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I owe you an apology

Hi! It’s me, Betsy, and boy do I owe you an apology! It has been MONTHS since our last post and I am sorry for the lack of commitment. Our bloggers’ lives have gotten ridiculously busy so it’s been up to me to remain engaged here, and well, obviously I have not done that.

So where have I been? I’ve been tweeting and occasionally posting in Facebook. When I’m not hanging around the social media water cooler I am working on the ReadyCommunity facilitator’s guide (I will share more about this in another post) and center publications.

Today I have been preparing the Call for Abstracts for the May issue of Rural Connections. The topic for this issue is “Local & Regional Food Hubs Boost Rural Economies” and thanks to Jim Barham from USDA-Agricultural Marketing Services, the Call for Abstracts expertly describes food hubs and what we are seeking for this issue.

I will release the Call for Abstracts on Tuesday, Jan. 31 so watch our website, Twitter and Facebook pages for the details. Or join our mailing list and you’ll get the announcement delivered to your Inbox.

So that explains what I’ve been up to in 2012. How about you? What projects have you started or renewed in 2012?

Social Anthropology and Rural Economic Development

By Ed Meyer

For more than three decades, I’ve made a conscious effort to stay far away from the divisive diatribes so typical of arguments regarding public lands and the environment. When I’ve been ambushed in a meeting and forced to listen to the well-practiced public lands rhetoric repeated for the thousandth time, an image comes to my mind. It’s an image of the Dugum Dani warriors from the New Guinea highlands that I recall from the University Utah where I was studying social anthropology.

Keep in mind that I was taking anthropology classes thirty years ago so my memories are blurred by time, but here’s how I remember films I watched back when you still had to wind film onto projectors. It seemed like the women did all the work in the Dugum Dani villages. They raised sweet potatoes and tended pigs while the men got ready to go to “war”.  Since the men didn’t wear anything except a “koteka” (look it up for yourself at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koteka because I’m not going there), preparations seemed to most involve a lot of chest thumping and a little face painting. However, in the late morning or early afternoon, the men would go to a canyon where they yelled at men from another tribe and shot arrows that never seemed to hit anything. The technical term for this is “ritual small-scale warfare and here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

Ritual small-scale warfare between rival villages is integral to traditional Dani culture, with much time spent preparing weapons, engaging in both mock and real battle, and treating any resulting injuries. Typically the emphasis in battle is to insult the enemy and wound or kill token victims, as opposed to capturing territory or property or vanquishing the enemy village.

If you are interested in learning more about the Dugum Dani, you may want to visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dugum_Dani.  As an aside, the ritual battles I saw in college in 1972 have become much more serious as the primate Dugum Dani have come in contact with the outside world and now are being sold high powered rifles.

I’ve certainly circumnavigated around my point which is that pretty much everyone embroiled in the battle over public lands remind me of the Dugum Dani warriors mocking one another, insulting the “enemy”, rattling arrows and firing ineffective volleys at one another.  To me it has always seemed so wasteful and counterproductive. So I chose another route that focused directly on trying to help people at the community level.

(Pictured: Abraham Maslow)

But now I’m retired and want to propose something that was not politically appropriate when I was a state employee. Before I make my proposal, I want to go back to my anthropology training and dredge up from my ancient lessons the theories of a guy named Abraham Maslow. He proposed something now known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation (I expect all of you sociology students are groaning about now). Mr. Maslow was a pretty boring guy so let me summarize how his concept relates to rural America and the public lands debacle.

Maslow said that people need to take care of a whole host of needs before they will focus on an area he called “self actualization”. In terms of rural America, you have to make sure you provide food and shelter for yourself and your family before you will be willing to consider more lofty goals like protecting the environment. So when you are forced to give up a job in a sawmill or a mine that pays a family-sustaining wage in exchange for turning bed sheets in a motel, you won’t be receptive to ideas like protecting wilderness areas. If you want be really bored, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs.

So here, based on Maslow, is my idea and my challenge to the environmental community. Rural people will never embrace protection of the environment and tying up public lands until they have family sustaining jobs. So you can fight them until hell freezes over. You can keep filing lawsuits draining your budgets and those of people living in rural America or you can invest in an alternative strategy. If you don’t want rural people to continue their efforts to obtain family sustaining, natural resource-based jobs, then you need to find a way to substitute environmentally sensitive jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage.

