When I decided to attend graduate school to study natural resource policy, I didn’t exactly foresee graduating in the midst of a global pandemic. Instead, I imagined harnessing my freshly-gained knowledge to dive straight into a new career where I would build and advocate for resilient ecosystems and communities in the Mountain West.
Alas, life does not always (or maybe even often) go according to plan. When the likelihood of starting a permanent job following graduation flew out the window in March and April (along with the rest of the world’s expectations for 2020), I transitioned to looking for a summer internship. Having called Truckee home for many years, it was an easy choice to start looking in a community that I already knew and loved.
Reaching out to SBC was also an easy choice. Long interested in the intersection of climate and natural resources, and a devotee of the Sierra, I had followed SBC’s work for years. My master’s research took the connection to the next level, investigating how communities in the West have used natural resource stewardship as a means of rural economic and community development. In other words, I was studying how rural Western communities have sought to integrate “community vitality, environmental quality, economic prosperity and social fairness” before I even knew that those words comprise SBC’s mission statement. From my perspective, the fit seemed like a natural one. Case in point: when SBC’s Biomass in the Sierra came out this past winter, I eagerly printed and annotated a copy, because it was so relevant to what I was studying!
Happily, SBC also thought the fit was good and agreed to take me on for the summer. I’ve been (willingly) thrown into the deep end helping to distribute CARES Act funding in the form of relief grants for small businesses. While this is somewhat outside of my grad-school wheelhouse, I’m learning about a whole new side of community vitality while employing some of the community engagement skills I gained over the past two years. It also feels good to do something — anything — to help out those who have been hit hard by the pandemic and business shutdowns.
Over the course of my time at SBC, I hope to share a bit about what I learned in grad school. My research revealed some of the key factors that have enabled and constrained communities’ success in building what we referred to as the “stewardship economy.” The take-away lessons are tangible and actionable, whether you’re working on the community scale, managing natural resources as a government agency, or advocating for smart policy on the state or federal level. The good news is that progress is possible. The bad news is that it takes hard work. But, after only a few weeks, I’m pretty sure SBC is up to the challenge.
If you would like to learn more about my research on the rural stewardship economy at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, you can download my project report here, or watch the (significantly shorter) webinar presentation (you’ll need a free Dropbox account). Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!
I grew up climbing on granite slabs at Donner Summit, and the rock formations fascinated me. Everywhere I went in the mountains, I found myself mesmerized by the colors, textures, and stratigraphy lines that painted the landscapes. Having grown up in Northern California in an outdoors family, the concept of conservation was ingrained very early. “Respect the playground; if you want the beautiful places you love to remain intact, then do your part.” At that point in my life, I knew I wanted to do something that allowed me to be outside and in the field solving problems (or something to that extent). Naturally, I began my academic career pursuing a degree in geology.
Fire has always had a place in California. There was a time when the state had a well-defined wildfire season, when homeowners in California’s wildland urban interface could readily insure their homes, when wildfire smoke wouldn’t blanket the entire state at one time. Unfortunately, due to a century of mismanagement of our fire ecosystem and the growing impacts of climate change, that time has passed.
For fear of sounding like a broken record, I will skip over the detailed account of how my fellowship/life is not exactly as I expected it to be, thanks to the pandemic. It’s 2021 but you could also call it December 56th, 2020. It didn’t become a brand new world January 1st, we are still wearing masks, working from home in our sweatpants, and trying to avoid refreshing the news. At the same time, I have been pondering the beauty of my unexpected journey to CivicSpark and SBC.
As we gear up for the holidays, we’ve been hearing a familiar refrain: Shop Local. The value of supporting local businesses is well established: money spent locally supports a friend or neighbor’s job, charities and youth activities, and thriving downtown districts. The same is true for supporting local non-profits; your investment will be returned directly to the community. But this year, shopping local — let’s call it spending local — means even more.
Did you know that approximately 20% of California’s land — a total of 31,250 square miles— is managed by the U.S. Forest Service? For the Sierra Nevada region served by SBC, the share of Forest Service land reaches nearly 90% in places such as Alpine County.