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Article Published April 10, 2019
Blending an Interest in Economics and Environment
Eric O’Connell, Staff Reporter

You may not associate watching bear and bull markets with watching birds, but former stockbroker Robert LaFrance is combining his interests as the new policy director for Audubon Connecticut.

Robert says that his interest in birds began as a college student at the University of Arizona.

“I had a great college ecology professor, and his specialty was hummingbirds,” Robert recalls.

The professor’s interest in the birds impressed Robert, and led to him deciding to pursue what he terms “an interest in economics and nature.”

Robert graduated with a degree in economics and ecology, and worked for a time as a stockbroker. However, Robert eventually relocated back to the east coast and began a career working outside of the financial realm. Prior to coming to Audubon Connecticut, Robert worked as the director of law and policy for environmental conservation for the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP).

“I was the legislative liaison for DEEP. I had to interface with the state general assembly, the executive, and local leaders,” Robert says.

Audubon Connecticut is a state office of the National Audubon Society. It has five chapters, more than 17,000 members, and three education centers in Southbury, Greenwich, and Sharon. Its mission is to protect birds and their habitats through a mix of advocacy, education, and conservation efforts.

As policy director, Robert is working on developing the group’s strategic plan that will inform its advocacy in the future.

“It’s sort of the same role I had at DEEP. My job is to identify what the issues are [and] help draft laws that make sense,” says Robert.

Robert says that one of his chief concerns is finding ways to educate and fight against climate change, including protecting Long Island Sound from the effects of rising sea levels.

“Part of our job is pushing ideas forward and working with state and municipal governments,” he says. “We’re fortunate in Connecticut in that we recognize that climate change is an issue.”

Robert started his new position on March 1, so he admits that there’s been a bit of a learning curve in getting started. Additionally, Robert says that since the state has resource issues, he’s been looking at economic incentives to help encourage people to change their behaviors. Robert says he wants to ensure funding is there for educational initiatives as well.

As for his current role, Robert says he is working to do more for the society by “making sure we work together in positive collaborative ways.”

Robert was surprised to learn of the scope of what Audubon Connecticut does beyond bird watching. In addition to the work with the state’s legislature, the society also does work to protect the Long Island Sound.

“It’s valuable for birds, economics, and people,” Robert says of Long Island Sound. “As an organization, we recognize humans live, work, and make a living here and we can find a balance.”

Robert says the notion that you cannot both grow the economy and protect the environment is false.

“It just takes more time,” says Robert.

Robert originally grew up New Jersey, but has called Clinton home for the last 27 years. In Clinton he has previously served on the Board of Education and on the Inland Wetlands Commission.

According to Robert, there’s ample opportunity for fellow birding enthusiasts who enjoy the outdoors that Clinton has to offer.

“The beautiful thing about Clinton is you have the Indian River and you go in in a kayak and go out past the town beach,” Robert says, describing a favorite route to take when looking to birds.

Robert also said that Peters Memorial Woods, 35 Valley Road, Clinton is a favorite location inland in Clinton to go in search of birds (a trail map is available at clintonlandtrust.org). Robert says some common species of birds you can find in Clinton are egrets, osprey, and cormorants.

“If you go out, you’ll likely see all three,” Robert says.

When he’s not working, Robert says he is an avid golfer who also enjoys swimming, tennis, bird watching, and hiking with his wife Maria and their children Alison, Darcy, and Kevin.