RIP: Fred C. Danforth Conservation Finance Pioneer

I was sorry to hear that Fred Danforth, the guiding light behind mitigation industry leader Ecosystems Investment Partners, died from a long standing illness last week. I did not know Fred well but remember a particularly enjoyable Orioles game I spent with him. I have also long recognized the contribution his leadership and financial insight and experience have made to our industry. In many ways, he was responsible for the increasing capitalization — and professionalization — of mitigation banking. We at RS are sad to see him go, and offer our condolences to his family and his fine team at EIP. His obituary below is wonderfully well written and conveys the devotion that many of us in the industry feel for our work.

Fred C. Danforth 3/17/2016 Mattapoisett, MA

Posted on Tuesday, 22nd March 2016 | MATTAPOISETT

 Fred C. Danforth, 65, Pioneer in the Field of Conservation Finance Fred C. Danforth, who co-founded the largest private equity firm in the United States devoted to land and stream restoration, died at his home in Mattapoisett, MA, on Thursday, March 17. The cause was gall bladder cancer. Born in Brewer, ME, Fred graduated from Yale University in 1973. He began his career in finance with Citibank in New York City. He left there to become president of a regional bank in Tulsa, OK. In 1986, he co-founded Capital Resource Partners, a private equity investment firm located in Boston. It was after retiring from CRP in 2002 and purchasing a Montana ranch with a degraded trout stream that Fred found what he often said he was “meant to do,” combining his passion for the environment with his talent in finance. After two years of stream restoration efforts, the trout, which had been absent for decades, began to return. The robust response of nature to restoration gave Danforth the vision to create the first wetland and stream mitigation bank in Montana. He then co-founded a firm based on his vision that private capital could be marshaled to do large-scale restoration and conservation, work that had been previously reserved primarily for government and philanthropy. The firm, Ecosystem Investment Partners, based in Baltimore, pioneered a new “ecological asset class” by providing companies and government agencies a more efficient way to comply with Clean Water Act regulations. For Danforth, being a pioneer in this space demanded an unwavering belief in his vision and a fierce tenacity. Today, EIP has over $ 500 million under management, making it one of the largest sources of private capital for ecological restoration projects in the world. The same passion and determination that underpinned the foundation of EIP was present in other areas of Fred’s life. The time he spent on several Native American reservations illuminated the struggle young Native Americans face in seeking educational opportunities. A scholarship student at Yale, Fred endowed a scholarship fund to bring Native American students, particularly those from reservations, to the University. He also supported the creation of the Native American Cultural Center, which is now the hub of Native student activity at Yale. A talented multi-sport athlete, Fred sustained a severe injury to his right eye in a high school basketball game that left him temporarily blind in one eye. Although he had to give up basketball and baseball, he went on to play four years of varsity football at Yale. After three surgeries over seven years by famed Boston eye surgeon Trygve Gunderson, his sight was restored while at Yale. Fred’s son, Trygg, is named after his surgeon. An enthusiastic fly-fisherman and a determined golfer, Danforth was also passionate about having fun. He maintained that one of his strongest skills was his ability to “shoot a beer” in less than 2.5 seconds. The number of basketball and baseball games he missed played by his sons could be counted on one hand. In a speech he gave in November to Yale and Harvard athletic alumni, Mr. Danforth talked about legacy, saying, “By this I mean not just the legacy of accomplishment, but the legacy of influence and impact—of how I live my life, how I engage my passions, and the signals I send to my two sons.” As one of the investors in EIP said recently, “Fred’s legacy will live on. Because of his vision, tenacity and enormous heart, we will all benefit from his work. The many thousands of acres he helped to restore, the many miles of streams that are beautiful once again, will be a wonderful testimony to him. We were indeed lucky to have him with us, and to be able to share his passion.” Fred Danforth is survived by his wife, Carlene Larsson, and two sons, Trygg Larsson Danforth and Pierce Danforth Larsson. A memorial service will take place April 9, at 5 p.m. at the Boston Harbor Hotel. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Fred C. Danforth ’73 Scholarship Fund at Yale University or The Blackfoot Challenge, a non-profit focused on conserving and enhancing the natural resources in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley.
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