As I reflect on my Fellowship, I realize the lessons of community resiliency and collaboration that I have learned will travel much farther than just my time in Calaveras County. The deeply involved community members of Calaveras county put in an extreme amount of work to beat difficult odds.
Community members such as Pat McGreevy have taught me the importance of determination and persistence. Pat, for example, spends a significant portion of his free time writing grants to deal with tree mortality in the area. In addition to seeing this work done at home (as he’s hosted me during my Fellowship), Pat partners with CHIPS to advance these objectives as well. His work, that often goes unnoticed, is extremely important to the community and his dedication has had a great affect on me by showing the determination needed to get work done on the ground when there are administrative and economic challenges.
The work of the committed board members of the collaborative group the ACCG has also promoted reflection. These individuals, from a variety of environmental organizations, come together to work on various community projects, recognize the importance of the collaborative process in identifying and advancing triple bottom line solutions. For example, the Forest Service might have a current initiative where they are focusing management efforts on addressing tree mortality, while the United States Fish and Wildlife might be focusing on protecting a certain endangered species. By having representatives of both groups at ACCG meetings, it allows the two groups the opportunity to communicate to make sure both issues are taken into consideration with their management practices. Generally, the more groups that are involved in these collaborative meetings, the more factors there are that can be considered when planning forest and community projects. I have seen this slow down the process since there is input from a wide variety of organizations, but the end result is typically an extremely thorough project that is executed more efficiently.
The ACCG Forest Monitoring Plan is another good example of the beneficial use of collaboration on regional issues. Through meetings, the ACCG has found that local environmental groups monitor different things in the forest, information that may be beneficial to other groups. Consequently, the ACCG developed a plan that will allow all data from local monitoring agencies to be compiled in one central location, allowing each organization to receive more information than they previously had access to. Additionally, groups won’t separately monitor the same thing in the forest. This technique will help save money and allow for more knowledge to be spread to various groups in the hope to better inform projects and understand what is happening in the forest.
In the future, I look forward to embracing the idea and value of collaboration that I’ve learned in Calaveras with other groups. With the extremely complex challenges of climate change, collaboration is necessary to achieve a sustainable future. One of my particular interests is the hope for incorporating indigenous groups in resource management and planning. Many of these groups have intimate knowledge of the environment and understand complex relationships between species that can be lost on western ecologists or scientists. Not only do these people have intimate knowledge of the environment, generally, they are among some of the most resilient groups of people on the planet. Moving forward, I hope find and support a group with as much dedication and collaboration as the ACCG to help to advance indigenous management practices.
Even though there are many individuals and organizations trying to advance social and environmental solutions in rural forested communities, I have also seen first hand some of the real challenges rural communities face in trying to achieve sustainability and a balance between ecosystem and community needs. To give some background, the main project I was hired to work on during my Fellowship was to help advance a bioenergy facility in Wilseyville, implemented by CHIPS. Unfortunately there have been major setbacks in our development of the biomass project due to delays in review, response, and action by the county. It seems like projects like this, that would benefit the community and the forest, receive much less support and have to jump through many more hoops than a project that works to benefit a wealthy corporation at the expense of a community or environment.
This problem, which is one of the biggest causes of environmental destruction and climate change, has led me to reflect on the unfortunate reality of the world today. Many major development projects that only benefit shareholders and not the community or the environment somehow get approved with less resistance than an environmental solution-based project like a biomass plant in a tree mortality area. Some projects that come to mind are the Dakota Access Pipeline or the Bel Monte Dam in the Amazon where the people who live in the area don’t want the work to be done.
When can we put the greed of small but economically powerful groups aside to benefit the larger, but less influential majority? These are major questions I will pursue in my future career as the effects of climate change become more adverse. Fortunately, through my Fellowship I have learned that collaboration and resiliency are important ways to combat this issue. Moving forward, I hope to take with me some of the dedication that the community members in Glencoe and CHIPS helped me develop throughout my Fellowship.
One way that CHIPS is trying to increase the voices of local community members and increase local understanding of resources management issues is through a radio show, which was originally started by previous CHIPS fellows. The show is called Forest, Communities and Fire and focuses on the intersection of forest and community health. Many interesting speakers have been on the show including foresters, archeologists and Native American Tribal Chairmen.
I believe that the radio show provides an important avenue to building community in the area. The show provides a platform for community members to hear what is going on. If people know what is going on, they are more likely to engage in the community. It is just one small method but I believe it can make a difference in community engagement with resource management issues. In the last couple of weeks of my fellowship, I had a great experience with the interviewees. The work for the radio show has been a nice contrast to the development of the biomass site since it is generally faster moving and provides an immediate reward.
I want to thank CHIPS and the Sierra Institute for setting up and letting me complete my Fellowship and allowing for the opportunity to immerse myself in a community suffering from resource management and socioeconomic problems. It will be sad to leave the community since there is so much more that needs to be done but I am happy to have helped in the process.