By Alexandra Grant
Will Morgan, director of government relations at the North Carolina Nature Conservancy and UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus, said working as a lobbyist for the past six years has made him realize that environmental issues are not as black-and-white as they may seem in the classroom.
Morgan, who graduated from UNC in 2007, said that lesson has been valuable during his time in the legislature.
“You’ve got Democrats and Republicans, developers and environmentalists, and they all have very different perspectives,” Morgan said. “It’s important for me to really try to understand everyone’s perspective and why they feel the way they do, and not just cast one side as the enemy. I like to try to figure out if there’s some middle ground that both sides can agree on.”
Morgan said that his time at UNC prepared him for that, despite the fact he struggled to figure out what to major in during his freshman year.
The summer between his freshman year and sophomore year was a turning point, Morgan said, thanks to a trip he signed up for with Greg Gangi, associate director for education with the Institute for the Environment, clinical assistant professor, and senior lecturer.
“I signed up to go on a backpacking trip with Greg Gangi in the Sierra Nevada mountains,” Morgan said. “It was a six week trip spent backpacking along the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains.”
Gangi’s eight credit hour class covered the ecology of the Sierra Nevada mountains and the history of the environmental movement in the United States. Students learned about the basics of environmental policy and some of the major environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
“That trip was what really inspired me to become an environmental studies major,” Morgan said. “Both being out there in the natural beauty of the Sierra Nevada mountains and learning from Greg about the history of environmental policy in the United States made me realize that was something I wanted to do as a major and a career.”
Morgan said he eventually settled on a double major in political science and environmental studies.
After his trip to the Sierra Nevadas, Morgan said he did two other field sites while at UNC.
“The summer before my senior year I went to Cambridge and that was a really great experience,” Morgan said. “It was obviously great to be abroad in England and to see a different perspective. Our project for the summer was a consulting project with the Cambridge City Council. They had recently committed to reducing their carbon footprint and they wanted us to research methods for reducing their carbon footprint. It was great to have that experience working with the local government.”
“The Fall semester of my senior year I participated in the Outer Banks Field Site. That was a really rewarding experience, too. We had a course on costal ecology, a course on costal law and policy, and a course on coastal literature. We also each had an internship, and my internship was with the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. During my time on the Outer Banks I made connections that led to internships that then led to jobs, so that was a really valuable experience for me.”
Morgan said it was this real-world experience that made him understand that environmental issues and their solutions require understanding and compromise.
“We were learning about fisheries policy and about different fishing methods such as gill nets and pound nets that commercial fishermen use,” Morgan said. “The academic perspective was that those fishing methods deplete fisheries and are destructive to the environment, but while we were down there we had the opportunity to go out on a boat with a commercial fisherman and hear his perspective on why he thought those nets were necessary and how he thought there were many misperceptions about commercial fishing.”
Morgan still applies the lessons he learned at the UNC field sites now that he’s working for The Nature Conservancy.
The Nature Conservancy, a global organization with thousands of employees, has about 40 employees in North Carolina, Morgan said.
“The easiest way to think of The Nature Conservancy is that we’re essentially a big land trust, so we purchase large tracts of land and put that land into conservation,” Morgan said. “In North Carolina we’ve protected just over 700,000 acres, which for reference is about twice the size of Mecklenburg County. When we purchase land we use a combination of private and public money.
“My role is to convince the state and federal government to set aside money to help The Nature Conservancy and other land trusts purchase land. We work with closely with state and federal agencies to protect land and that takes money, so my primary lobbying objective is to increase funding for the state’s three conservation trust funds: the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and the Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.
Morgan said The Nature Conservancy has helped protect places across North Carolina including Grandfather Mountain, Chimney Rock State Park, and Jockey’s Ridge State Park, just to name a few.
Morgan, who was on his was to a meeting with Senator Brent Jackson at the legislature, said that they are in the middle of the appropriations process.
“The way the appropriations process works is that the governor develops a recommended budget, then the House passes their budget, and the Senate passes their budget,” Morgan said. “Finally the House and the Senate get together to come up with a compromise that is somewhere between what the House wanted and the Senate wanted, and Senator Jackson is a key player in that process.”
“Each side has appointed a few representatives to help negotiate the budget, and right now I’m in the process of meeting with them to go over our priorities. I’ve got a handout that shows what was in the House budget, what was in the Senate budget, and what we’re asking them to include in the final compromise package.”
On a final piece of advice to students, Morgan stressed the importance of getting real world experience.
“Put yourself out there through internships or volunteer opportunities and get to know different organizations and different individuals because the relationships you build through those experiences will help open doors and lead to opportunities for internships that will then lead to jobs,” Morgan said. “I got my current job because of relationships I built in my last job, and I got that job because of relationships I built in my various internships, and I got those internships because of relationships that I built while I was at Chapel Hill and at the various environmental field sites.”