Highlights of EGA Retreat Plenary: Challenging Old Assumptions, Finding New Allies


This plenary kicked off EGA’s Fall 2011 Retreat at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Unlike traditional plenaries, this session consisted of five individual stories and conversations about bringing environmental change through unlikely alliances and harnessing the “power of the collective.”

Dave Schulz is the Madison County Commissioner for Montana. He is involved in a new project in which Northwestern Energy plans to construct a new power line that runs through the county and 9 others. This 400 mile line will bring renewable wind energy from Montana to lower, more populated areas. The MSTI Review Project investigates the economics of the project, the wildlife impacts, and how it might affect the counties. The county has formed partnerships with Jefferson County of MT, Western Environmental Law Center, Headwaters Economics, Sonoran Institute, Craighead Institute, and Future West.

Bill Parker is a fourth generation rancher in California raising roughly 300, grass-fed cattle. A former veterinarian, Bill inherited his family ranch that has been in existence since 1858. Conserving the land was also inherent for Bill, and he sought for new partnerships that would not only allow him to protect his 10,000 pristine acres, but also allow him to continue his living as a cattle rancher. Through a friend at the Audubon, Bill was able to set up a conservation easement with the Nature Conservancy. The ranch’s property fell inside the wildlife corridor of the Sierra foothills that the Conservancy was aiming to preserve. With the help of the Packard Foundation and the Nature Conservancy, Bill was able to preserve his family ranch, a vast stretch of undeveloped habitat for Californian wildlife, and still raise grass-fed cattle.

Haile Johnston’s Common Market is a wholesale distributor of local foods in the Philadelphia region. The organization believes in giving residents access to good, local foods, and providing fair treatment for farmers that produce these foods. Through the combination of restoring reclaimed, former lands of Philadelphia and transforming them into community gardens and safe place bases, and being aware of the area’s vast health problems including diabetes and heart disease, the Common Market was developed to provide local, healthy foods in areas of food deserts to low-income and colored communities. Through a generous grant by the Claneil Foundation and the Rudolf Steiner Foundation, the Common Market was able to be launched as a full organization after rigorous business and economic analysis and feasibility studies. The main clients are Philadelphia institutions such as hospitals and schools. The Common Market also sells protein, dairy products in addition to produce.
Michael Burd represents the labor side of philanthropy. As a huge supporter of the Blue Green Alliance, Michael and his colleagues were able to see that they had a lot in common with conservation groups. Many local labor workers also enjoy the outdoors and mountains that conservation groups seek to protect. However, with the ever presence of high energy demands, Wyoming’s landscape harbors rich natural resources in coal and natural gas. With new partnerships with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Trout Unlimited, and the United Steelworkers Local 13214, they were able to invest $1 million to protecting 200 acres from future oil and gas development.

Vicky Tauli-Corpuz is the chairperson for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The Tebtebba Foundation is an international center for policy research and education based in Baguio City, Philippines. Her involvement with the United Nations in partnership with the Christensen Fund and Ford Foundation enabled the passing and adoption by the General Assembly of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007. Indigenous areas overlap with many biodiversity hotspots and protected areas. Together, protection of indigenous rights can help facilitate national interests in other protected areas. Over the years, newer and stronger partnerships have developed between communities, governments, environmental organizations, industrial sectors such as farming and labor, scientists, and restoration groups.

Recommendations for funders:

  •  Often in order for projects and organizations to get started, funding is needed for feasibility studies and business models: “Investments of ideas.”
  • Don’t be afraid of taking risks and meeting new challenges. Invest in leaderships and plans.
  • Information is critical for any partnership to bring together diverse groups of stakeholders. Help fund the translation of these information such as translating documents and science to policy and decision makers.
  • Support grassroots efforts. Change often comes from the communities who have more knowledge and more will power for implementation. It is important to help strengthen not only innovative communities, but also communities willing to do the change.
  • With Rio+20 on the horizon in 2012, funders are being requested to help support groups from around the world to attend Rio +20 and to share what groups are doing. Just because governments ultimately make the decisions, this does not mean local groups do not have an impact or influence at these international conferences.
  • Help link the past with present successes. This helps organizations to avoid repetition and invest in new ideas built on the foundations of successes before them.

Facilitator: Michelle DePass, Assistant Administrator for the Office of International and Tribal Affairs, US Environmental Protection Agency

Speakers: Michael Burd, VP, United Steelworkers Local 13214
Haile Johnston, Co-Founder and Boar Chair, Common Market Philadelphia
Bill Parker, Parker Ranch in Caliente, CA
Dave Schulz, Madison County Commission, MT
Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Founder and Executive Director of Tebtebba Foundation

For more information on these speakers and their projects:

By: Manna Hara, Intern, EGA