Community-based Conservation & Magic Canoes
One of the bedrocks of the Sonoran Institute is its dedication to collaboration. Not just any collaboration. True collaboration where we achieve goals together that we could never do alone. Think of it as a magic canoe—that magically expands to make room for an infinite number of partners and harnesses their talent to achieve outrageously ambitious goals.
In a world where natural resources—clean water, fresh air, green spaces—are increasingly vital to our survival, we must collaborate to generate sustainable solutions for all members of our communities.
I am honored to join the Sonoran Institute team as chief executive officer. Its deep pool of talent and rich history of community-based conservation is a great example of how collaboration creates positive change for landscapes, rivers and resilient communities. Through community-based conservation, the Sonoran Institute builds magic canoes that include everyone—citizens of Mexico, the United States and sovereign tribal nations. Conservationists as well as ranchers. Industry leaders and local governments. Everyone includes people of all races, religions, and backgrounds, people who are LGBTQ+ and people with all abilities.
I am excited because we are going to build a better future together through collaboration.
In my experience and passion over thirty years of my career, I have had the good fortune to ride on a magic canoe or two, most recently in Chile with The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
Located in southern Chile, the Valdivian Coastal Reserve is the 110,000-acre home to tiny pudú deer, millennial alerce trees, and the living fossil monito del monte. The Reserve staff was largely drawn from the local community where residents, many of whom did not identify as indigenous for fear of discrimination, survived on what nature could provide.
When I became a director at TNC, I took on responsibility for the Reserve. The project was woefully underfunded for such an enormous piece of land, as well as faced significant racial equity and social justice issues. The best thing that it had going for it was a community-based conservation plan that promised to address these issues and more if we could find a way to fund it.
As a first step, we reached out to past supporters for help. And slowly and surely, it started to happen, people began to climb aboard the magic canoe. A high-powered group of Chileans learned of the project and soon formed the organization’s first board in Chile.
The donation of a portion of the Reserve to the Chilean government led to the creation of a national park next door. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera came to inaugurate the park that offered the community a few more jobs, recreation and a slightly brighter future.
The president of Chile was in the canoe!
Next, one of our original partners sent word that a major mining company, BHP Billiton, was looking worldwide for projects that could generate permanent, large-scale conservation and financial sustainability.
When BHP agreed to support the Reserve, a global corporate partner jumped in the canoe…
And still more organizations got on board. In just over a decade, the project conserved permanently 160,000 acres, achieved financial sustainability with an $11 million endowment, and changed forever the lives of the surrounding communities.
The power of the project resided in its dedication to collaboration and the inclusive-nature of community-based conservation. To paraphrase a friend, today, we are not protecting nature from humanity as we have done for the past 100 years, we are conserving nature for humanity. In a world where natural resources—clean water, fresh air, green spaces—are increasingly vital to our survival, we must collaborate to generate sustainable solutions for all members of our communities. And when we do, amazing achievements are possible.
The Sonoran Institute should know, it has been practicing community-based conservation for three decades. So, how about it, let’s expand our magic canoe together. Will you share this message with a friend?
So, how about it, let’s expand our magic canoe together. Will you share this message with a friend?
Blog post by Mike Zellner, chief executive officer of the Sonoran Institute
Este mensaje de blog también está disponible en español.