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Josh First's Family
Josh First and his family.

Josh First is a breath of fresh air in Pennsylvania politics, a newcomer with all of the real-world work experience to know what real working people need, and enough government experience to know its problems and benefits without the taint of having been too deeply in it, like many elected incumbents. Josh brings authenticity, hard work, and 20 years of experience in Federal and State government, national and regional non-profits, and business.

He wants to restore trust with the district’s voters, return the Republican Party to its conservative roots, and re-start central Pennsylvania’s political life. As a small business owner, Josh has no long-term political aspirations, just a desire to “set the clock back to the beginning.” That includes addressing issues like healthcare and the role of government in our everyday lives with common sense.

Josh is a native of central Pennsylvania, growing up in the State College area on a 25-acre “farmette,” and spending many family reunions and most holiday times in Harrisburg, with his grandparents Ed and Jane First. Ed and Jane were extremely active in the Republican Party and played instrumental roles in many local high-profile projects, including the Whitaker Center, the Harrisburg (Olmsted) Airport, and Penn National Race Track, Friends of Fort Hunter, as well as the Thornburgh and Ridge administrations.

Josh’s father, Ted, has been a school teacher, an entrepreneur, and starting in the late 1970s he was a custom home builder and land developer specializing in ultra-energy efficient homes and greenspace-saving development patterns. Ted was called the “Father of Solar Energy in Central Pennsylvania” in the 1980s, because of his pioneering work on passive and active solar heating in the custom homes he built. He has been a loving father with strict expectations for his kids, including a strong work ethic reinforced by the outdoor setting in which Josh grew up: Because the family heated the home only with wood, having enough wood split and laid up for the night was a requirement before getting dinner. From the time he was nine years old until he was eighteen, Josh split three to four cords of wood with an axe every summer and fall, and to this day he still enjoys that work. Ted’s family has belonged to historic Salem Church in Harrisburg since it was a log cabin in the 1700s, and his mother Jane First was the great-X-7grand-daughter of frontiersman Conrad Weiser, and an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Josh’s mother, Deborah, has been a school teacher and a university professor, with her PhD from Penn State. She trained as a concert pianist, and through many years of piano lessons attempted to pass that skill on to Josh, with no success, although she did succeed in instilling in Josh a clear sense of right and wrong and an appreciation for the outdoors. Deb was born and raised in Manhattan, New York, and spent her summers on a family farm in western Massachusetts.

Coming from a Quaker family, for high school Josh attended Westtown School in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and graduated in 1982.  Westtown is America’s flagship Quaker high school. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Penn State in 1988, and a master’s degree in government from Vanderbilt University in 1991.  While completing his graduate studies in 1990, Josh worked with the US Army Corps of Engineers; his thesis was on the high sustainable economic value of Army Corps recreational water projects and contrasting low agency budgets. Additional graduate education was obtained at Johns Hopkins University.

From 1991 to 1998 Josh worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC, holding three different positions as a senior staffer and team leader on national and international pesticide and agricultural regulation, policy, and environmental legislation.  Much of the work involved classic risk-benefit analysis and working with the world’s largest agricultural businesses, often re-regulating (after a failed first try) and leading efforts to de-regulate onerous rules and regulations. Josh went to the EPA because he believed then, and now, in environmental quality, but his work experience there convinced him that big government with lots of bureaucrats telling hard-working Americans what to do was the last way that environmental quality should be attained in this day and age. Josh believes in the power of markets to achieve most of the environmental quality goals remaining in the U.S.

At EPA, Josh interfaced on policy, regulation, and legislation throughout different offices in EPA, and with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. National Institutes for Health, U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Federal Aviation Administration, many state agencies, and many of the world’s largest agribusinesses, as well as migrant farm workers and small farmers across the country. Josh learned a lot about illegal and legal immigration because of the role that migrant farm workers play in agriculture. Josh traveled internationally several times on official business during the “Middle East Peace Process,” using his U.S. State Department passport to visit several Middle Eastern countries and work with their governments.

In 1998, Josh left EPA to take a position in the Tom Ridge administration in Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, where he served on the executive staff as Director of Education & Information, under legendary conservationist John C. Oliver III, the first secretary of PA DCNR. Josh gained a reputation for looking out for the little guy, and trying to improve the small but important aspects of daily work life for Pennsylvania’s State Parks and State Forests facilities and field staff across Pennsylvania. His work portfolio included assisting with land acquisition, land use and conservation policy, and conservation education policy.

Realizing that protecting the environment can be achieved mostly without heavy-handed government regulation, but rather through land conservation which encompasses the land, watershed, scenic and habitat values, in 2000 Josh went on to a new job.

