Bob Herbst has over 60 years of successful experience as a business, environmental and conservation executive. Herbst served as U.S. assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks, and as acting secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Carter administration recognised him as one of the best subcabinet administrators in government. In 1998, the Clinton administration selected Herbst as U.S. member of the REC’s Board of Directors, a position he held for seven years. He has received over 600 awards for his administrative, environmental and public service accomplishments. In 2003, he was inducted into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame (Hayward, Wisconsin, U.S.) and was presented with the Outstanding Achievement Award from the University of Minnesota. The University of Minnesota also recognised Herbst as one of its 1,000 outstanding graduates.
What were the circumstances that led to your being a founding member of the REC’s Board of Directors?
For many years I served as a forester in the field. And I had a number of administrative jobs in the private, university, non-profit and government sectors in caring for our Earth. During these many years, I learned that the most successful projects are a result of cooperation between individuals, agencies and organisations.
During my career I had travelled to Europe a number of times — of course, my ancestors were from Germany. I developed a love for the region, its people, and its natural resources. And so, when the Soviet Union broke up, many countries became independent and turned toward democratic processes — and the REC was established. After serving for seven years of my life on the REC Board, I have enthusiastically continued to assist and promote the REC.
What are some of the ways that you have supported and promoted the REC outside of Europe in the years following your direct involvement in the organisation?
My foundation, GETF, and the REC have worked together on projects. For example, we jointly carried out a USD 1 million grant to address water management in Europe and set up demonstration projects. I have encouraged trips by U.S. university groups to visit and learn from the REC. I have promoted the REC and its purpose, for example, in speeches, TV interviews, TV programmes — more than 20 half-hour shows — and radio programmes. Several of us are pursuing a possible REC organisation in Latin America.
I regularly distribute REC studies and reports in the U.S. I founded, organised and for ten years served as chair of the board of the U.S. Central and Eastern Europe Environmental Foundation. The foundation has raised funds for projects in Europe, served as a contact for the REC in the U.S., and promoted congressional appropriations to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the REC. The foundation is now assisting Moldova. I also worked with other University of Minnesota alumni in establishing a scholarship fund for forestry students. This fund has already assisted a number of natural resources management students.
Could you explain your views on the values of education and its relationship to environmental stewardship?
To me, it is essential to have a university education in resource management in order to be a successful professional in caring for our natural resources. For this reason, I believe strongly in environmental education at the university level. I also firmly believe in the incorporation of environmental education in curricula at all levels, from elementary teaching through high school. I was able to successfully obtain a grant to bring several REC staff to the U.S. to study methods of cooperation with corporations in setting up wildlife habitat projects.
In the coming years, what special role do you see the REC playing in a regional or global context?
I believe the special roles that the REC can play in future years will be to continue its leadership on global climate issues; to promote and demonstrate alternative sources of energy; and to assist other areas of the world in creating similar organisations to regionally cooperate on addressing environmental issues.
I also believe the REC must play a leadership role in the region, and globally, to provide advice and coordination to address the many water issues and conflicts that exist and will arise. Water is the most important natural resource on Earth, as it is “life itself” for all forms of life — from the tiniest of micro-organisms to human beings.
What first pops into your mind when you hear the name “REC”?
When I hear or read the name “REC”, I think of the international success story that the REC is! And I treasure with pride my seven years as the U.S. board member! The success of the REC is due to its coordination of citizen involvement with environmental issues; the opportunities it provides for environmental professionals; its coordination of countries in addressing issues; and the mechanism it offers to address environmental problems that cross borders and are regional or global in nature. And, of course, its many successful studies and projects and funding projects to address environmental needs underline its leadership. The fact that so many government agencies, foundations and corporations have funded the REC over the years illustrates the high respect for its work.
Can you share a memorable experience involving the REC or the CEE region?
One of my most memorable experiences at the REC was at the going-away party for Tom Garvey, who was the European Union board member. In his comments, Tom said he believed one of the best examples of cooperation between the European Union and the U.S. was the working relationship between himself and the U.S. board member — Bob Herbst. While this was an exaggeration, it made me feel very good. But, more importantly, it illustrated the good working relationship between the REC board and executive director and the bonding of its members.