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A Message from the Secretary – New Beginnings in 2023

January 10, 2024 12:00 AM
By: DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn

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Last year marked a fresh start for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) with a new administration and refined strategic goals for our work.

On a personal level, Governor Josh Shapiro appointed me to return as the secretary of DCNR.

It is an honor and a privilege to continue this role managing Pennsylvania’s natural resources for present and future generations -- and all of that is second to my new nickname from the Governor: Secretary Fun Dunn.

We do have a fun agency at DCNR, but that is supported by the hard work of our staff at every level.

The strong year continued when the Pennsylvania General Assembly provided $112 million in funding to support critical park and forest infrastructure​.

This investment builds on $75 million in infrastructure funding in 2022.

What is particularly exciting is Governor Shapiro’s pledge to prioritize these investments in the Commonwealth’s public lands during his administration.

Launching the Office of Outdoor Recreation

Two men talking while standing outdoors at a park with many more people in the background.

Our work to grow outdoor recreation for Pennsylvania continues to be a top priority.

We are actively working on developing our three new state parks, collaborating with stakeholders, partners, and local governments on improving recreation access, and we are implementing ideas from public feedback to continue to add new opportunities and offerings on public lands.

With the fantastic outdoor experiences available on public lands as the foundation, we celebrated the creation of our new Office of Outdoor Recreation in 2023 alongside Governor Shapiro.

Thanks to the governor for prioritizing the launch of the Office of Outdoor Recreation.

This office will highlight our diverse and exceptional outdoor opportunities by:

  • Expanding partnerships
  • Emphasizing the importance of outdoor recreation for our enjoyment and our economy
  • Creating opportunities for systemic support and investment in the sector that adds $17 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy

Be on the lookout for exciting new announcements from Office of Outdoor Recreation Director Nathan Reigner in the coming months!

Taking Nature for All to the Next Level

Two women pose side by side outdoors in front of a green valley and mountain ridges.

​We continue to reach communities across Pennsylvania with our incredible programming at state parks and forests, through Community Conservation Partnerships Program grants, and through the state’s conservation landscapes and heritage areas.

Our agency goal of a trail within 10 minutes of every Pennsylvanian also connects communities across the Commonwealth to nature in meaningful ways.

We have taken another step internally to improve access to the outdoors, welcoming in Arlene Marshall-Hockensmith, Esq. as our director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) this past year.

Arlene will be instrumental in developing our strategy to help all visitors feel welcome on public lands, improve diversity in our workforce, and build partnerships to promote inclusivity in the outdoors.

Though Arlene will lead, much of this work requires our staff collectively taking a critical look at how we:

  • Manage programs
  • Collect data and metrics
  • Build the future of conservation with our NextGen Advisory Council​ and through our ambassador program
  • Share information that makes the connection to the wealth of resources and opportunities our agency provides to individuals, stakeholders, and communities

We are grateful to have Arlene’s expertise and passion leading us in our diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives.

Making Pennsylvania Resilient in a Changing Climate

A building and parking lot with solar panels shading the parking spaces in front of a forested hill and green valley.
Building on our commitment to be the leading state agency for sustainability (PDF)​, we are increasing our efforts to address climate change and its effects in the Commonwealth.

Our focus is on carbon neutrality, climate mitigation and resiliency, and climate equity, which has sparked a global approach to our work and how we can make a difference at every level.

We strive to be Pennsylvania’s first carbon neutral state agency; to focus on improving our energy efficiency; and will continue to prioritize underserved and environmental justice communities for tree plantings, buffers and reforestation -- just to name a few of our actions.

This path forward includes infusing our policies and procedures with conscientious checks and balances that help steer Pennsylvania in the right direction with regards to climate change.

You can read more about the land we preserved for public use, our work to protect Pennsylvania’s natural resources, and the impact our staff team had through various initiatives in the link below.

We’re Up for Challenges

The three areas above are a part of our strategic priorities as an agency.

We want to grow outdoor recreation, ensure nature is accessible to all Pennsylvanians, and to protect our environment by setting a strong example of positive stewardship.

But don’t let that fool you because that isn’t where the work stops.

Our staff is second to none and we will continue to do so much be​yond these focus areas in our daily work as environmental educators, maintenance workers, foresters, administrative staff, geologists, park and forest rangers, planners, grant administrators, program managers, and many more critical roles.

New Year, New Faces

A woman poses indoors wearing a turtle neck and scarf in front of a map of Pennsylvania.
Just before closing out the 2023, our new Deputy Secretary for Conservation and Technical Services Claire Jantz joined our team.

Claire comes to us from Shippensburg University where she worked with DCNR on several projects, teaching many of our staff about the importance of conserving our natural resources.

We are happy to bring Claire on board and look forward having her passion and good nature on our team.

She replaces former Deputy Secretary Lauren Imgrund, who is now in a leadership role with the National Park Service.​

A man poses outdoors in front of a tree wearing a brimmed hat.

In September, we announced our new State Forester Seth Cassell, who oversees our Bureau of Forestry.

Seth has 23 years of experience with the agency in various roles, beginning as a forester in a district and most recently serving as Chief of Staff for the bureau.

His public service also includes 30 years with the Pennsylvania National Guard, where he honed his exemplary leadership skills, earning the role of squadron commander.

We are pleased to see Seth take up this exciting challenge.

He replaces former State Forester Ellen Shultzabarger who accepted a leadership position with the U.S. Forest Service.

Change Propelling Us Forward

DCNR has received a lot of positive attention since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent surge in visitors and people turning to public lands for refuge from the rigors of the busy, modern world.

This has made us look at our work with a critical lens and adjust our approach to conservation.

We will always put conservation first and we are constantly working to adapt our strategies and up our game to be an even better steward of Pennsylvania’s wealth of natural resources.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue to serve as the secretary and am beyond excited for another terrific year in 2024.

I encourage you to check out some of our 2023 accomplishments​.

Happy New Year!

DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn​

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