Back in Asheville and Dogwood Alliance after spending July in Bellingham, Washington as a 2014 Kinship Conservation Fellow, I return with a new appreciation for the global nature of environmental problems, the diverse tools used to achieve conservation success as well as many great new friends from my wonderfully diverse cohort.
While I originally viewed the fellowship as a way to deepen my understanding on the workings of conservation through forest carbon like our Carbon Canopy work, the program took me on a deep dive into tools used to address problems across the world.
For example, my new friend Tsering Norbu from the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, who founded and leads the Pendeba Society, which is focused on environmental conservation of the high plateau around Mt. Everest, preventive health care and eco-tourism income generation from the growing number of Chinese and international tourists coming to visit the Everest region. His work is about as different from Dogwood’s work with the forests of the US South as it can be. Norbu told me about his project to address the loss of wetlands on the Tibetan high plateau by teaching local people to build their livestock corrals from stone instead of using traditional turf corrals where the turf had been historically dug up from the scarce and ecological valuable wetlands. In addition to protecting their water security, the new stone corrals last for many years instead of the short-lived turf construction.
Another key takeaway for me was that so many of the world’s environmental problems are more properly construed as social problems. For example, forests are cut down, not to make money, but instead to provide heat and fuel for a family in need. Therefore social solutions like economic development to alleviate poverty or a technical fix like the introductions of more responsible charcoal production are truly critical. Thankfully, while there are certainly many in need, we do not experience that kind of poverty across our region.
Beyond Tibet, there were sessions on water markets, carbon markets, biodiversity offsets, and Kinship cohort with projects to stop the invasive lionfish through commercial fishing in Belize and supporting economic development in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa by developing markets for wild-raised game meat produced on game farms.
Back in Asheville, I am working with our Carbon Canopy partners and the Dogwood team to analyze our progress to date on our 12,500 acres forest carbon pilot projects as well as our 2,100 acres in development. The new ideas and examples I learned at Kinship weave into our at Dogwood work as well. And metaphorically, I will be working alongside my global Kinship cohort as well. Building new markets for ecosystem services like forest carbon is hard, particularly when, like here, the system of exploitation for forest products is so deeply ingrained in the region’s economy and culture. But we will persevere and come together to make our work more effective and strategic.