Think about it. Thousands of companies professing to be environmentally conscious are contributing to environmental movements. What if instead of doing this they invested in rural communities adjacent to public lands by providing “clean jobs”.  What this would entail is a willingness to sustain a loss for a few years as the new rural employees are trained and gain experience. In some cases, there might even be an ongoing loss since many rural communities are isolated, but the growth of information-based jobs should counterbalance the cost of isolation. It is my experience that, once a rural person’s family needs are addressed, they are more willing to consider environmental partnership to address mutual needs.

Of course, this isn’t likely to happen. Environmental organizations don’t sustain themselves by solving environmental problems. Rather, it’s in their interests to sustain problems for generations if possible.  But prove me wrong. If you have an idea about an environmentally clean company who wants to provide jobs next to sensitive public lands, call me in Kanab. My name is Ed Meyer and my number is in the phone book. Next month I’ll let you know how many calls I’ve received.

Call for Abstracts – Climate Change

The Western Rural Development Center is soliciting articles for its June 2011 issue of Rural Connections. The topic for this issue will be challenges and opportunities facing the rural West relative to climate change and climate change policies.

Abstracts Due: Friday, March 4, 2011

Click here for the details.

Overview
The EPA says, “The extent of climate change effects, and whether these effects prove harmful or beneficial, will vary by region, over time, and with the ability of different societal and environmental systems to adapt to or cope with the change.”[i] The Center is interested in understanding challenges and opportunities facing the West’s rural communities as they relate to climate change. Furthermore, the Center wants to share this information with its stakeholders to increase awareness of the region’s activities and to build the capacity of Extension and communities by providing them with relevant and timely information.

The WRDC is not interested in arguments for or against climate change, rather the WRDC is interested in sharing with its stakeholders the research and community and economic development activities that are underway in the region to address currently changing climates and how these changes are bringing economic opportunities and/or challenges to the West’s rural communities.

Sub-Topics
The topic of challenges and opportunities facing the Rural West as they relate to climate change and climate change policy is broad in scope and allows for submissions from a wide range of sub-topics including but not limited to the following topics listed in no particular order of priority:

  • Climate change policies and how they are impacting business/job growth in the West
  • Impacts of Climate Change on Agricultural Production
  • Impacts of Climate Change on Natural Resources
  • Impacts of Climate Change on National Security
  • Innovations in Climate Change Technologies Manufactured in Rural Communities

Click here to read and download the complete Call for Abstracts.


[i] US Environmental Protection Agency.  Climate Change – Health and Environmental Effects.  Retrieved February 3, 2011, from http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/effects/index.html


Lessons in Community-Based Conservation from Africa

The WRDC is pleased to introduce Ed Meyer as one of our bloggers. Mr. Meyer oversaw the Utah Governor’s rural economic development programs for 25 years before retiring to Kanab, UT. Currently he contracts with Southern Utah University to provide entrepreneur support in Kane County. He runs his own consulting firm dealing with rural incentives, serves on the Kanab City Council, and serves on the board of a local non-profit that promotes events that incorporate education, business and the arts.

Without further ado, here’s Ed.

Last fall a marvelous film called “Milking the Rhino” was screened in Kanab as part of the Southern Utah Documentary Film Festival.  After the film, I had the honor of facilitating a discussion with the film’s co-producer Jeanne McGill.  Though the film is about Africa’s Himba Tribe in Namibia and the Maasai Tribe in Kenya, the land management model they are using is one we should consider here in the American West.

First let me set the stage by explaining that the Himba and Maasai have traditionally survived largely through cattle ranching.  Though they raise their cattle in different ways for different purposes, these African tribes share a common economic bond with the West’s cattlemen.  They also face a similar challenge in that they have traditionally been denied access to adjacent lands.  In their case, these lands have been locked up in game reserves patrolled by armed guards.  Historically these guards have shot tribesmen who touch one foot inside the reserves.  Though the situation in the American West is certainly not as dramatic, ranchers are regularly being forced from public lands, largely due to environmental challenges. Another similarity is that the Himba and Maasai have often lost livestock to lions and other predators that are protected inside the reserves.  Certainly this draws a comparison to issues in the American West such as the reintroduction of the wolf and other predatory species.

