Commissioner of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
Posted October 2011
"ESF is what brought me to New York state in the first place," said Joe Martens (MS, '81, resources management), "and it had a profound influence on my career and life path."
A native of Connecticut, Martens has called New York home ever since he came to ESF for graduate school and then went to Albany for an internship with the state assembly to complement the work in his master's degree program.
His ESF experience led him to positions in government and nonprofit agencies and to an appointment by Governor Andrew Cuomo as commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in 2011.
With a career dedicated to protecting and improving the environment, and with substantial responsibility for shaping government policies, Martens is working to help the state solve some serious environmental issues. He believes there are numerous challenges facing New York's environment, including hydraulic fracturing, invasive species, water quality and flood control.
Regarding hydraulic fracturing, Martens feels New York is "in a good spot" in the national debate on the method of extracting natural gas through deep, horizontal wells. A recent three-year study recommended stringent requirements for hydraulic fracturing, and public input is now being sought to formulate New York's regulations.
"I think it's possible that by 2012 New York will be the gold standard (on hydraulic fracturing requirements) with the most stringent requirements to protect New York's environments," said Martens.
It's issues such as hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as hydrofracking) that ESF graduates are well prepared to help New York - and the world - face in the future, according to Martens. As the leader of the DEC, Martens brings a solid understanding of both environmental issues and the way state government works.
"ESF is poised like no other College to put people in positions of critical importance around the world. ESF students are trained in issues that will be important in our time," he said.
While the environmental challenges for the state are immense, Martens said he enjoys the fact that his work puts him in contact with many colleagues at the state and federal levels who are also ESF alumni. "I experience this wherever I go. People are proud to tell me they went to ESF when I see them," he said.
Prior to leading the DEC, Martens was president of the Open Space Institute (OSI), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting scenic, natural, and historic landscapes to ensure public enjoyment, conserve habitats, and sustain community character. More than 100,000 acres in New York have been protected through OSI's direct acquisition and conservation easements.
Martens sites the acquisition of the 10,000 acre Tahawus tract as one of the highpoints of his time leading OSI. This tract contains both the "deserted" village of Adirondac and the headwaters of the Hudson River, and Theodore Roosevelt's famous "Midnight Ride" to the presidency took place there in 1901.
"The Tahawus Tract is a drop-dead, stunningly gorgeous property," said Martens.
Martens also played a major role in establishing the Northern Forest Institute for Conservation Education and Leadership Training, which is administered by ESF's Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb. ESF runs the institute on property owned by OSI's Open Space Conservancy.
"The area has a fascinating history," Martens said, and opening the acreage to the public will have a "positive impact on tourism and the local economy."
Working for Governor Andrew Cuomo is not Martens' first foray into the political arena, or even the first time he's worked for a Cuomo administration. After leaving ESF, Martens was a senior legislative analyst for the N.Y. State Assembly Ways and Means Committee, where he reviewed the budgets of all the state's environmental agencies and authored several significant legislative initiatives that benefitted the environment. He worked for the Adirondack Park Agency as an administrative officer, project review officer, and special assistant to the executive director.
He was secretary for the environment during Governor Mario Cuomo's administration. "Listening to Andrew (Cuomo) is eerily reminiscent of his father," Martens said. "They sound alike and are both incredibly articulate. And both have the best interests of New York's environment at heart."
Martens received ESF's Graduate of Distinction Award in 2009, and returned to the ESF campus for the College's Centennial Celebration in July 2011. He toured Centennial Hall, noting "It's a symbol of how well ESF is doing."
"ESF has always played an important role in environmental issues," said Martens. "Clearly the College is ahead of its time in training. ESF is putting people in leadership positions in environmental issues."