Proof of Concept: A Watershed Conservation Approach to Securing Clean Drinking Water
Lake Bloomington is the primary drinking water source for approximately 80,000 people in Illinois. The Nature Conservancy is working with the City of Bloomington and multiple partners to implement effective conservation practices on private agricultural lands in order to improve water quality in the major tributary that feeds this water supply reservoir. Join Maria Lemke of The Nature Conservancy in a presentation of this project’s innovative potential to prove the effectiveness of watershed conservation approaches to securing clean water.
Maria Lemke, Aquatic Ecologist at The Nature Conservancy of Illinois, received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Oklahoma, where she studied the response and recovery mechanisms of aquatic insect communities to flooding and drying disturbances. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Alabama where her research focused on population and production dynamics of wetland microcrustaceans. After moving to Illinois in 1999, Maria worked for several years at the Illinois Natural History Survey in Havana, Illinois, monitoring larval fish and zooplankton production in backwater lakes on the Illinois River. She has been with The Nature Conservancy for the last 13 years, working with partners to quantify the effectiveness of multiple agricultural conservation practices in the Mackinaw River watershed and working with Illinois River’s science team to coordinate and conduct wetland research at Emiquon Preserve in central Illinois. Additional research interests include quantifying diversity and secondary production of aquatic invertebrates in floodplain and backwater habitats along the Illinois River.
California was in its third year of drought when I participated in the Kinship Fellows program last July. Now in its fourth year, and clocking in as one of the worst droughts in our state’s history, conflicts over water use and blaming certain sectors for their contributions to the problem are intensifying. California’s complicated water rights system, infrastructure and distribution make it difficult for people to understand the varying degree of the water supply problem in each region and locally-appropriate solutions that can help us more wisely steward our freshwater resource.
Despite this crisis, I could not be prouder to live and work in this state known for its ingenuity, innovation, agricultural productivity and beautiful ecosystems. California is one of just five Mediterranean climates in the world, and we boast the richest biodiversity and the greatest number of species endemic to a single U.S. state. Simultaneously, California’s landscapes are ideal for growing 350 different crops. Our state produces half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, 80% of its nuts and 20% of its cheese and milk.
At Sustainable Conservation, where I am fortunate to work, our roots date back more than 20 years when more often than not, environmental groups and business were pitted against each other in court or at the state capitol to fight about the state’s environmental problems.
This combativeness is unfortunately still present today. The finger pointing continues, with some who are pitting urban centers against rural communities for their water use to produce our food. Since 1993, we’ve worked to bring together landowners, business and government to understand an array of perspectives about the toughest challenges facing California’s land, air and water, and find common ground that enable us to steward the resources we all depend on in ways that make economic sense.
Let’s Talk Numbers
While multiple ways exist to count water use, the two most frequently cited are 1) California’s annual average developed 80 percent agriculture, 10 percent commercial, and 10 percent residential; and 2) approximately 50 percent environmental, 40 percent agricultural and 10 percent urban (commercial and residential). Developed water use is only counting human water use, and total water use includes developed and environmental water use. However, these numbers varies by sector, across regions and between wet and dry years, according to water researchers.
A critical element of California’s water supply is groundwater. Best estimates are that California’s approximately 500 known underground aquifers hold 10 times as much water as all of our surface reservoirs combined. The large quantity of water beneath the surface has given rise to the misconception that groundwater is an inexhaustible resource that can be limitlessly tapped. While the volume of groundwater is very large, many aquifers are being over-drafted by removing groundwater more rapidly than it is replenished.
The current drought did not precipitate today’s groundwater decline, but it has made it worse. Groundwater overdraft started in the 1920s, partly due to advances in technology, such as diesel pumps, that allowed landowners to drill deeper wells and reduce their dependence on surface water flows. Groundwater overdraft has increased as populations, agriculture and industry have grown.
A Story of Collaboration and Innovation
We are all in this together, and we need to apply the ingenuity and innovation for which our state is known to move forward together. I am honored to work with an incredible team and outstanding partners, and I want to share an example from our regional efforts.
In the Kings River Basin, located in the San Joaquin Valley and at the epicenter of the most productive agricultural county in the nation (Fresno County), Don Cameron, Vice President and General Manager of Terranova Ranch, farms a mix of 26 different crops (conventional and organic) ranging from nuts to cotton to wine grapes. Don is acutely aware of the significant groundwater overdraft that this basin – and other basins in the San Joaquin Valley – faces. And he also knows, which we all are feeling the impact of right now, California’s precipitation varies widely across years.
This region has experienced flooding in the high water years during which many local water agencies and irrigation districts utilize flood water and direct it to dedicated groundwater recharge basins where it can infiltrate the soil and percolate into the underlying aquifer. Don recognized that not all of this floodwater was being captured by recharge basins and the excess has caused costly flood damage to downstream communities.
Together with our partners, Sustainable Conservation worked with Don in the high water year of 2011 to test an unusual practice of applying flood water from the Kings River onto active cropland to help recharge the groundwater. His neighbors thought he was crazy when they saw standing water spread across his valuable vineyard acreage for weeks. As we had hoped, Don was able to recharge a significant amount of water to the aquifer without suffering any yield losses.
We are scaling this solution by engaging additional farmers, irrigation districts, water management agencies and the Kings River Conservation District to accept flood flows onto working cropland. High water years will occur again, and this innovative strategy, along with other options, like dedicated recharge basins, can help balance our groundwater aquifers in the San Joaquin Valley and beyond.
Common Ground for a Thriving Future
I hope that my positive outlook does not come across as out of touch given the severity of the current drought. As I drive between our San Francisco and Modesto offices, and visit farms and communities across the San Joaquin Valley – where I used to live – I see firsthand the impacts of the drought on people and our environment. I encourage others to share their stories of collaboration and innovation because I think many are looking for other perspectives than the divisive points of view currently in the daily news. Please know that Sustainable Conservation is not alone in our work, and I am heartened by the many other efforts to find common ground for a thriving future in California.
For more information about our efforts please go to:
Kelli McCune (2014 Kinship Fellow) has worked at Sustainable Conservation for almost six years. She focuses on engaging companies in our regional collaborations with farmers, government, irrigation districts and water management agencies to develop solutions that help balance our water supplies. She also contributes to the team effort to make it easier for landowners to restore streams, rebuild habitat and reduce soil erosion, which result in improved wildlife habitat and water quality. Prior to joining Sustainable Conservation, Kelli worked for the Bureau of Land Management in California and southeast Arizona, assisting with the management of a variety of species conservation and habitat restoration projects. Kelli received her master’s degree from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara, and she holds a BA in environmental science and Spanish from Northern Michigan University.
MantaWatch has opened applications for the 2015 MantaWatch Internship Program.
BY ANDREW HARVEY (2014 Fellow)
MantaWatch, founded by 2014 Kinship Fellow Andrew Harvey, is dedicated to improving capacity for marine management and manta ray conservation using an online social network through which divers, snorkelers, and ocean lovers can play a vital role in monitoring manta populations and tracking migrations.
Through the use of next generation technologies, MantaWatch aims to democratize engagement and participation in marine conservation, and so improve the availability and transparency of information about the marine environment.
The MantaWatch Internship Program (MIP) is a professional development program for young marine conservationists and future leaders in developing countries. The program currently runs in Indonesia, and is specifically designed for students who are embarking on a career in marine conservation, research or management.
Indonesia has the world’s fourth-largest education system, with roughly 55m students. But with chronic teacher shortages and a curriculum that favors rote learning, less than 25 percent of students will come out of education meeting minimum international standards in literacy and numeracy. While these shortcomings influence the nation’s social and economic development, they also underpin a shortage of innovative leaders who posses the skills needed to address current and future environmental issues.
Successful applicants to this highly competitive program will work alongside MantaWatch experts in the field. MantaWatch interns receive professional training in manta ray ecology, fisheries and conservation management, scientific diving, and environmental monitoring, while working within a multidisciplinary international team. MIP takes students out of the class room and, through an educational approach that emphasizes learning by doing, aims to foster a sense of connection to and stewardship of the natural world.
With new skills, tools and confidence, MIP alumni have gone on to become conservation ambassadors and leaders. Anindita Rustandi is a graduate of our inaugural MIP in 2012. After successfully completing the program, she returned to university where she helped to found IMPACT — the Independent Marine Protected Animals Community — a student group dedicated to raising awareness about marine conservation issues.
In 2013 Anindita returned to MantaWatch as the full-time Regional Coordinator for Komodo and West Manggarai, where she worked with government, industry and other stakeholders to establish a 7,000km2 manta ray sanctuary. Anindita is a 2015 Conservation Leadership Program award winner for a project to improve the sustainability of mobula ray fisheries in Indonesia, and has been awarded a fellowship with the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), U.S. President Barack Obama’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in the ASEAN region.
Thanks to the generous support of Guy’s Trust, a UK-based education charity, a small number of fully funded scholarships are available every year for exceptional students to join the program.
Andrew Harvey, a 2014 Kinship Fellow, creates sustainable fisheries and marine ecosystems by applying innovations in technology and the power of the market. He founded MantaWatch to explore how social media, mobile devices and crowdsourcing can protect threatened marine wildlife such as manta rays. His MantaWatch Online web application and the MantaWatch Internship Program for future marine leaders were instrumental in creating the world’s largest manta ray sanctuary, encompassing more than 2.3 million square miles of Indonesia’s marine and coastal ecosystems. As the Country Director for the International Pole & Line Foundation’s program in Indonesia, Andrew harnesses the power of major international retailers and buyers to drive sustainability within the small-scale tuna fisheries that underpin important livelihoods and social well-being throughout Indonesia’s coastal communities. In his spare time, Andrew is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland, Australia.
Conservation practitioners based in 11 countries (Argentina, Bhutan, Canada, India, Madagascar, Mexico, The Netherlands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, The United States, and Vietnam) will gather in Bellingham, Washington, USA for a month-long fellowship exploring market-based approaches to environmental issues.
Kinship Conservation Fellows are mid-career practitioners with an interest in market-based conservation principles and a demonstrated commitment to leadership. From June 28 to July 29, the 2015 cohort of Fellows will take part in an exceptional learning community that prepares them to successfully implement innovative strategies in the field.
“Kinship Conservation Fellows believes that collaboration is the key to solving environmental problems,” said Nigel Asquith, Director of Kinship Conservation Fellows and Director of Strategy and Policy at Fundación Natura Bolivia. “Kinship’s peer-to-peer learning focus will guide this cohort as they tackle real-life challenges, from developing environmental impact bonds and consumer-supported futures for marine conservation in Mexico to exploring market-based solutions to manage human-wildlife conflict in rural Bhutan. Kinship faculty and I look forward to helping Fellows advance their use of market-based tools for conservation and hone their leadership skills during the upcoming program.”
Kinship Fellows often consider attending the program to be a turning point in their career, as Cecilia Simon, a Fellow who participated in last year’s program attests. “It made me realize that I could go from doing good things to doing great things and that I am not alone to do that,” said the 2014 Fellow, “I met the most amazing conservation leaders who are, like me, trying to make a difference. Now that we have met, we can do it together.”
Click here for a list of the 2015 Kinship Conservation Fellows.
Julie joined Madagasikara Voakajy, a non-profit dedicated to biodiversity conservation in eastern Madagascar, twelve years ago as an intern and has emerged as an energetic voice for wildlife protection in a country known for both its endemic species and the systemic threats they face.
I became specifically interested in conservation when I first encountered Indris, the largest extant lemur, at the age of 13. This was a great experience that I still want to renew.
At the university, I chose to study in the water and forestry department because that would provide me with more opportunities to travel and be out in the wild.
When I joined Madagasikara Voakajy in 2003 as a student, I found I really loved working with the team, which was composed of young passionate researchers. I grew up within this team and the organization of which I am currently Director.
Do you face particular challenges as a woman in this field? If so, can you give an example?
In Madagascar, a Director is generally expected to be a tall man.
People are always surprised when my team introduces me at villages where I haven’t worked before. There have been cases when I have been asked, “Where is your Director? Your colleagues said he would be here.”
I don’t consider this as a challenge, but as an opportunity to make people realize that things can change, and everything is possible – as long as you really want to do it.
People are always surprised when my team introduces me at villages where I haven’t worked before. There have been cases when I have been asked, “Where is your Director? Your colleagues said he would be here.”
Why is it important for women to get involved in the conservation field?
Although women are not generally decision makers in Madagascar, they influence most of the decisions made in households. I also think that women are very good at listening to each other.
So more women should be able to stand up and speak in public about conservation. This will slowly, but certainly, provoke positive changes towards sustainable development and conservation.
Do you have a message for young women interested in conservation?
The challenges that young women sometimes meet in the conservation field can be frightening, but we need to overcome this fear and move forward.
From Florida to Wyoming, rangelands make up 770 million acres of the United States. 2013 Kinship Fellow Katie Meiklejohn discusses the complex and integrated factors influencing the resilience of rangelands and ranches in the Western United States. As Katie demonstrates, the capacity to successfully address integrated ecological and financial performance measures adds up to lasting conservation on U.S. grasslands. Below you will find the webinar recording, Katie Meiklejohn’s bio, a Tweet Chat recap, and additional resources on the topic.
Katie Meiklejohn (2013 Kinship Fellow) has nearly 10 years of experience in landscape-scale conservation efforts and 4 years of experience working closely with ranchers to identify strategies that simultaneously enhance ecological health, financial success, and human well-being. Since graduating from Columbia University with a Master’s in Conservation Biology, Katie has worked with individuals and communities throughout the West as a biologist and facilitator to identify solutions to land management and conservation challenges. Fundamental to her approach is a firm belief that people and communities are an integral component of every healthy landscape. Successfully integrating human social and economic values into functional ecosystems is critical to achieving lasting conservation.
The US Endangered Species Act protects over 2,000 species. Only 10 species have gone extinct after they were listed. On the other hand, only 25 species have been “de-listed” (meaning they’ve recovered enough to be considered safe from extinction).
Between those two statistics lie myriad perspectives on how well the ESA has performed since its ground-breaking inception over 40 years ago.
Josh Donlan, editor of the just-published Proactive Strategies for Protecting Species, has corralled unlikely bedfellows—private landowners, conservationists, government agencies, NGOs, scientists, academics, and developers—into sharing divergent viewpoints on how best to improve the ESA—that it’s outdated is the one point on which they all agree. (The ESA hasn’t been updated in 25 years, and litigation robs resources earmarked for species conservation.) He also debuts a pragmatic new approach to best conserve species headed toward extinction … helping as they speed toward the falls, rather than triaging after they’ve plunged over.
As Michael Bean notes in the foreword:
For many species, the protections of the ESA come very late in the game, when the odds are heavily stacked against success. If there is one clear lesson from the experience with the ESA over the past four decades, it is that conservation efforts need to get started earlier, before the plant and animal species reach the point at which they are at a high risk for extinction.
Switching from Stick to Carrot
Remember the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” It turns out that stewardship applied before a species gets listed means a great deal less animosity among stakeholders, which translates into much less litigation and wasted money. The species fares much better, too. Thus the birth of PLC, or pre-listing conservation, an approach that rewards efforts made “upstream” (before a species becomes a candidate for listing).
So who are these stakeholders, and why are they at odds?
Well, contrary to the vague notions some city folk may have about wildlife existing somewhere overthere—in national parks, for instance—most species in trouble are found on public lands where environmental projection is not the primary goal (military bases, for instance) or on private property: almost three-quarters of US land is private. (But before you conjure up images of suburban backyards, think large-scale. Private in this context means large ranches and farms or large solar and wind development projects.)
If these landowners face a regulatory morass once a species on their land gets into enough trouble to become a candidate for ESA listing, why don’t they just adopt conservation best practices immediately? The answer is as complicated as the regulatory maze such property owners will find themselves in if they don’t practice sound stewardship. But stewardship is often expensive, either in actual dollars or in lost opportunities, and heretofore the “stick” of legal tangles has been the tool of choice over the “carrot” of reward.
The PLC approach aims to change that, adopting a landowner-centered approach of persuasion rather than punishment.
Around the world, success in environmental conservation depends in some part on actions in two overlapping spheres of policy: policies that prevent further environmental damage from occurring and those that promote proactive measures to improve environmental conditions. Laws like the ESA are strongest at preventing additional harm from occurring. In contrast, the ESA and most biodiversity laws around the globe offer few mandates that incentivize stewardship investments. (p 220)
As Josh Donlan notes, “the way we tend to value species in the US and elsewhere around the world is that it’s worth very little in terms of our decision-making until it becomes endangered, and then it’s worth almost an infinite amount as soon as it gets listed in the ESA—which is a really bad way to manage species and a really good way to create perverse incentives and piss people off.”
Donlan runs an NGO called Advanced Conservation Strategies. His job is to offer better conservation solutions both within US borders and around the globe. The book is “a direct result of a project we ran in the southeast for about 2 to 3 years in collaboration with Todd Gartner of the World Resources Institute that focused on the Gopher tortoise.” Part of the range of the gopher tortoise is listed under the ESA and part of its range is not: it’s a candidate species. Donlan notes that like many species in the US, it has declined over the past decades because of “multiple drivers but mainly from habitat destruction because it only lives in long-leaf pine forests.”
Case Study: the Gopher Tortoise in Georgia
To design a program that shifted incentives for “doing good’ for species and habitat conservation before ESA listing, Donlan and his team used the gopher tortoise as an on-the-ground case study. They worked with the Department of Defense, the US Army at Fort Benning, Georgia—the tortoise was doing just fine inside the base’s almost 200,000 acres, since there was no development—US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Washington DC and in the southeast, as well as with NGOs in and around Fort Benning to try to create an overall program that covered three main areas: the supply side, the demand side, and transactional infrastructure. The questions they hoped to answer for each area:
Supply Side. How do we create a program that forest landowners will sign up for voluntarily, to improve their land management so habitat—in this case gopher tortoise habitat—can be created and maintained?
Demand Side. How do we finance that? The idea is to provide private individuals or the government with an opportunity to get credit for “doing good” before the ESA compels them to. And they could bank credits from doing good now to use if and when the species were listed. This “prevention is better than cure” concept also goes by terms like “advanced mitigation” and “insurance,” but, by whatever name, early is always cheaper and easier than later.In this case, the US Army/DOD was worried about not being able to conduct training and maintain military readiness at some future time, if a species were listed. Dealing with that risk in advance was a win-win for the institution and the species.
Donlan points out that such scenarios occur throughout the US. “You can imagine a similar situation with wind energy in Texas, which held lots of risk around the Lesser Prairie-Chicken (listed in 2014), or you can imagine it with energy infrastructure or oil and gas in the Intermountain West with the sage grouse. If those species are listed, they’re going to cause headaches for those companies: financial difficulty, but also time, and environmental compliance and regulatory difficulties, which is a big deal for those trying to secure financing and meet deadlines.”
Instead of “relying on regulation to generate demand for conservation behaviors, PLC programs rely on the risk of potential regulation and the opportunity to mitigate that risk in advance to generate demand.” But what about the overall “marketplace” wherein supply and demand can occur? This is where “transactional infrastructure” comes into the picture.
Transactional Infrastructure. How do we document benefits and impacts, capture biological information, and commoditize all this into a “credit” that can be bought, sold, and traded by private individuals and NGOs in a fair and efficient “market”—all approved, regulated, and monitored by the USFWS? We need a framework. (The USFWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service share responsibility for ESA implementation; like the SEC, they would regulate this burgeoning marketplace.)
Donlan began with an acknowledgment that in the private sector falls under the rubric of “know thy customer.” To design a successful program with a human-centered design (HCD) approach, “you must understand the perceptions, the preferences, the values and trigger-points of the people involved.” Integrating social psychology approaches results in a program that landowners would want to sign up for (on the supply side) and that buyers (e.g., the US Army or solar developers) want to finance through the purchase of credits (on the demand side).
From a Project with Multiple Stakeholders to a Book with Multiple Writers
By the time the project was ending—that is, funding was running out—it became clear that one way to provide value would be to document all the important stakeholders’ perspectives (USFWS, the Marine Corps, NGOs, ranchers, solar companies) in a book that focused on solutions-based program design. “After working for 3 years on the idea that’s now become known as PLC, it wasn’t hard to put together the authors for this book; we already had a working group,” says Donlan.
