Russ Peterson joined the National Audubon Society in 1952, became an active birder, and through this hobby a dedicated environmentalist. He became known nationally as an environmentalist when, as governor of Delaware, he was the major force in the passage of legislation banning heavy industry from a two-mile-wide strip of Delaware's 115 mile coastline. It was the first state law of its kind and stimulated coastal zone legislation in other states, although no other state has succeeded in prohibiting by statute heavy industry in its coastal zone.
While president of National Audubon, the society became a potent activist organization with strong lobbying offices in Washington and in capitols of major states. He built a science and public policy group, moved National Audubon into international population and energy issues, and established effective television and youth education programs.
His leadership as president of the National Audubon Society reflected his philosophy of bringing citizen action and holistic thinking to bear in helping humanity to live in harmony with the natural environment. Through science, education, and citizen action, he made the collective voice of the Audubon Society's 500,000 members heard by key decision makers around the country and around the world. He promoted a science and public policy emphasis, and moved Audubon into such international issues as population growth and energy.
Russ has been active on the national and international scene as a strong advocate for both the appreciation and conservation of our natural and wildlife resources. He is a founding Chairman of the Board of the Global Tomorrow Coalition and a former director of the World Wildlife Fund.
As chairman of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, he was involved in implementing the National Environmental Policy Act with concern for the whole gamut of environmental problems nationally and globally. During his tenure in this job he did much to promote the understanding that we can have both a healthy environment and a healthy economy.
He was founding Chairman of the Board of The Global Tomorrow Coalition – an affiliation of 115 organizations concerned with population, resources and environment. He has served as a director of Population Action International, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Alliance to Save Energy. He was vice-president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, president of the International Council for Bird Preservation, and president of the Better World Society. He also has served as Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Solar Energy Research Institute of the US Department of Energy.
Statue of former Gov. Russell Peterson, on Riverwalk in Wilmington, near future Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge.
Photo by Steven Breukelman © 2004.
More recently, Russ served as co-chairman of the Governor's task force on the Future of the Christina and Brandywine Rivers. This task force developed a vision that includes a harbor to attract visitors, upscale residences, an entertainment center, the Wilmington Riverwalk, and a 250-acre urban wildlife refuge.
Now that this project is becoming a reality, Russ serves on the board of the Riverfront Development Corporation, the group responsible for carrying out the revitalization efforts. In recognition of his work, the developing urban wildlife refuge was named in his honor.
Russ has received many awards during his long career, including 15 honorary doctorates. In May 1996, he joined the list of distinguished Delawareans to receive the prestigious Delaware Audubon Conservation Award. Russ is currently Delaware Audubon's Honorary Chairman of the Board.
Further cementing his place in Delaware's history, a statue of Mr. Peterson was recently erected on the Riverwalk, just north of Dravo Plaza and the Shipyard Shops. The statue, created by acclaimed Wilmington sculptor Charles C. Parks, depicts Peterson holding field glasses in a bird-watching stance. "Russ Peterson’s love of the environment was as evident in his time as governor as it is in his favorite pastimes," said Governor Ruth Ann Minner. "This is a very fitting tribute to a man who has contributed considerably to the preservation of Delaware’s quality of life."
In 1999, Russ published an autobiography, describing his fascinating life and career. The book, entitled Rebel With A Conscience, is published by the University of Delaware Press, and includes a companion CD-ROM. In 2004, he published another book related to the election campaign, called Patriots Stand Up!
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This page was last updated on September 14, 2008.