It is a sad day in the Berkshires and for conservationists beyond our region. Peter Berle died on Thursday from injuries suffered when a barn collapsed on a farm he and his wife Lila owned in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Berles are widely regarded as part of the heart and soul of the Berkshires - I can vividly recall a contentious Town Hall hearing on a proposed MassPike exit that Lila attended with one of her lambs tucked under her arm - and Peter is a great loss.
Known to many in our region as a longtime host of Public Radio station WAMC's Environment Show and until late this summer still heard as an occasional commentator, Peter had extraordinary environmental credentials beyond Stockbridge, where he served as the head of the local land trust and raised sheep and cattle on his two farms.
Peter A.A. Berle was an environmental lawyer, a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School and holder of several honorary degrees for his conservation efforts in both the public and non-profit sectors. He was a three term New York State Assemblyman (1968-1974), and for three years beginning in 1976 he was Commissioner of New York's Department of Environmental Conservation. According to Newsday:
"During his three-year tenure, the state started action against General Electric for PCB pollution in the Hudson River and began addressing the Love Canal toxic waste site in Niagara Falls. He helped write the state's first solid-waste plan, an air-pollution control plan for New York City and the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan."
He was later President and CEO of the National Audubon Society from 1985-1995, and was appointed to many environmental advisory groups, including the Task Force on the Future of the Adirondack Park, U.S. EPA advisory groups on the Clean Air Act, and was appointed by President Clinton to the Joint Public Advisory Committee to the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation under NAFTA. He was on the Board of Directors of the New York Independent Systems Operator and was its Vice Chair at the time of his death. Peter continued to be an active voice in conservation efforts in the Berkshires and beyond. In addition to producing wool and livestock in Stockbridge, Peter was also President of Sky Farms Productions, Inc. which brought environmental programming to public television.
Peter and Lila conserved their 490-acre Sky Farm through a conservation restriction held by Berkshire Natural Resources Council. New York Governor Eliot Spitzer called Peter Berle "a giant in the environmental movement." He will be sorely missed.