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!
Sierra CAMP, a program of Sierra Business Council, is currently undertaking a regional vulnerability assessment to examine how Sierra Nevada communities will be affected by projected climate changes. We have already seen the massive impact that climate change can have in its multiple forms on our communities in the mountains. Climate change leaves our homes and businesses vulnerable to wildfire and floods, it impacts the clarity of our lakes and rivers, and challenges our recreation patterns as we navigate the changes in snow and temperature year round. The goal of the vulnerability assessment is to better understand and measure the impacts of climate change on our social and economic systems that are inextricably linked to our natural environment.
Over the course of the last year, the impact of COVID-19 has snowballed into a deep recession and shifted the course of life as we know it. Over the course of the last year, the impact of COVID-19 has snowballed into a deep recession and shifted the course of life as we know it.
I’m wearing my RBG T-shirt and staring at my RBG action figure, gifts from my daughter, a true social justice warrior. Like me, she was raised to revere and honor women like Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It is a family tradition that follows at least four generations that I know of and we hold closely a favorite RBG quote, “What is the difference between a bookkeeper in the Garment District and a Supreme Court justice? … One generation.”