Trust our Land: What is “Community Conservation”?
By Adde Sharp
Just for a moment, imagine a community, our community, without open lands and wild spaces. Then imagine the opposite – abundant land, but without the ecological and human communities that call that land home. Neither picture is as robust or thriving as a scenario in which human and ecological communities live in harmony, where we steward and care for our shared home. Community Conservation is just that: an approach to land stewardship that recognizes our shared responsibility to protect our common home – the land – for the benefit of all communities, now and in the future.
These days, “community” often feels like a buzzword or catchphrase. However, to fully appreciate Community Conservation, one must first understand what defines a community and how that influences the effectiveness of land conservation. “Community” is defined by The Oxford English Dictionary as “a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” Undoubtedly, protecting healthy habitats, clean water, and open spaces is in the interest of all species and members of our community. For conservation efforts to be genuinely effective then, we must “listen to diverse partners and orient projects to meet community needs” (Land Trust Alliance).
In 2016, the Eagle Valley Land Trust (EVLT) began embracing a community-centered approach to land conservation and stewardship. As the needs of our human and animal communities evolve, EVLT continually asks “how can we meet the growing challenges facing our community through land conservation and stewardship?” Sometimes, the answer is by saving more land – a key parcel for wildlife migration, a lake that symbolizes a sense of place, or a park that inspires gatherings and spending time outdoors. In other instances, serving the community through land conservation looks like hosting programs and events to encourage participation and access to our shared outdoor spaces. Through the Community Land Connection Series/Serie de Conexión a la Tierra, EVLT facilitates these experiences by providing free programs on conserved properties, such as hikes, horseback rides, snowshoeing, and other volunteer opportunities. Similarly, EVLT aims to inspire local youth to engage with open spaces and land conservation through our ongoing Future Conservationists program. Finally, EVLT is continually working to expand who enjoys access to conserved properties and outdoor experiences through our partnership with the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM).
It should come as no surprise that emphasis on Community Conservation is growing. Across the US, land trusts are finding creative new ways to continue protecting land and natural resources, while responding to the shifting needs of the humans and animals that inhabit those lands. Since 2019, interest and participation in outdoor recreation has grown exponentially, with 7.1 million more outdoor participants in 2020 than in 2019. Since getting more people outdoors is imperative, the Community Conservation approach asks, “how can we meet the growing demand for outdoor recreation while balancing the needs of wildlife and the protection of sensitive habitat?” Still other initiatives, such as the 30×30 Goal, a campaign to conserve 30 percent of US land and water by 2030, are driving increased interest and funding in the conservation sector and creating momentum behind the concept of community-focused conservation.
The Land Trust Alliance emphasizes Community Conservation as a lynchpin in current and enduring land conservation projects; if land conservation efforts today are going to continue to benefit communities in the future, understanding and meeting the needs of diverse constituencies is critical. The future of land conservation is only as vibrant as the investment and engagement of the communities that are impacted by conservation efforts; please join us in our mission to protect land for our community now and in perpetuity.
Get involved: find out about upcoming community conservation events and how you can participate in local conservation at https://evlt.org/join-us/events/
Share your experience: please consider completing a brief survey prepared by CSU graduate students Gillian Watson and Rachael Brard on outdoor recreation access in Eagle County https://colostate.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0AnNB7EP8rCa4N8
Adde Sharp is the Eagle Valley Land Trust’s Community Conservation Manager and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about EVLT’s community conservation work, visit www.evlt.org.