Josh FirstIn 2000, Josh was hired by two other legendary conservationists, Pat Noonan and John Turner. He opened the Pennsylvania office for the Conservation Fund and served as the group’s first Pennsylvania state director for three-and-a-half years. During his tenure at TCF he developed a national reputation for leadership on land conservation and conservation policy, interfacing with many non-profit groups across the country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. National Parks Service, and many federal and state elected officials.

During his time at TCF, Josh helped protect about 60,000 acres in Pennsylvania, both during and after his tenure there. Among Josh’s more notable accomplishments was the 12,000-acre Litke property acquisition and the creation of a 1,200-acre dedicated ATV recreation area on it in Centre County, the design and implementation of the 2,200-acre land protection plan for the United Air Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County, where he also led the negotiations for the acquisition of 800 acres from PBS Coals and helped get a donation of 160 acres from Consol Energy that formed the foundation of the new national memorial; the acquisition of the last parcel of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg National Military Park (the “Home Sweet Home” motel);
Lake Eriethe acquisition of subsurface rights from PPL for the 14,000-acre Hammersley Natural Area in Clinton County; the acquisition of 500 acres with a mile of pristine shoreline on Lake Erie in partnership with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and Reliant Energy Co.; and the acquisition of 9,300 pristine acres from Philadelphia Suburban Water Co. in Cumberland and Northumberland counties adjoining the famous coal town of Centralia. Josh led and assisted on many other land protection projects, and conducted several ground-breaking planning projects, including designing a land protection plan for 20,000 acres of power utility lands along the Lower Susquehanna River, now well into its implementation and protection stage, and conducting an assessment and mapping of all of Pennsylvania’s protected lands. Josh also designed a cutting-edge GIS land protection analysis and plan for Lancaster County in partnership with the Lancaster County Farmland Trust, and served as a founding member and vice-chairman of the highly successful Conestoga River Nutrient Credit Trading Project in Lancaster County (which proved that private market incentives can protect the environment). Josh also initiated the first Forest Legacy project in Pennsylvania, garnering $500,000 from the US Forest Service with PA DCNR to acquire a conservation easement on 540 acres owned by Glatfelter Paper Co. on the lower Susquehanna River. Many other projects begun under his leadership have been successfully concluded, including large swaths of hunting land subsequently set aside in the Poconos.

Close to 100% of the land conservation projects required 50% private matching funds, which Josh was able to help raise from private foundations, generous individuals, hunting clubs and related conservation groups, such as the Ruffed Grouse Society, National Wild Turkey Federation, and Safari Club International. During this time, Josh demonstrated repeatedly that conservation is conservative, because it relies on markets, unlike environmentalism, which relies on heavy regulation and big government.

After applying to become the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, knowing that he had a reasonable shot at it, Josh left TCF in October 2003 and served as volunteer interim executive director for the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy for six months, while also continuing to serve on the board. While at CPC, he moved the office to a premier location in downtown Harrisburg, got the website up and running, wrote op-eds and garnered press with resulting memberships, wrote a successful PA DEP grant, designed the executive director position and advertised it nationally, and helped raise $100,000 for operating costs from the R.K. Mellon Foundation, critical funding to hire the full-time executive director. Josh served on the CPC board for over three years and was board secretary when he resigned in 2004 to found Pennsylvania’s first and only state-based, state-wide land trust, Penn’s Woods Conservation Trust (www.penns-woods.org), where he has served as board president.  Since its founding, PWCT has served as a clearing house for providing advice and answering questions from landowners and businesses interested in smart growth and land conservation, and has primarily served as a link to local conservation groups and land trusts.  It has been dormant since 2007 as the economy has suffered and Josh focused on his business and building his congressional campaign. He still supports CPC.

In December 2003, after interviewing for the Fish & Boat Commission position, and into 2004 while serving at CPC, Josh began to bring to fruition all of the various work he had previously done, seeking to create market-based methods for achieving public environmental quality benefits. Josh implemented the beginnings of Appalachian Land & Conservation Services Co., LLC (www.appalachianland.us), by purchasing a critical 100-acre inholding at Bald Eagle State Park in Centre County. By the spring of 2004, Appalachian was fully functional and engaged in active land protection, working on donating conservation easements to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  The years of 2004 and 2005 were spent acquiring land, developing leads on new acquisitions, and building the consulting side of the business.

