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A Passion For Penn’s Woods

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Ellen Ferretti ’78 Leads State Conservation Agency

By Helen Kaiser

Ellen Ferretti '78 enjoys a spring afternoon in Frances Slocum State Park.

Ellen Ferretti ’78 enjoys a spring afternoon in Frances Slocum State Park.

Ellen Ferretti ’78 grew up in the Cork Lane section of Pittston Township, Luzerne County—where the neighborhood houses were just steps away from each other. Families often packed picnics and took Sunday drives to get away from it all and appreciate the riches of nature.

“I always loved the outdoors,” she says. “We would enjoy the lakes, swimming beaches, pavilions and hiking at Tobyhanna and Gouldsboro state parks.”

Now, some 50 years later, Ferretti oversees Pennsylvania’s 120 parks and its 20 forest districts as secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

Confirmed to the cabinet post in December, Ferretti had served as acting secretary for several months and as deputy for parks and forestry since June 2011.  Her background includes more than 20 years in private industry and nonprofit conservation posts.

“Here (at DCNR) we deal with both private sector firms and nonprofits, so it’s easy for me to relate to them,” she says. “When you understand from the ground up how to build a program or start a project, how to assess and how to implement, it informs your decision making. You have a true appreciation of what’s involved.”

With an annual budget of $315 million, DCNR is charged with: maintaining and preserving nearly 300,000 acres of state parks; managing 2.2 million acres of state forest land; providing information on the state’s ecological and geologic resources; and establishing community conservation partnerships.

Ferretti’s passion for her life’s work developed while at Pittston Area High School in the early 1970s, just as environmental concerns were gaining a hold on the nation’s consciousness.  She remembers being active in the Ecology Club and in paper recycling at school. Fortunate to live near the inspiring backdrop of northeastern Pennsylvania’s pristine natural resources, Ferretti also was within commuting distance of Wilkes—which offered cutting-edge education in environmental science.  She began her degree work in biology and switched as a junior to environmental science. Both provided a “solid foundation” for her career.

Opting out of the workforce for 10 years after college while her three children were young, Ferretti later took consulting roles with Westinghouse Environmental and Geotechnical Services and Quad Three Group. She was vice president of ARRIS Engineering Group in Wilkes-Barre, a land protection specialist for the Nature Conservancy, and director of environmental resources at Borton-Lawson Engineering, Wilkes-Barre.

She came to DCNR from the Pennsylvania Environmental Council where she served as vice president of its northeast regional office. She cited her conservation work at the council as an accomplishment of which she is particularly proud.

“We were part of what has grown into a very healthy land trust movement in northeastern Pennsylvania,” she says.  “We also formed the Wyoming Valley Watershed Coalition which has implemented stream clean-ups and created RiverFEST with its yearly kayaking events on the Susquehanna.”

In her current role, Ferretti encounters the significant challenges that accompany the Marcellus shale gas play. She and other officials must weigh the mega industry’s boon to economic development and energy independence against the critical concerns of local communities and environmentalists.

“We never stop listening to the public’s input, and there are many interest groups.  For every one position for an issue you can find another against it,” she says.

The state does not own about 80 percent of the mineral rights in state parks, or 20 percent in its forests, but DCNR believes it can strongly influence developers and ensure access that minimizes the impact of drilling, Ferretti says.

“Our state forest system has been independently certified for the 16th year in a row, validating that we are managing in a way that protects its long-term health, even with energy production activity related to the Marcellus Shale,” Ferretti says.


Ellen Ferretti ’78, Dallas, Pa.

Bachelor of Science, Environmental Science, Wilkes

Career: Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, overseeing the state’s 300,000 acres of state parks and 2.2 million acres of forest land.

Favorite Wilkes Place: Hanging out with fellow commuter students in the old student union, which at that time was in a converted church—“a lovely little one-room building, smack in the middle of campus.”

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