Fearless Voice: David Grandfield of Portland Parks & Recreation
Mentoring the next generation through stewardship and environmental education.
David Grandfield is a Stewardship Coordinator and Environmental Educator for Portland Parks and Recreation. He considers himself a ‘first generation Oregonian’ and has been in Oregon for the past decade (an uncommon thing in this era of ‘new Portland’). Throughout the year, he coordinates non-native plant removals from a long list of natural area parks in Willamette River Watershed, including some Portland favorites like Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, Mt. Tabor, Kelly Butte, Baltimore Woods, and Ross Island. He describes his relationship with nature and the outdoors as “a bit fanatical”, and with the letters spelling S O I L tattooed on his fingers, it’s clear that his love for nature is a lifelong one.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is David Grandfield. I live right next to the Willamette River in the Brooklyn neighborhood, one block from the entrance to Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge Trailhead. I love going on walks to the wetlands, seeing the migratory birds, and listening to the coyotes. My favorite part of living in Portland is all of the great food! My current obsession: meatball banh mi sandwiches.
Your job is based in Pacific Northwest nature, specifically in some of Portland’s most notable parks, how did you end up in this line of work?
I am first generation Oregonian and have lived in the Pacific Northwest for ten years now. I moved here from Northern California to study plants and learn about Pacific Northwest Ecosystems. The reason I chose the PNW is because of the weather; I really like how much water and trees are in this part of the country. My relationship to the outdoors has been a bit fanatical since I was 19. My relationship to plants, fungi, and soil have deepened since I started learning about the history of descendants of African-American Slaves and Indigenous Peoples and their connections to earth, specifically plants. My intent is to learn as much as I can about the functions of Pacific Northwest Ecosystems so that I can help with local conservation efforts for the rest of my life. As a black man, I am committed to sharing this knowledge with other communities of color who have been directly impacted by the loss of natural resource management due to slavery and colonization.
What comes to mind when you think of Fearless Conservation?
One example of fearless conservation that I see is the leadership displayed by indigenous people in Portland Metro Area. There are countless individuals and groups in the area that are leading the way in Urban Natural Area Restoration. I consider this work fearless because of all the unknowns that these committed individuals face when doing this work. Such as, working with poisonous plants, restoring landfills to natural habitat, working in contaminated areas, planting in soil that has been transplanted, and working in areas that have had several herbicide applications. I am so inspired by the community collaboration taking place at the Portland Parks Native Gathering Garden. I believe that the work that is being done in that park can be replicated throughout all natural areas in the entire metro area. Indigenous people are at the table for EVERY decision making process. I would like to see the decision making power transfer from dominant white culture back into the hands of the indigenous people who have been successfully managing the natural resources of the PNW for thousands of years.
What are some of your goals as it pertains to this crucial work you are doing?
I currently mentor young people of color who are working their way up in the Natural Resource Management career path and want to learn more about protecting and conserving land in the PNW, I’d like to continue doing this. I’m also working to strengthen my relationship with local indigenous groups that are interested in becoming key stakeholders in Portland’s Natural Resource Management, as well as influence city leaders to contribute more funding and support for these groups — they want to deepen their relationship to the Natural Areas that hold such high natural resource value.