The board and staff of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy are saddened by the unfortunate news that longtime Conservancy board member James C. Finley, Ph.D. was tragically killed on Saturday, Oct. 2 while cutting down a tree on his property in Ridgway, Pa. He was 72.
Jim had recently retired from Penn State University as a professor of sustainable forest resources management. He was an industry expert, informing the management decisions of foresters and conservation professionals from across the state, including the Conservancy’s forest management staff. He also remained active with the Center for Private Forests, which he helped cofound in 2011.
He was passionate about supporting private forestland owners. While at the university, Jim led Pennsylvania’s Forest Stewardship Program, a coordinated volunteer program to inspire landowners to sustainably manage and understand conservation options for their forests.
“Forest management is important now more than ever as our forests face challenges like fragmentation, natural gas development, climate change and ecological threats,” Jim said for a recent Conserve Magazine article.
Conservancy President and CEO Tom Saunders said Jim was an extraordinary leader in forest conservation and management whose expertise, knowledge and passion influenced the work of the Conservancy for many years.
“He was a wonderful board member who earned the respect and trust of the Conservancy staff who knew and worked with him. Kindness and generosity were always at the forefront of any interaction with Jim. He was an immensely caring, gentle, warm, nice and thoughtful person. His death is tragic and so sudden,” says Tom.
As an extension of all his expertise and kindness, he turned wood bowls and other vessels for Fallingwater from fallen trees at Bear Run Nature Reserve in Fayette County. Jim’s interest in the ancient craft of woodturning started as a small hobby, but over the years, he perfected the art and volunteered many hours to transforming the wood from the trees into hundreds of beautiful, uniquely crafted works of art. The bowls are sold at the Fallingwater Museum Store with all proceeds benefitting the Conservancy.
“Jim’s selfless support and dedication to the Conservancy will never be forgotten,” Tom adds while noting his death follows the passing this year of beloved board members Jean Robinson and Steve Guinn. “All three were gracious, kind, generous, warm and caring people who had significant and influential roles on our board and in our organization.”
A celebration of Jim’s life will be held on October 30 at 1 p.m. at the State College Presbyterian Church, which is located at the corner of Beaver Avenue and Fraser Street in downtown State College, Pa., where he was a longtime member and served as a deacon. The service will also be live streamed and archived on YouTube. A reception at a nearby hotel will be held after the service. Read more about Jim’s life in his obituary.
About the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) enhances the region by protecting and restoring exceptional places. A private nonprofit conservation organization founded in 1932, WPC has helped establish 11 state parks, conserved more than a quarter million acres of natural lands, protected or restored more than 3,000 miles of rivers and streams, and accessed hundreds of wildlife species and their habitats. The Conservancy owns and operates Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and symbolizes people living in harmony with nature. In addition, WPC enriches our region’s cities and towns through 130 community gardens and other green spaces that are planted with the help of more than 5,000 volunteers. The work of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is accomplished through the support of more than 9,000 members. For more information, visit WaterLandLife.org or Fallingwater.org.