A childhood spent in the suburbs of St. Louis might not provide the inspiration most kids would need to develop a passion for conservation and the outdoors. However, most kids don’t have a childhood like James Blair, IV.
Blair’s father served as a Missouri Department of Conservation Commissioner from 1965 to 1977. This gave Blair, IV, the opportunity to spend time around some of the most respected names in conservation.
“As a young boy learning to hunt and fish, I was privileged to spend time at the knee of Glenn Chambers, Dick Vaught, Ken Babcock, Charlie and Libby Schwartz, and many other great conservation leaders of the country,” Blair said. “I got exposed to stuff that most people don’t.”
For many who find their passion at a young age, there is a specific memory or moment when they know they have found what they want to do. For Blair, rather than having an “ah-ha” moment, his interest in nature permeated his everyday existence.
After high school, he left home to attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas. There he received a bachelor’s in business administration, leading him to a career in financial services; a career he found more viable and stable for the long term. Despite venturing away in his professional life from his first love of conservation, Blair never lost his passion for the outdoors and the people in it.
“It’s the people and the shared values that ultimately drive people to have a passion for something like conservation,” he said. “They are people that I had found to be so amazing, and they made me want to be more like them.”
Dave Murphy, current Missouri Department of Conservation Commission chair, sees Blair’s passion for the people of the conservation community through his work on the Commission.
“To say that Jim has a passion for the people of conservation is exactly the way to express this,” Murphy said. “You don’t have to look much further than the value he places on being a consistent proponent for public trust ownership of public lands and making it relevant and accessible to them.”
Blair would go on to become a tenured partner at Moneta Group, while helping to build it into one of the largest financial advisory firms in the country. His 30 years spent at Moneta Group made him one of the top financial advisers in the country.
Despite going into a different line of work, Blair has never forgotten his childhood role models, and like them, has remained incredibly active in the conservation community.
“Conservation is part of his lifestyle, it is much more than a casual interest,” Murphy said.
Blair would work to become one of the founding charter members and a current chairman of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance, an organization that works to preserve the Confluence Flood Plain in St. Charles County and beyond.
“He was an original co-founder and board member, and he’s had an enormous role throughout the history of Great Rivers Habitat Alliance,” said David Stokes, Great Rivers Habitat Alliance executive director. “He works so hard with whatever time he has to preserve for the people of Missouri now and for the people in the future.”
Blair has also chaired multiple fundraisers and worked tirelessly for Ducks Unlimited, an organization focusing on wetland and waterfowl conservation, and has served as president of the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps facilitate the work of the Missouri Department of Conservation. This work led to his eventual selection as Missouri Department of Conservation Commissioner by Jay Nixon in 2011.
“I would like to think I was lucky to be selected by Governor Nixon,” Blair said. “He cared very deeply about conservation, and while some political appointments are strictly political, some have greater implications, and this is one of those. He wanted to make sure that the people he chose had a skillset that could benefit the agency and had a deeply rooted passion for the Missouri design of conservation.”
The Missouri design of conservation was a crucial point of focus for Blair in his time on the commission.
“Living in a state like Missouri, where 92 percent of land is in private ownership, we can’t take for granted the number of people in urban areas who don’t have access to conservation and the outdoors,” Blair said. “We live in an era where people’s lives are so scheduled. We have to figure out ways to deliver conservation to people by making it as convenient as possible.”
To achieve this, the Department of Conservation uses a one-eighth of 1 percent sales tax that went into effect in 1976 to support their initiatives.
“With this, we have given more people in the urban corridors access to the outdoors,” Blair said.
As his term as commissioner comes to a close this July, Blair is looking forward to taking a step back and having more time for himself than he has in recent years.
“I plan to spend more time with my retrievers, and I plan to travel just a little bit more than I have in the last 20 years,” he said. “But I absolutely will continue to be involved in conservation, I’m just not quite sure where I will be called upon to help.”