Save the Sound, among the region’s premier environmental organizations, has announced a forthcoming change in leadership. Curt Johnson will “retire” at the end of September after five years leading the environmental organization, to be succeeded by Leah Schmalz, currently serving as Vice President of Programs.
It marks the second time in the past decade that Save the Sound has promoted from within, handing the day-to-day reigns over to a senior member of the leadership team.
Schmalz’s focus on the intersection of climate change, resiliency, and health grew after Hurricane Katrina devastated her home state of Louisiana. She earned her J.D. and Environmental Law Certificate from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, NY, and her undergraduate study in sustainable architecture and design culminated in a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design from the University of Louisiana. She joined Save the Sound as its staff attorney in 2001 and became its head of programs in 2018.
Curt Johnson advanced to the position of President and CEO of Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound in 2017, following long-time predecessor Don Strait, who led the organization for more than 25 years. Johnson joined CFE/Save the Sound in 1993 to head the legal team, later becoming Executive Director of the Save the Sound program and then the Executive Director of CFE/Save the Sound.
Save the Sound leads environmental action throughout the region, working to “fight climate change, save endangered lands, protect the Sound and its rivers, and work with nature to restore ecosystems.”
Decades ago, three organizations were founded to protect and restore our region’s environment: Save the Sound, Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and Soundkeeper, Inc. Today they are one organization, called Save the Sound, with a comprehensive mission. CFE and Save the Sound merged in 2004. The CFE name was dropped two years ago, and in recent years an office in Westchester was fully formed, extending the merged organization’s advocacy role on all sides of the Sound and beyond. Soundkeeper Inc. was added in 2017.
In a letter to Save the Sound members this week, Johnson said that Schmalz “has been the driving force behind cleaning our waters, restoring our rivers and coasts, protecting endangered lands, and fighting climate change,” adding that “you deserve her energetic and visionary leadership.”
Schmalz was the unanimous choice of the Board of Directors, as was Johnson before her.
Johnson pointed to what he described as “big accomplishments” during his tenure, “like leading a collaborative that tests waters from Flushing Bay to Mystic Harbor, protecting 15,000 acres of water company lands in Fairfield County, passing the Global Warming Solutions Act, stopping Broadwater, and restoring Sunken Meadow.” The organization has also taken a leading role in the fight to preserve Plum Island in Long Island Sound.
“It has been an honor to serve as Save the Sound’s president for the last five years, and I am honored as well to be passing the baton to Leah. There is so much essential environmental action crying for Save the Sound’s leadership,” he noted. Johnson indicated that he plans to stay involved with Save the Sound part-time, as part of the organization’s public engagement team.
Incoming President Leah Schmalz wrote to members that “over my 20 years at Save the Sound I’ve seen our organization bloom into a thriving, committed community that catalyzes change across Connecticut, Westchester, New York City, and Long Island. Save the Sound is now entering its 50th year, and as we look to our next chapter, we’ll be guided by a long-term vision for a healthier Long Island Sound.”
Referring to a recently developed strategic plan, she explained it will guide the way to “build on our proven approach of uniting science-driven advocacy, legal expertise, construction, and community engagement to protect the Sound’s waters and lands, restore its rivers, and transform the communities that we call home.”
“Whether it’s partnering with one homeowner to stop pollution with a single rain garden or taking on Shell Oil to protect our climate and Long Island Sound, Save the Sound is in it for the long haul—and I know you are too,” she concluded.