlands has protected more than 70,000 acres of land in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.
Davidson brings to his new role more than 25 years of experience at mission-driven organizations, most recently as the senior director of community impact at The Chicago Community Trust. At the Trust, Davidson created and led the sustainable development funding priority, which helped launch the first master plan of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, as well as the first comprehensive vision for the entirety of Chicago’s river system.
While at the Trust, Davidson also supported the foundation’s focus on closing the region’s racial and ethnic wealth gap, leading a 10-year effort to invest $100 million to improve built and natural environments in partnership with disinvested Black and Latino communities.
“Michael’s significant impact on underinvested communities and his passion for nature are just two reasons why we handed him the baton to lead the effort to address important environmental issues for the people of the Greater Chicagoland region,” said JoAnn Seagren, chair of the Openlands board.
“The costs of climate change and ecosystem degradation are here, and our most vulnerable people and places are paying the highest price first,” Davidson said in a statement. “But the solutions are also here, and I am eager to partner with expert staff, our communities, and leading innovators on conservation practices both tried and true and cutting edge as our region and world look more and more to the sustained and steady leadership Openlands is known for.”
Davidson first worked with Openlands as part of the Campaign for Sensible Growth in the 2000s, which aimed to curb urban sprawl in northeastern Illinois and notably led to the establishment of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.
He’ll start in his new role in mid-November, and will take part in Openlands 60th anniversary celebration in October at the organization’s annual Conservation Leadership Award presentation, honoring Adelmann for his service.