Former USDA Official Leslie Jones Joins EDF to Lead Working Lands Program

July 31, 2019
Hilary Kirwan, (202) 572-3277,

(WASHINGTON, DC) Leslie Jones, a former senior official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has joined Environmental Defense Fund’s Ecosystems program as vice president for working lands. In this newly created position, she will oversee EDF’s collaborative work to improve water quality, biodiversity and climate resilience on the working lands — farms, ranches and forests — that comprise more than two-thirds of land in the United States.

“America’s working lands are essential to addressing climate change and feeding a growing population,” said David Festa, senior vice president for Ecosystems. “With her deep expertise in natural resource management, federal policy and stakeholder engagement, Leslie is well positioned to scale conservation solutions that benefit producers and rural economies.”

EDF’s Working Lands program aims to create a more resilient food system that allows people and nature to prosper in a changing climate by providing ecosystem services such as clean drinking water, flood risk mitigation and crop pollination. To achieve this goal, we’ve partnered with organizations like the National Corn Growers Association to accelerate the adoption of practices that deliver co-benefits for farm finances, soil health, water quality and pollinator habitat.

“EDF has been a key ally for years,” said Jon Doggett, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association. “I look forward to working with Leslie and EDF’s Working Lands program to build on the legacy of stewardship across America’s working lands, and advance progress toward environmental and economic goals.”

Leslie has held senior positions at USDA, including as deputy undersecretary and chief of staff for the Natural Resource and Environment division encompassing the U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service. She has also served as general counsel at The Wilderness Society and chief of staff at Oceana.

“Farmers, ranchers and forest managers are out on the land every day and see firsthand how floods, wildfire and drought affect their livelihoods,” said Leslie. “EDF has a track record of collaborating with land managers on solutions grounded in science and economics, which is one of the many reasons I’m so excited to join the team.”

Agricultural leaders welcomed Leslie’s new role:

“EDF has built a reputation as an environmental nonprofit that actively listens to, and cares about, growers. Hiring someone like Leslie, with leadership experience at the U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, will only solidify that well-earned reputation,” said Cori Wittman Stitt, fifth-generation grain farmer, cattle rancher and timber operator in Idaho.

“Leslie brings decades of expertise in crafting and executing policies and programs that benefit producers and the environment, which I saw firsthand at USDA. She brought farmers and ranchers to the table to develop innovative, voluntary conservation agreements. She also built bipartisan support for forest management, recognizing the important role that forests play in a changing climate,” said Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University and former USDA deputy secretary of agriculture.

“We’re at a critical moment for advancing climate-smart agriculture practices and policies that increase the long-term resilience of farms, ranches, forests and supply chains. Doing so isn’t only a business imperative. It’s also an exciting opportunity,” said Chris Adamo, vice president for federal and industry affairs at Danone North America. “Leslie and EDF are strong voices for bringing producers and private-sector partners into the conversation and finding creative solutions.”

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