The government is us; we are the government, you and I. -Theodore Roosevelt

B&C Member Spotlight – Russell Train

By PJ DelHomme 

As a tax lawyer turned conservation warrior, Russell Train had the ear of numerous U.S. presidents in the 1960s and ‘70s. As a result, his legacy lives on in the legislation he helped drive to the finish line. 


Born in 1920, Russell Train had deep roots in American soil. His forbears settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635, and they participated in the wars of a young nation. Train’s grandfather and father were officers in the U.S. Navy. At Princeton, Train’s senior thesis, “The United States versus Japan: A Study of Sea Power in the Atlantic,” was more than relevant then. He graduated in 1941, the same year Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Train served as a major in the U.S. Army during World War II, and after his discharge in 1946, he studied law at Columbia, where he graduated with a J.D. after just two years. 

Train’s career trajectory was well on its way to a life spent in the bowels of tax law. He was an attorney for the IRS and served as chief counsel for the Ways and Means Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives for two years. From there, he was an attorney for the Treasury Department, then a judge in U.S. Tax Court from 1957-1965. As he bounced around the Beltway, he married Aileen Bowdoin Travers in 1954. Not only was she, in Train’s words, “an absolute knockout,” but she was also very well-connected; Aileen was a bridesmaid at Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding. Train’s marriage to Aileen was pivotal in his decision to leave behind the riveting world of tax law. 

From Tax Lawyer to Conservation 

Since he was a young boy, Train was fascinated with Africa. After being married for less than two years, Aileen was so tired of hearing about Africa that she convinced Train to take the family on safari there. They hunted and camped, listening to lions prowl their tents after dark. They also experienced Africa during a time of rapid decolonization. He was concerned about what might happen to the continent’s natural resources. 

Aileen and Russell in Kenya on safari in 1956.

Not long after that visit in 1956, train joined the African Safari Club in D.C. There, he was the head of a conservation committee that included Kermit Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson. Train put his knowledge of tax law to work and created his own non-profit, the African Wildlife Leadership Foundation, in an effort to help teach locals on conservation of their natural resources. Soon after, he got a call from B&C member Ira Garbielson, president of the Wildlife Management Institute, asking Train to serve as vice president of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1961. Train accepted.

Train wrote, “My appointment to a position in the new Administration requires that I sever connections which might create conflicts of interest. While I shall remain (and defend to the death!) my membership in the Boone and Crockett Club, I hereby tender my resignation….”

The same year, Train was elected as a member of the Boone and Crockett Club and was as one of B&C's longest serving members at over 51 years. He served as a member of the conservation committee from 1963-65 and as a conservation advisor from 1965-69. He was a Club vice president in 1968, and was forced to resign his role as an officer in 1969 when he was appointed by President Nixon to serve as undersecretary at the Department of the Interior. In a letter to Boone and Crockett Club President John Rhea notifying him of his resignation, Train wrote, “My appointment to a position in the new Administration requires that I sever connections which might create conflicts of interest. While I shall remain (and defend to the death!) my membership in the Boone and Crockett Club, I hereby tender my resignation….” 

Train’s connections to the Club meant that he was asked to put his skills to work in numerous conservation roles. Fairfield Osborn, son of Henry Fairfield Osborn and a founding member of the Boone and Crockett Club, asked Train to serve as the president of The Conservation Foundation in 1965. During his tenure as president of The Conservation Foundation, Train became a member of the National Water Commission. In 1968, he was selected to serve as chairman of the Task Force on Environment for U.S. President-elect Richard Nixon. This meant he had the ear of President Nixon, who would initiate monumental pieces of environmental legislation such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act of 1970, the creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Endangered Species Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Train would play a key role in a number of those policies. 

President Richard Nixon is shown signing the Clean Air Act on Dec. 31, 1970, as Russell Train, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, looks on.

