Recipient Biography

Martin J. Rosen


Martin J. Rosen's stewardship as an environmentalist and champion preserving natural and cultural resources documents a legacy as one of Americas leading conservationist. For nearly three decades, Rosen worked to shape The Trust for Public Land (TPL), initially as a founding member of The Trust in 1972, and as a member of its Board of Directors including a term serving as its Chairman from l978 to 1979 and then as TPL President from 1978 to 1997. During his tenure, TPL grew from a San Francisco "walk-up" office with 12 staff members to an organization with 26 regional offices and 225 employees, nationwide.

Under Rosen’s leadership, TPL preserved over 1.9 million acres in 46 states constituting many of Americas extraordinary lands, open spaces, and natural resources. The Trust's approach to achieving this extraordinary accomplishment was to purchase private property of significant en­vironmental or historic purposes, sell the property to a public or non-profit entity, and invest the proceeds into a revolving fund from which The Trust would purchase additional land for public purposes.

The successful record of TPL in partnership with local, regional, and national organizations and governments is well documented. Not only has TPL helped the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies establish new green space and wilderness areas, as well as expand existing ones, TPL fostered the use of local and regional land trusts as a means of preserving resources. Significantly, unlike other "mainstream" land protection groups, The Trust for Public Land also endorsed a strong urban focus as a priority, from its inception. Indeed, a primary goal of The Trust under Rosen’s leadership was to instill a land ethic in urban dwellers by establishing parks in and near cities that allow local residents to personally connect with nature.

The TPL mission, from Rosen's perspective, is to provide "nourishment for the American soul." Through inspired leadership and tactical perseverance, Rosen has been responsible for protecting an amazing array of parks, public lands, historic and cultural sites, wildlife habitat, and urban parks across America’s broad landscape. Ralph Benson, a former Executive Vice President for TPL and currently the Executive Director of the Sonoma Land Trust in California, credits Rosen with preservation of what he describes as "wonderfully ordinary, extraordinary, and even sacred places, celebrating the preservation of headlands, seashores and farmland, community gardens in New York City, greenways from the Puget Sound to the Cascade Mountains, thousands of acres in the Columbia River Gorge, the woods surrounding Walden Pond, the historic Atlanta City neighbor­hood of Martin Luther King, Jr's birthplace, the pastoral view from Mt. Vernon, the Nez Perce tribal homeland in Eastern Oregon, and literally hundreds of other noteworthy places."

Rosen's tenure with The Trust for Public Land was not without its challenges. Rosen fought with (using one of his favorite characterizations) "scrappiness," to successfully address difficult issues when working with other non-profit organizations and environmental justice groups, securing land for urban preservation or addressing issues of fraud in real estate transactions. Of particular note was his work during the Reagan Administration, which was advocating federal policies contrary to conservation initiatives, including those associated with land acquisition. These turbulent years were remembered for the efforts of Secretary of Interior James Watt to: "gut" environmental protection programs and policies; seek Initiatives to privatize selected National Parties; eliminate the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund; and pursue efforts to declassify newly created national recreation areas, including California's Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Later, Rosen would challenge Secretary of Interior Manual Lujan's attempt to weaken or eliminate non-profit organizations assisting environmental causes.

The path that forged Rosen's unique philosophy, which connects social justice and land conservation, was neither an ordinary nor a simple one. He has best been described as an accomplished, first-generation American of humble beginnings. Rosen proudly recalls that "Dad was a stowaway prior to World War I. He left the farm on the Russian-Polish border to come to the United States as a teenager in 1916. Speaking no English, he lived, literally, on the rooftops of New York until he was able to get a job delivering ice." During World War I, he served as a doughboy in France, earning a Purple Heart and his American citizenship. After moving to Southern California, his father worked as a merchant, selling out of a wagon, and later a truck. He taught Martin and his brother Larry, who became a renowned radiologist, that they owed America everything and were able to accomplish anything they set their minds to.

Rosen grew up in southern California and attended UCLA, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1953. He was elected UCLAs student body president his senior year. Subsequently, he earned his jurisprudence degree from the University of California Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law in 1956.  He pursued international legal studies in the Hague on a Ford Foundation Fellowship after which he became counsel to the San Francisco law firm of Silver, Rosen, Fischer & Stecher specializing in transportation and regulatory law. He served in the firm as a litigation at­torney from I960 to 1972.

As an upwardly mobile and successful attorney, Rosen recognized that he had attended both "undergraduate and law school entirely on scholarships of one kind or another, so someone was always giving me a boost." Recalling his dad's counsel, he was extremely grateful and concluded that, in return, he must find a way to give back to others.

This opportunity arose in the late 1960s, when Rosen gained interest in a citizen-based effort to save the pristine, natural resource-rich Marin Headlands along California’s Pacific Coast above San Francisco from a residential development proposed to create an urban community of 20,000 to 30,000 people in 50 high-rise towers. Challenging such an enormous project in which Gulf Oil and Frouge Corporation had already received regulatory approval, led Rosen to participate in two lawsuits against the proposal, which among other things, sought the opportunity for a public vote and referendum regarding the development.

