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!
we’d be poor advocates of the region if we failed to acknowledge the history and current role of the original stewards of the Sierra Nevada. From the Maidu to the Miwok, the Niesenan to the Shoshone, the Paiute to the Washoe, and all the other diverse cultures throughout the region, the Indigenous peoples of Sierra Nevada were the original caretakers of this landscape, and they are critical partners that should be respected and involved in this region’s future.
Since the start of the pandemic, Sierra Business Council’s impact has included:
-Providing over 1,400 small businesses with one-on-one counseling. -Infusing $18.5 million in economic capital in communities across the Sierra. Supporting over 4,000 jobs in the region. Helped secure $536 million in early action wildfire funding for California. -Deploying $1.2 million to bring reliable broadband infrastructure to rural neighborhoods. -Begining a 22-county Vulnerability Assessment to better prepare the region for climate impacts.
Core to Sierra Business Council’s mission is our commitment to being a triple bottom line organization so it’s only natural that we would lead an effort to help small businesses adopt these principles. A triple bottom line business considers more than just economic results or profit. They also value their impact on society and the environment. We often refer to these businesses as “sustainable” or “green” and research shows that they typically deliver superior customer service, score higher in job satisfaction, and perform better financially.
As you know, California witnessed its worst wildfire season on record in 2020. Over 4 million acres burned, costing us more than 10,000 homes and buildings and at least 33 lives (not to mention the long-term negative health impacts of the dense smoke experienced across the state). Wildfire is a natural part of California’s landscape, but today’s wildfires are out of balance due to a century of fire suppression and misguided forest management. As climate change accelerates the risk of extreme wildfire, 2020 could be the start of our new normal. In 2021, we have an opportunity to keep that from happening. If we take action now, we can help protect our communities and restore the health of our forests.
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.