Methow Conservancy’s community-building efforts highlighted at regional conference
Thoughtful and engaged organizations like the Methow Conservancy are focusing their efforts on community building as much as conserving land these days, and that’s a positive development for our region.
The Conservancy has taken a lead role in the Methow Valley Long Term Recovery organization that brought a diverse group of community organizations together to help respond to the devastating Carlton Complex fire in 2014 that destroyed more than 300 structures.
The conservancy is part of a growing movement of land trust organizations shifting to a model of community-based conservation that emphasizes meeting local needs and being deeply engaged on civic issues. This week, the national Land Trust Alliance and the Washington Association of Land Trusts held a community conservation conference at Pybus Public Market. The event focused on some key regional efforts, such as the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust’s Foothills effort and Columbia Valley Community Health’s initiative to get patients out walking in the foothills to improve their well being.
Mary Kiesau, the education programs director for the Methow Conservancy, gave us the inside story on the organization’s involvement with wildfire recovery and community building. Community building is not a new concept for the conservation organization. Kiesau, who has worked for the conservancy since 2005, coordinates a myriad of lectures and other programs that connect people in the valley to each other and to the natural splendor of the environment.
When that devastating 2014 fire occurred, it exposed serious limitations in the valley, Kiesau told the group. People in the valley and those with property there craved information about what was happening, but the telecommunications infrastructure was damaged and created an information void. The Methow Conservancy stepped in to set up a resource page on Facebook for the community, Kiesau noted.
To help support the local economy that was devastated by the loss of tourism, the conservancy launched a “Spend a Ben” program that invited individuals to commit to spending $100 in the valley to support their neighbors. Those kinds of grass roots approaches mak such a difference and knit the community together in important ways.
The board of the Methow Conservancy donated the time of Executive Director Jason Paulsen to help lead the local recovery effort. That is the essence of community-based conservation — assessing community needs and figuring out how to bring people together to address them.
Supporting the long-term recovery efforts was a natural step for the organization, Kiesau said, because of the deep sense of engagement that had been developed in the 20 years of its existence. The conservancy has developed a series of focus groups every few years to keep a finger on the pulse of the community.
There is a unique sense of fellowship in the Methow Valley that fuels this deep sense of connection. The web of life that connects the people and place keeps community members grounded.
The example of the Methow Conservancy’s leadership in creative community building is a wonderful example of making sure that the entire community is successful rather than just worrying about one particular piece of the puzzle.