Rosen's personal charisma, confidence, and dogged determination helped to gain allies in the battle, despite what appeared to be insurmountable odds. According to Former Chairman and current TPL Board Member Doug Ferguson, "Marty's exuberance can transform the most mundane event into a delightful experience. It can lead you willingly to undertake tasks which your rational mind suspects may be impossible. The years of litigation which he (Rosen working with others) persuaded us to undertake to protect the Marin Headlands proved a little more exciting than any­thing else we were supposed to be doing for a living."

Three years later, one of the two lawsuits was successful. In spite of this, the developer wanted to wait out his opponents with the hope that they would soon run out of funding and patience. Huey Johnson, co-founder of TPL, explained to the developer that Rosen would not go away. "You don't understand ... those lawyers (Rosen, et al.) have spent the last few years on this without getting paid anything. They'll just keep going." With this, the remaining developer sold the Marincello project, and it passed into public ownership. It was formally dedicated as the Gerbode Preserve—a jewel of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1972.

It was through this battle that, in the words of Doug Ferguson, the "Greening of Marty Rosen" took place. In 1972, Rosen, along with fellow conservationist and practical visionary Huey D. Johnson, founded The Trust for Public Land, "dedicated to conserving land for people."

Rosen credits a pantheon of heroes whose spirit and ideas shaped his ethic to include: Martin Luther King Jr., for his strong dedication to achieving social justice; Aldo Leopold for his philosophy that "all ethics, so far evolved, rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts ... land ethics simply enlarge the boundaries of the community to include soil, water, plants, and animals, or collectively: THE LAND"; and Frederick Law Olmsted for his democratic values as applied to land held in public trust.

Not surprisingly then, Rosen's personal mission in life was driven more by a civic purpose as much as it was by an environmental imperative. However, what made Rosen so incredibly effective was his blending of acute legal skills with a pervasive sense of social justice joined with an infectious and undeniably exuberance for what is "right and just." Ralph Benson characterized Rosen as, "a friend, boss, colleague, critic, goad, and mentor. He did what leaders do—he looked ahead, he told stories, he inspired, he made tough decisions, he backed his staff, and built the TPL board. He championed the fusion of social justice and land conservation." But make no mistake, Benson continues, "Marty's success was not based solely on personal charisma, incredible energy or grasp of the law. He realized that, unlike many of his fellow environmentalists, success required an approach more 'Jeffersonian' than Thoreauvian in solving problems."

Rosen adopted the philosophy that complex problems cannot be solved one issue at a time. He believed in always making allies out of adversaries, listening, learning and involving people in the cause. “You have to not just educate them, you have to recruit people...unless and until we do, we will be talking to ourselves." He believed that the best way to achieve one's purposes in his world was to empower people, including his adversaries, with knowledge and passion and to dignify what they do and what they are expected to do.

For his work and accomplishments, Rosen was selected in 1988 as a McCluskey Visiting Fellow at Yale University, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. His monograph, published during this period entitled, Using Partnerships for Land Conservation, continues to be used in classes today. He served as a commissioner of Bay Vision 2020 and was a member of the Walden Woods Project Board. Rosen was part of a goodwill delegation to India under the auspices of the U.S. State Department and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. He served on the board of the Pacific Forest Trust and currently serves on boards of the Landscape Architecture Foundation, the Pollinator Partnership, and other nonprofit and educational institutions. He is a member at-large of Earth Share's Board of Directors.

Rosen currently lives in Carmel, California, with his wife, Joan, and enjoys what he describes as "hiking nearby trails and exploring with my wife of 56 years." They raised two children—a son, Dirk, who heads a high-tech ocean exploration company, and a daughter, Marika, who works part-time for both the U.S. State Department and French Embassy in Washington D.C.

The spirit of Rosen's conservation ethic is probably best reflected in a poem he penned in 1998.

Why Land"

Our lands define us 
Just as our blood and our rivers 
Sustain us. 
Land is our living space 
Not merely to be used 
Or consumed, or 
Broken or subdivided 
Without paying a lasting 
Fearful price, 
Our land is our home, 
Our children, our ghosts 
And our hopes. 
It is our music and our health. 
Into this land we sink 
Our roots, or bury our
Scattered rubble.

Rosen is often asked whether he is "an optimist or pessimist." His response is "Who cares? The more important question is, are you engaged or indifferent? If you are indifferent, you are dying. If you are engaged, you are alive!"

Rosen’s philosophy of "civic engagement" is now universally acknowledged as a "win-win" approach to negotiation and the best way to solve complex problems of any kind. He is passionate, articulate, values partnerships and human dignity, achieves results, demonstrates innovation, and holds the highest standards of personal integrity. He demonstrates the finest qualities of leadership by helping others to see that vision while seeking their involvement in partnership to achieve a common purpose around social justice and conservation.

TPL associate Ralph Benson characterizes Rosen’s career best in suggesting, "Marty's legacy will grow in importance with the years. The Trust for Public Land continues to develop the foundation and framework that he provided and the American landscape is richer for the opportunities he created for people to connect with the land. At the heart of Marty Rosen’s life, is a love of land and people."