Born in Baltimore, Pete lived there until the age of 12 when his family moved to Mexico. He attended local schools in Veracruz before returning the US to complete high school while his family continued living in Latin America (Nicaragua, Colombia, Uruguay and Paraguay).
received a B.A. in Biology/Psychologyfrom Reed College (Portland OR) in 1972, winning two fellowships upon graduation. He traveled widely in southern South America on one, a Thomas J. Watson Traveling Fellowship, during 1973-74, and with the other, an NSF graduate fellowship, pursued a doctorate in Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, which he completed in 1979. Following post-doctoral work at University of California's Bodega Marine Laboratory, he took a research position at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, where he remained on the research staff until 1987. During that period he carried out ecological and environmental research in North and South America on migratory birds, wetlands and conservation biology, publishing widely in scientific journals specializing in these fields. He was also a member of the adjunct faculty of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Oregon.
Forsaking a calm life in the academy because of concerns about the future of the environment, especially the impact of climate change on biological diversity, Pete left Philadelphia in 1987 to become Senior Vice President for Science and Sanctuaries at the National Audubon Society in New York. There he provided scientific guidance to the Society's environmental programs, managed the Society's national system of conservation sanctuaries and led the Society's scientific research on ecosystem health, the biological effects of global warming, bird conservation biology and the ecological impacts of bioengineering.
He joined the Foundation as Director in 1990.