Bay Nature Local Heroes

Ralph Benson, Sonoma Land Trust

January 1, 2015

Every year, Bay Nature Institute selects three people whose extraordinary work on behalf of conservation and environmental education in the Bay Area warrants special recognition and appreciation. This year’s Local Hero for Conservation Action is Ralph Benson, longtime Executive Director of the Sonoma Land Trust. This award recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions to the conservation of the natural landscapes, wildlife, and/or flora of the San Francisco Bay Area, through advocacy, legal action, acquisition, and/or stewardship. 

Our three Bay Nature “Local Heroes” for 2015 were chosen by Bay Nature Institute board and staff from more than four dozen nominations submitted by members of the Bay Area conservation community. They’ll be honored at our Annual Awards Dinner on March 22, 2015.  >> Learn more and RSVP

Sonoma Land Trust Executive Director Ralph Benson. Photo: Susan Ives
Conservation Action award winner Ralph Benson. Photo: Susan Ives

When Ralph Benson retires in early 2015 after serving 12 years as Executive Director of the Sonoma Land Trust, he will leave behind an organization whose budget has grown five-fold under his leadership (from $1 million to $5 million); whose staff and membership has doubled (from 11 to 22, and from 1,200 to 2,500, respectively); and whose portfolio of protected property has more than tripled (from 15,000 to 48,000 acres). In those 12 years, Ralph has transformed a small, local organization into one of the major players in the Bay Area’s conservation world. He’s done this by attracting more than $80 million in outside funding for the acquisition of beautiful Sonoma landscapes, from the baylands in the south, to creeks and woodlands in the central core, to redwood forests and coastal bluffs along the northern coast. Ralph has also established Sonoma Land Trust as a respected steward of the land it protects, investing significant resources into restoring and managing these precious landscapes, and providing multiple opportunities for public access to them.

Ralph’s remarkable success at the Land Trust is the capstone on a long career in land conservation. A decade after completing his law degree at Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley), Ralph was hired as general counsel for the Trust for Public Land. Over the course of the next 24 years, Ralph went on to become the organization’s Chief Operating Officer, overseeing its development into one of the nation’s leading conservation organizations. During his time at TPL, Ralph learned how to put together the complex transactions needed to protect our significant natural landscapes. Those who have worked with Ralph credit his success to his ability to articulate the importance of working on a landscape scale and to build harmonious rather than competitive relationships with all stakeholders.

>> Meet our other 2015 Local Heroes:

Environmental Education Award
Julia Clothier, Point Reyes National Seashore Association

Youth Engagement Award
Javier Ochoa Reyes, Groundwork Richmond

Revelations: Celebrating Our Local Heroes and the Art of NatureOur three Local Heroes will be honored at Bay Nature’s Annual Awards Dinner on Sunday, March 22For more details on the event itself and to purchase tickets, visit:


The Bay Nature Institute is a Berkeley-based nonprofit media organization dedicated to exploring, celebrating, and protecting the natural world of the San Francisco Bay Area, in print, online, in the field, on the air.

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