All in for Conservation 

From 1969-1970, Train served as undersecretary at the Department of the Interior under a president who appeared concerned about the environment. In reality, writes Train’s biographer J. Brooks Flippen in Conservative Conservationist, “...Nixon recognized the environment as a way to cultivate a new constituency.” In other words, Nixon was interested in winning votes. Regardless of motive, President Nixon’s time in office was greatly influenced by the recommendations of the Task Force on Environment. 

In 1969, Nixon issued an executive order creating the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which Train chaired from 1970-1973. This new role thrust Train into the spotlight, as he appeared on the front pages of both the New York Times and the Washington Post. In that role, Train supported fellow Boone and Crockett member Lee Talbot as Talbot worked to re-write the Endangered Species Act, which Nixon signed into law in 1973. Nixon enlisted the CEQ to ensure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, which he had signed in 1969. Ensuring federal agencies adhered to the newly established Clean Air Act (1970) and Clean Water Act (1972) was just one of the many roles of the CEQ. Train traveled to the USSR in 1972 to meet with Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet Ambassador. Nixon was on board with this, thinking that agreement on environmental issues by the world’s two most powerful nations might be one step closer to world peace. In 1973, Nixon named Train to head the Environmental Protection Agency, where he served from 1973-1977. Then Watergate happened, and Nixon resigned in 1974. 

In September 1973, EPA Administrator Russell Train was sworn in by Attorney General Elliot Richardson.

President Ford, at first, seemed keen to embrace environmental issues. Those issues soon took a backseat to other issues facing the nation, namely the Cold War, inflation, an energy crisis, and a terrible economy. When Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected, Train returned to the private sector. 

Life After the Beltway 

In 1978, Train became president and chairman of the WWF, the group he helped create in 1961, serving as its first vice president. When he left that role in 1985, he became chairman of the board of directors there. Under his guidance, WWF in the United States grew from a small, grant-making organization into a global conservation force with more than one million members.

World Wildlife Fund released this poster in 1961. Train helped create the organization and in 1978 returned as their president and chairman.

Train was a diehard Republican who believed in working with everyone to solve the nation’s environmental issues. When Ronald Reagan was elected president, the environmental movement and the government regulations it spawned were now scorned. President Regan said in his inaugural address, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” And he meant it. Train, ever the diplomat, was slow to criticize “because he shared the party affiliation of the deregulators now controlling much of the public agenda,” Flippen writes. “Torn between party loyalty and an irritation at its new direction, Train was weak in denouncing Regan.”

Ever loyal to his party and good friend, George H.W. Bush, Train served as co-chairman of Conservationists for Bush. It was President Bush who presented Train with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 for his conservation work. And yet, when Bush’s son, George W. Bush, was elected, Train openly criticized the new president’s stance on the environment. And then the unthinkable. “In 2004, well into his ninth decade of a life loyal to the Republican Party, Train did something he had never done before,” Flippen writes. “He voted for John Kerry, the Democratic candidate. Indeed, in the end, Train was an environmentalist first and Republican second.” 

Russell Train died at his farm in Bozman, Maryland in September 2012 at 92. He was a Washington insider his entire life and valued a clean, healthy environment above all else. In 2001, he received the Heinz Awards Chairman’s Medal. In his acceptance speech, Train spoke of the work still left to do and the pressing need for all humans to continue the work of conservation across the planet. He said, “I am convinced that the ability of our human society to live and work in harmony with the natural world around us on this Earth is the critical determinant of the quality of human life for the indefinite future and indeed for the very survival of humanity.” 

His commitment to conservation continues through the Russell E. Train Education for Nature Program, an endowment established in his honor by WWF to provide financial support and educational training to the next generation of international conservation leaders.

Member Spotlights

Boone and Crockett Club members have come from a cross-section of famous accomplished people whose lives and careers have written and recorded the history of this country since the late 19th Century. They have been naturalists, scientists, explorers and sportsmen, writers and academicians, artists, statesmen and politicians, generals, bankers, financiers, philanthropists, and industrialists. Their diversity of ideas and activities during their careers have made the Boone and Crockett Club rich in its fellowship and achievements. To read more member spotlights, just click here

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal

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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt