How do you avoid what happened in the past to vastly improve the health of a river, the deeply loved and over-worked Russian River, the lifeline of the North Bay, the heart and the arteries of Sonoma and Mendocino counties? How do you change public perceptions and help thousands of people create a new story for the river? How to do you engage two dozen bureaucracies to act holistically? How do you coax a shared vision from a wide range of people from ranchers to homeowners to paddlers to Tribes to homeless people to align around One River?
By Peter Forbes, 2016 for Maine Coast Heritage Trust
Written for people everywhere who devote their lives to healthy soils, forests, oceans and people, Healing and Repairing demonstrates through practical examples how better understanding one another will lead to more successful and durable ways to protect nature. At a moment when our nation debates the value of walls and isolation, how might an immerging practice of conservation that honors differences and connects people offer a more compelling and lasting story? By carefully examining how this is happening in one place, this essay aspires to respectfully stretch and encourage a change in conservation everywhere. Conservation is Maine is molting as a concept, revealing how much Maine -with all its traditions from privilege to poverty - has moved the discussion forward toward inclusion and a broader definition of conservation that more and more people can see themselves within. The narrower our definition of conservation the less of it we will have. Maine is asking us to have a different conversation, not one about ecology or one about human well-being but one about how these two things can’t succeed without the other.
What is power, and what does it mean to look at conservation through a lens of power?
Power is anyone’s ability and capacity to act in particular ways and to influence the behavior of others or the course of events. Because power is relative, sometimes we may feel we have very little of it and other times we are unaware of how much we have. Whether we have great power or little power, it always affects our relationships with others.
Often conservation uses its power to get valuable things done, but the way that same power is used may keep conservation from connecting to others who could be important allies but aren’t. Power is to be understood, and power needs to be understood.
2015 | Juneau, Alaska
The work of conserving places and communities is never-ending and ever-changing. It’s a bigger “project” than timelines and strategic plans can hope to convey. It’s longer than board terms, congressional cycles, and political careers. It is longer even then individual human lives.
When a mission lasts decades and decades, how does an organization evolve its definitions of what conservation means to be relevant to the present? How does an organization negotiate its meaning and values between generations? When does one generation’s strength and force of understanding the past make it hard for the next generation to look squarely and honestly at the present? How does one generation, on fire with purpose and vision, allow the next generation to see the world through their own eyes?
In the winter and spring of 2015, I had the honor of collaborating with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) to help them grapple with these questions and formulate a new theory of change that reflects a new generation’s approach and meaning.
November 2015 | Bethel, Maine
In the western Maine community of Bethel there’s an organization called BANC (Bethel Area Nonprofit Collaborative) that I think more so as the Walk in My Boots Project because it’s goal is to build relationships and understanding through a deeper, more substantive engagement of citizens around their differences. BANC seeks to help people walk in each others boots in a community grappling with potent changes that arise from a transition from forest products to tourism industry and the influx of residents from other places who often have larger incomes and different life experiences. It’s been both an honor and an education for me to collaborate with BANC as they intentionally build a culture of listening within their community among loggers, farmers, landowners, ski areas, town officials, mothers and fathers, business people, educators and youth get to know each other and hear each other’s perspectives.
November 2014 | Sitka, Alaksa
The Sustainable Southeast Partnership is the most inspiring, well thought out and longterm commitments I've seen to bring conservation and community together to create something new and powerful for all. It is a decade long commitment of partnership between Native corporations, rural Native communities, enviromental and community development groups who are learning the practice of longterm collaboration and partnership to create a different future for their home...
2013-2014 | State of Maine
What does it take for a leading, state-wide philanthropy to combine their separate grant-making in conservation and human wellbeing? Why would they do this? What does it ask of their grantees? What do they hope success will look like?
I had the great honor to collaborate over 18 months with the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation of Maine to help them answer these questions from soup to nuts, from philosophy to new grant-making guidelines.
2012-2014 | Western United States
In collaboration with Barry Lopez, with Center for Whole Communities, with the Native Land Trust Alliance, I had the honor of helping to create and sustain a dialogue that had not before existed before between Native and contemporary (non-Native) land trust leaders in the western United States. The purpose was to strengthen relationships between the two and to identify opportunities for more collaboration...
2012-2014 | State of Maine
What would it take to intentionally, thoughtfully shift the practice of conservation across an entire state? How would that be done? And how would that be done in a state as large as Maine with more than 100 conservation groups working at the local, regional and statewide levels?
I had the honor of working on that task for two years in collaboration with Maine Coast Heritage Trust and the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation. The project began for me in 2012 when I was invited to give the morning keynote address before many of the Maine conservation organizations...
April 2014 | State of Alaska
The far majority of Alaskans feel and are deeply connected to the lands, waters and nature of their state, but something less than 1.5% would call themselves conservationists. The Alaskan Land Trusts joined with the national organization, The Land Trust Alliance, to ask me to design and lead a four day leadership development program whose goals were to significantly deepen their own relationships with each other, to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the benefits and challenges of their own culture, and to understand better how this culture aids and restricts their ability to achieve a broader conservation mission...
though buiding awreness and appreciation for the diversity of a movement
The Land Trust Alliance, the association leader for 1,700 conservation groups in the United States, hired Ernie Atencio, Danyelle O'Hara and me to help them understand what is needed for the land trust movement to become more relevant to more Americans. By focusing their conservation on sustaining livelihoods, on increasing public health, on strengthening food systems, and on how we educate our children, conservation can become culture and culture can become more rooted in the land. The outcomes of “community conservation” are more resilient, healthier communities more closely connected to the land, and a conservation movement that transcends its privileged roots to be in service to more Americans...