Structured as a design handbook with essays, Donlan admits that seventeen chapters with seventeen diverse authors was challenging. “I’m not going to do it again soon, since it’s a lot of work to make one coherent voice while also capturing the diversity of perspectives. But I had fun trying to do so.”
USFWS announced a draft policy in the Federal Register in September of 2014. With the USFWS cautiously optimistic about the PLC template but slow to push for pilot projects, and the DOD and private sector onboard only if they can get assurances from the USFWS, Proactive Strategies for Protecting Species might help prevent a standoff.
“The timing couldn’t be better. We hope this book, with insights for the government and program designers, can help the Service push forward in 2015 … since no one can move forward until they do. The obvious next step is for the Service to approve, promote and support pilot projects for candidate species where PLC make sense.”
Beyond US Borders
Given that this is about the ESA, most people assume PLC doesn’t apply elsewhere, except maybe to select places in Europe and Australia. But it does: “Even though we have this risk of regulation, we’re trying to move the incentives upstream to the other side of that risk. That’s actually closer to how most countries operate—with either very weak environmental regulation or none at all.” Given widely differing legal frameworks, a HCD approach provides a process that can be used to design and implement widely, across diverse conditions.
Luckily, Donlan’s NGO operates widely outside the US, so he’s had plenty of opportunities for field testing. “We are trying this approach to program design around the world: with ranchers in Argentina and fishermen in Chile and Thailand. Our preliminary results suggest that co-designing solutions with the target stakeholders results in more durable solutions—for both people and the environment.“
Josh Donlan (@ACSbuzz) founded and directs Advanced Conservation Strategies, which brings human-centered design approaches to problem-solving and innovation in the environmental sector. In Chile, ACS is designing and testing a market model that provides measurable coastal biodiversity benefits while simultaneously providing livelihood security to fishing cooperatives. ACS is also helping to design and implement programs to reverse the decline of dugongs and seagrass habitats in India, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, and Thailand. Click here for more about Proactive Strategies for Protecting Species.
A first-ever survey of conservation impact investing reveals a market of approximately $23 billion across just the last five years, and finds that investments in this space are expected to more than triple over the next five years (2014-2018). Join the report’s authors, Charlotte Kaiser, Managing Director of NatureVest and Kinship Faculty member Ricardo Bayon, Partner and Co-founder of EKO Asset Management Partners, as they summarize the report’s major findings. The webinar recording, speaker bios, and compilation of the live Twitter feed are below.
Ricardo Bayon, Partner and Co-founder, EKO Asset Management Partners
EKO Asset Management Partners is a new breed of financial institution seeking to find innovative financial solutions to the world’s environmental problems. The company manages a fund that invests in carbon credits aimed at the California market and also provides advice on a variety of other markets for ecosystem services including water, biodiversity, fisheries, stormwater management, among others. Prior to co-founding EKO, he helped found and served as the Managing Director of the “Ecosystem Marketplace,” a web site and information/analysis service covering these emerging environmental markets. In that capacity he co-authored a number of publications on voluntary carbon markets, mitigation banking, and ecosystem services including “The State of Voluntary Carbon Markets 2007: Picking up Steam” and “Voluntary Carbon Markets: An International Business Guide to What They Are and How They Work,” and “Conservation and Biodiversity Banking: A Guide to Setting Up and Running Biodiversity Credit Trading System”. For nearly two decades he has specialized on issues related to finance, banking, and the environment. He has done work for a number of organizations, including Insight Investments, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank, IUCN, The Nature Conservancy, Domini Social Investment, among others. His articles have appeared in publications such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, the International Herald Tribune,. He has also written numerous publications and chapters on mitigation banking, biodiversity markets, markets for water quality, and other environmental markets. He was born in Bogota, Colombia, and is currently based in San Francisco.
