Finding Community in Engagement - Columbia Land Trust
Invite. Educate. Inspire.

It’s 2020, and we are in the midst of a global public health crisis. Right now, there are hundreds of people carrying on through the Coronavirus pandemic, doing essential work that keeps our society and economy moving, putting themselves at risk, on the frontlines. Thank you. And for those of us fortunate enough to have jobs that allow us to work from home from our living rooms, kitchen tables, or perhaps with a small child on our lap, it’s an interesting time to think about our health and needs, and the health and needs of those around us—our communities.

As an organization that sees relationships as foundational to the success of its conservation work, we’ve spent the past few years asking ourselves a pretty big question: How do we engage with communities?

We’re not alone in this quest for knowledge. Land trusts across the U.S. are asking this very same question, with good reason. Climate change, population growth, national political turmoil, and stress—this is a very intense time to be alive! It is also an amazing time to be a conservationist.

Relationships involve people, and people are going through a lot right now. In order to keep integrity at the heart of our relational work, it’s important to get a better understanding of how to meet people where they’re at. Not just those who have traditionally been a part of conservation work but also those who are affected by it and have been overlooked.

As Columbia Land Trust develops a community engagement program, we enter a new chapter of work with three desires at heart:

  • invite
  • educate
  • inspire

Who’s at the table when we strategize land acquisition, and have we practiced a spirit of inclusion by not only extending the invitation but also asking those who attend to be a part of the decision-making process? Conservation work presents itself in different ways to different people—have we educated ourselves enough when it comes to stewardship practices and impact? Are we giving people foundational knowledge on climate change and how they can act for the good of the planet? Are we inviting conversation and dialogue on the many layers of our work, and listening to how we can do better? We want to inspire the next generation of conservationists to conserve land “in perpetuity,” but are we asking them what they need in order to succeed?

The questions can go on, but that’s a good thing. It means we are evolving as our conservation work evolves. As we look to continue conserving precious lands, waters, and wildlife, we also keep in our minds and hearts the people who exist within those landscapes. We hope to build strong partnerships and community-led programs with groups that prioritize the well-being of their people. We hope to be inclusive and to be humble as we seek to understand how to show up for our black, indigenous, and people of color communities; LGBTQ+ communities; and disabled communities.

Stay tuned as we develop and roll out conversations, gatherings, and programs that will uplift and center on our communities, and will also contribute to the greater good of both conservation and social impact.

Until we meet again (in person hopefully), here’s a quote from Adrienne Marie Brown, author of Emergent Strategy, a wonderful book that’s sitting on the shelf of the Columbia Land Trust lending library:

“Perhaps it is more important to be in community, vulnerable and real and whole, than to be right, or to be winning.”
—Adrienne Maree Brown, Emergent Strategy

Editor’s note: In the print version of this piece, we want to acknowledge that we made an unfortunate oversight in the original text of this article by failing to acknowledge the many essential workers who have worked tirelessly and at great risk for our communities since the start of this pandemic. We regret the omission and have edited the online version to better reflect this.