National Forests expert, Senior Attorney Sarah Francisco named Director of Virginia Office

Sarah Francisco, recently named Director of SELC's Virginia Office, talks about what drew her to the forest protection work she does today. (© Mike Mather)

SELC has named longtime attorney Sarah Francisco as our new Virginia Office director who will lead this organization’s legal and policy work throughout the state.

A senior attorney at SELC, Francisco joined the organization 15 years ago, first as a legal intern, and then as an associate attorney following her graduation from the University of Richmond School of Law. Her work has focused on protecting our precious Southern Appalachian Mountains, and for the past seven years, Francisco has led SELC’s National Forest and Parks Program. In that role, she has coordinated SELC’s region-wide team of attorneys advocating for long-term protection of old-growth forest, important fish and wildlife habitat, headwater streams and drinking water resources, and wild lands enjoyed for backcountry recreation. Under her leadership, SELC has successfully stopped destructive timber sales, inappropriate road building, and new oil and gas leasing on public lands throughout the Southeast.

Francisco’s passion for forest protection is a natural outgrowth of her upbringing in the Shenandoah Valley, where she grew up on a working farm in Augusta County.

“I’ve always had a huge appreciation for our farm and the surrounding countryside. There’s something really special about this area” she said. “But as my worldview got bigger, I realized the places we care about are not necessarily protected; they can be changed irrevocably or even lost completely. I wanted to play my part in protecting them—not just the Shenandoah Valley, but more generally those special places throughout Virginia and the South.”

Building on that passion with legal—and local—expertise has led to impressive results.

“Sarah is an extraordinary lawyer, and she has earned tremendous respect for her impressive track record in defending mountain forest lands throughout our region,” said Rick Middleton, SELC founder and executive director. “Combining insights and knowledge drawn from both her personal background and her professional experience, she brings to her new position a deep understanding of the environmental challenges and opportunities facing Virginia. SELC is celebrating its 30th Anniversary, and we’re thrilled to have Sarah at the helm as we look ahead to the next 30 years.”

Francisco counts among her proudest personal accomplishments serving as a leader of the successful campaign with partners to convince the U.S. Forest Service not to open Virginia’s George Washington National Forest to fracking.

“It’s a great honor to have the opportunity to build upon SELC’s remarkable history of protecting Virginia’s natural resources, natural beauty, and community character,” said Francisco. “From my earliest days growing up in the Shenandoah Valley, I’ve wanted to do all I could to preserve what we all love about Virginia. I can’t imagine a better way of making an impact than by helping SELC’s incredible Virginia team do the most, best work that we can to safeguard our state’s air, water, and landscapes.”  

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