Columbia Land Trust intern and budding ecologist is our Fearless Voice this month. 

Renata Kamakura came on board with Columbia Land Trust this past winter, and has supported our Conservation, Communications, Engagement and Advancement teams on a multitude of projects. A budding ecologist and world traveler, Renata brought her expertise, curiosity, and intellect to our conservation and equity work. Before she heads off to start her PhD in Ecology at Duke this fall, she shared some of her future goals with us. We’re going to miss her!

Renata, tell Columbia Land Trust readers about yourself:

I am budding ecologist (someone who looks at how groups of living things interact with and help create their environments) who has been working in the Pacific Northwest for the past year or so. Before that I lived in a bunch of different places, but never in this region so I have been loving the chance to be here.

One of the things I love about living here is the environment. In particular the sunsets and the way the plant and animal communities change as you move east to west. Northwest sunrises and sunsets are really stunning; the combination of the orange, red, pink, and blue reflecting off the clouds makes me stop in my tracks pretty much every day. As for the change in environments, I love being able to go along the Columbia River and see how plants and animals change as you move from the coast, over the coast range mountains to the Willamette Valley, then over more mountains (the Cascades) into the Columbia Plateau. It’s amazing.

What sorts of things have you been working on at the Land Trust?

I am an intern at the Columbia Land Trust, and I am having a blast. My main goal in working with the Land Trust is to get a sense of what conservation looks like for a non-profit. Before this I was an intern with the US Forest Service, trying to get a sense for what conservation looked like in the government. As a scientist, I think that it’s important for me to have a sense for how my research might help folks who are doing the actual conservation implementation. It is often much more complicated than just knowing what plants to put where: it involves relationship-building, conflicting interests, resource limitations, bureaucracy, much more. I want to make sure I got a better sense of the challenges people face while doing conservation. Then, hopefully, I will be able to better support folks who do that work.

When it comes to “Fearless Conservation”, what examples of that are you drawn to?

The conservation community I have been most familiar with is that inhabited by scientists. While scientists can be and have been fearless, some of the examples that have really stuck with me are outside of that world. I have been most energized by the people I’ve met, from Gary, Indiana, to Nairobi, Kenya to Hood River, Oregon, who are involved in grassroots organizing to both push for conservation and make sure that the needs of people aren’t ignored either. While understanding the science behind conservation is necessary, we also need the political will to enact the practices scientists recommend. Also, science doesn’t always tell us what is just; we need to remain mindful of historical and present injustices that might make problematic otherwise well-intentioned and well-researched projects.

For me, what makes for fearless conservation is not just sticking to what is comfortable and easy but pushing us to do better. The work of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres immediately jumps to mind. She advocated for indigenous rights in Honduras, pushed back against American imperialism, and advocated for water conservation. It doesn’t have to be as huge as what she did; the important thing is that we delve into the messy and hard work of doing the science and fighting for justice.

Columbia Land Trust was lucky to have you for part of this year! What are you off to do next?

I’ll be starting my PhD in Ecology at Duke in the fall! I am really excited to get to know a new place and do scientific research again. That said, one of the most exciting parts for me is that I am hoping to design a project that is grounded in the problems that conservation practitioners are seeing. My goal will be to blend modeling with field work and collaborations to help support the good work that people on the ground are already doing. I have a lot of work to do before I can make that happen, but I am excited to start.