In early 2005 Josh was a volunteer with the non-profit conservation community and DCNR to promote Growing Greener II, an environmental funding effort.  As a businessman he championed the bond’s sustainable development potential.Growing Greener Campaign Later in 2005, he served as Treasurer for the Growing Greener II Campaign, was a key member of the campaign committee and architect of the campaign, actively lobbied the Pennsylvania legislature for several months over the campaign, and successfully fundraised to support the campaign.  Growing Greener II created a $650 million environmental and conservation program needed for protecting farmland and environmental quality. While the funding was acutely needed at the time, in retrospect the conservation funding crisis was a result of different funding priorities than had existed in previous administrations, when farmland conservation and environmental protection were high priorities, and the bond issue seemed like the only way to maintain those then-present funding levels. Now that that funding has run out, it is clear that dedicated sources such as the Oil & Gas Fund must be protected and set aside to ensure that adequate conservation actions can be taken now and in the future. Borrowing is no longer the answer, especially with the nation’s economy forever changed as it has been in 2008 and 2009.

Throughout his enjoyable experience running his small business, Josh has provided complicated real estate consulting services to a variety of clients and partners across Pennsylvania, as well as invested in projects that allow him to demonstrate his unique business model. Virtually all of his projects, clients, and funding have been private. His business receives no government money of any sort.

Josh has served as a conference moderator and panelist, and has spoken widely on the role of hunting in conservation, environmental protection, land protection, and natural resource conservation abroad, in Pennsylvania, at Land Trust Alliance rallies, and at many other conferences and press events around the nation. He has testified several times before the Pennsylvania Legislature on conservation issues. He is a current or member or officer of many conservation groups, including the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, Trout Unlimited, the Pennsylvania Wildlife Federation, and the National Rifle Association. He served a four-year term on the national board of directors of Republicans for Environmental Protection (www.repamerica.org), is a member of the Policy Council for 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, and from 2001 to 2009 was a member of the Policy Council for the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.

Josh is Coordinator of the Pennsylvania Habitat Alliance, which annually convenes the state-wide conservation, hunting, fishing, and natural resource non-profit organizations in Pennsylvania, including PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, PA Game Commission, and PA Fish and Boat Commission. Josh is also a member of the Dauphin County Planning Commission.

In all these volunteer roles, Josh is a noted and assertive conservative, advocating for good policy worthy of the goals.

He is also a past member of the Harrisburg Rotary Club, and has volunteered on many political campaigns and events, including serving as a hospitality and security specialist at the 2000 Republican National Convention, a volunteer on policy development and a liaison for both of Rick Santorum’s re-election campaigns (2000 and 2006), policy development and outreach on Mike Fisher’s 2002 bid for Pennsylvania governor, the 2008 Stroehmann for Congress campaign in the PA 5th (where Josh does most of his hunting), grass roots work for both of state senator Jeff Piccola’s campaigns of 2004 and 2008, and grass roots work for the 2009 Mindlin for Mayor of Harrisburg race, where Republican Nevin Mindlin obtained a previously unimaginable 45% of the vote in an overwhelmingly Democratic city.

Josh’s strengths are his training, intellect, broad experience with Federal and State government and elected officials, and absolute commitment to the essential values and beliefs on which America was founded. He understands how good legislation and policy are developed, what interests and pressures are brought to bear, and how principled leadership can avoid the pitfalls that have led America to the position in which it now finds itself.

Josh believes strongly in the power of private markets and in their ability to advance both regulations in general and environmental quality in particular as an alternative to government regulation.

Josh First Hunting He enjoys hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, canoeing, and managing his land for wildlife and native species.  He is married to Vivian, an attorney, and they have three children.

Josh First Fishing

Having previously served on the State College Planning Commission, his 2010 campaign for Congress was his first foray into elected politics as a candidate. His PA 17th congressional campaign website is archived at www.joshfirst.com/2010_Campaign/index.php

Josh  First with Governor Tom Ridge and DCNR Secretary John C. Oliver Josh First with Governor Tom Ridge and DCNR Secretary John C. Oliver, at the December 15, 1999 official signing of the first Growing Greener program, in Chester County, PA.

Josh First spoke at the National Press Club
In June, 2004, Josh First spoke at the National Press Club, as a hunter, fisherman, conservationist, and businessman.  First was one of three panel members hosted by the National Wildlife Federation from across the country to discuss national environmental policies and the results of a NWF hunter and angler survey.


Josh First speaking on behalf of sportsmen in Washington DC
Josh First speaking on behalf of sportsmen in Washington DC on September 8, 2005 at a tri-partisan press conference on mercury standards held by U.S. Senators Collins (R-ME), Snowe (R-ME), Leahy (D-VT), and Jeffords (I-VT).  He advocated for less command and control government regulation.

1 Comment

  • Sep 12th 201001:09
    by Pearlene Budz

    thanks !! quite helpful post!

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