Our People

David Phemister

State Director, Kentucky


David Phemister headshot photo

Areas of Expertise

government relations, policy, land protection, lobbying, fundraising

Media Contact

Hayley Lynch


David Phemister joined The Nature Conservancy in Virginia in November 2002 working on land protection issues, first as Land Protection Specialist and then as Associate Director of Land Protection. From May 2006 through June 2014 he worked as Director of Government Relations for the Virginia Chapter, with a focus on policy development, agency relations and lobbying efforts with Virginia’s congressional delegation. He started as Kentucky’s State Director in July 2014. David has a M.S. from the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment and a B.A. from Brown University. He enjoys spending time outside with his family and friends. He is based in Kentucky's main office in Lexington.


Have you always had an interest in conservation?

David Phemister:

I grew up spending as much time as possible outside, mostly in Rockbridge County, Virginia. I hiked and camped in the Allegheny Mountains and swam and fished in the Maury River. However, it's hard to pinpoint exactly when that simple love of being outside grew into a passion for conserving those fields, forests and streams, but by the time I was in middle school I knew I cared about wild places, working farms, wildlife and creeks quite a bit.


How did your career path lead to working with The Nature Conservancy?

David Phemister:

I started my career in conservation with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in Washington, D.C. We gave out grants for conservation and environmental projects and I remember being continually impressed with the quality of proposals the Conservancy submitted. 

This impression held during graduate school in Michigan. The more I learned about the organization, the more impressed I was with its pragmatic, solution-oriented approach to conservation challenges. That is why I jumped at the opportunity to work on land protection, and eventually government relations, in the Conservancy’s Virginia Chapter. As predicted, working here has been a good fit for my interests.


What are some of the most memorable conservation wins the Kentucky chapter has achieved since you started as director in 2014?

David Phemister:

One of the highlights of my time as the Kentucky state director has been the removal of Green River Lock and Dam #6. This was the first of what will eventually be three Green River dam removals our chapter will help to achieve. For freshwater conservation, dam removals can achieve big conservation gains for a relatively low cost. I'm proud of what we've done so far, and I look forward to seeing the next two dams come out. At that point, 200 miles of the Green River will flow freely for the first time in a century. That's quite a win for people and nature.


What conservation goals do you most look forward to realizing in the future?

David Phemister:

I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the Green Heart project in Louisville. If our hypothesis is correct, the study will demonstrate the benefits of urban greening on human health. This would be ground-breaking not only for Louisville but potentially for cities all over the world. I'm also looking forward to the results of our five-year wetland monitoring study in west Kentucky. We have protected more than 6,500 acres of wetlands with our partners, and the study seeks to quantify the impact of this restoration work on things like water quality. This is another groundbreaking study that could influence conservation policy well beyond our state borders.

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