Charlotte Kaiser, Managing Director, NatureVest
Charlotteleads product development for NatureVest, The Nature Conservancy’s program developing opportunities to drive private capital to conservation. She managed the launch and sale of the $25M Conservation Note, the first investment-grade retail debt produce offered to conservation impact investors, which sold out in less than twelve months. Previously she worked at Citibank in community development investing, providing debt and equity financing for green buildings, affordable housing, and energy efficiency initiatives. She has also worked for the New York City Parks Department building civic engagement and stewardship of the City’s parks and natural areas, and in Indonesian Borneo on a community-based forest management enterprise in a national park buffer zone. Charlotte holds a BA from Harvard University in Environmental Science & Public Policy, a Masters in Environmental Science from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and an MBA from the Yale School of Management. She currently serves on the board of ioby, “in our back yards,” an innovative crowdsourcing resource platform for civic groups improving American cities. Charlotte lives in Brooklyn with her husband, an urban planner, and their son.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. We work to conserve the Earth’s ecologically important lands and waters in local places across all 50 U.S. states and in more than 30 other countries around the world. We create innovative conservation solutions that benefit nature and enhance the well-being of people who depend on vital natural resources for their lives and livelihoods.
It is well understood that the Amazon Basin is a complex ecosystem vital to the health of the planet and life as we know it. Ecuador, located on the Pacific coast between Colombia in the north and Peru in the south and east, is home to around 116,000 km2 of tropical Amazonian forest. Ecuador has made impressive progress in terms of indigenous rights: around 68% of the Ecuadorian Amazon is legally recognized as indigenous ancestral territory. In contrast, between 1990-2000, Ecuador also registered the highest rates of deforestation of all the countries in the Amazon basin.
In this context, there is a growing array of attempts by government, NGO, and private actors to build conservation or sustainable development initiatives with local communities, all underpinned by the two-pronged aim to conserve forest while generating livelihood benefits. These include eco-tourism, non-timber forest products (NTFPs), payments for ecosystem services (PES), community forest management (CFM), reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), agro-forestry, and the list goes on. The problem is that few of these noble ideas actually get to a stage that could honestly be called sustainable – where local communities are driving sustainable development initiatives with local capacities in a way that is financially self-sustaining. More commonly, projects face real challenges to survive beyond initial project funding and to evolve to a stage of local ownership. In the context of climate change, projects that don’t lead to sustainable forest management over 20-30 year periods will not have much impact.
After working in the Amazon for eight years, I realized that unless something is done to address these broad-based challenges faced when trying to link conservation with indigenous community economic development, then the model is redundant. I have dedicated the last two years to developing an organization called PlanJunto that has the mission to “Build Sustainable Community Enterprise,” with a real emphasis on the “sustainable” aspect. PlanJunto’s vision is that local indigenous communities in the Amazon are able to manage their natural surroundings sustainably and in effective cooperation with their allies. PlanJunto might be called a bridging organization because, rather than setting up new projects with new ideas (there are plenty of those), we provide specialized support to help existing projects incorporate a “Sustainable Community Enterprise” element that strengthens their PES, REDD+, CFM, or NTFP project, by really focusing on how this project is going to last for 20-30 years.
After two years of refining a rather unconventional business model, improving communication methods, and honing our business pitch, we know our service offering resonates with the needs of our partners. PlanJunto is currently applying its framework and tools to three pilot projects. One is an Amazonian fair trade tea supply chain, the second is a traditional community healing center deep in the forest to treat modern ailments with holistic medicine, and the third is a solar canoe river transportation service linking isolated communities to markets and services and mitigating pressures to build new roads. Despite these projects being varied in nature, they are all dependent on building local community capacity that is able to take these projects, make them their own, and drive them to meet local livelihood needs in service of achieving global environmental benefits.
Becoming a Fellow: An Overview of the Kinship Fellows Application
The application due date for the 2015 cohort of Kinship Conservation Fellows is just around the corner (January 26, 2015). Join Kinship Fellows Director Nigel Asquith (2005 Fellow), Vice President Renee Michaels, and Communications Associate Catherine Rabenstine for a look at what sets the Kinship Fellows program apart from other professional development opportunities and a walk-through of the eligibility requirements and essay questions involved in completing a Kinship Conservation Fellows application.
Click below to listen to a recording of the webinar. Please note, due to technical difficulties a portion of the webinar was not recorded. A compilation of the Tweet Chat is also available below.
With questions about the application process, please email Cat Rabenstine at email@example.com.