In recent years, the governments of Namibia and Kenya have recognized that the ongoing conflicts with tribal cattlemen are counterproductive.  They have also realized the tremendous market for eco-tourism and the potential value this new economic opportunity could provide for the Himba and Maasai.  In order to take advantage of this opportunity, they have implemented a management tool we might consider in the American West called community-based conservation.

What the African governments have done is create conservation districts incorporating the lands within the traditional game reserves and allowed the local tribesmen to make management decisions.  Typically these decisions might address issues like whether predators that threaten the cattle should be relocated for the benefit of eco-tourists or whether they need to be destroyed, perhaps by a hunter willing to pay a premium.  Another example was whether portions of the game reserve that had previously been off limits for cattle grazing should be opened during times of drought.  The film’s title “Milking the Rhino” comes from the decision tribesmen were forced to make when white rhinos were tramping fields and destroying crops.  The tribesmen recognized that the white rhino was one of the most popular animals for the ecotourist and decided to relocate it in hopes of “milking the rhino” for tourist dollars.   While the jury is still out regarding how effective these community-based conservation districts will be, it is significant that each tribe now has a new eco-tourism lodge created through collaboration with professional managers.  The lodges provide jobs for natives and the profits are shared with the tribes.  Profits are negotiated with the tribes and, if the managers can’t come to an agreement, the tribe has the authority to order them from the land.

I’d like to ask the readers of this blog whether they can share examples of how a similar model has been tried in the American West.  Before you answer, let me clarify my request.  I’m not looking for examples where the federal government has created advisory groups to provide input or even grassroots projects the federal government allows to occur because they are consistent with their management plan.  What I am looking for are examples where the federal government has actually turned management of federal lands over to groups of local stakeholders to manage for some purpose.

I understand that there are reasons it would be difficult to implement community-based conservation in the American West.  I expect to hear all kinds of reasons why it can’t be done.  Quite honestly, I’m tired of hearing why things can’t be done.  What I hope to see are examples where something similar is being done and suggestions of what might have to occur to make it happen given our unique public lands models.

If you would like to learn more about the Himba, the Maasai and community-based conservation, I encourage you to visit http://MilkingTheRhino.org.  A related site is www.bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/milk.html where you can download an outstanding study guide based on the video.  Finally, if you would like Jeanne McGill to speak at an event, please email me at ed@kekanab.com and I can provide contact information.

Images used with permission granted by the filmmaker.

Steph: Surveys, Surveys, and More Surveys

In the weeks since we were last in touch, surveys have taken over my life. As I mentioned in my last post, I am currently completing my dissertation in environmental sociology. The last phase of large-scale data collection involves surveying residents in four communities surrounding the first proposed uranium mill in the U.S. in 25 years, sited in the Paradox Valley of southwestern Colorado. All of my favorite topics in one project: energy issues, social justice, and good, old-fashioned social science research. In this phase of data collection, I’ve learned just how complex the process of thorough surveying can be. I have also realized how necessary and grounding it is to get into the communities in which we distribute questionnaires, particularly for those of us involved in researching rural issues.

Over the last several months, my to-do list has looked something like this: create survey instrument. Give it to major professor for review – and re-create survey instrument. Submit instrument to IRB for approval – and re-create survey instrument again. Compile sampling frames. Print surveys, labels, envelopes. Buy hundreds of dollars in postage. Stuff hundreds of envelopes. Rejoice at returned, completed surveys.

Many of us know these are the basic steps of conducting a survey. Listed out, they appear tidy, as if they can be checked off a grand surveying to-do list. But this, my friends, is a deceptive sort of tidiness. That said, I operated under this assumption of neatly-penned to-do lists until I just couldn’t lie to myself any longer. I quickly learned just how messy it is to write questions that are both engaging to the potential respondent and informative for the social scientist. I learned how challenging it is to create an organization that flows, to anticipate how people may process information, and to write accessible questions about inaccessible sociological theories. I learned that acquiring addresses for rural residents presents unique barriers, requiring persistence and ingenuity. Above all, I learned the frustrations of the overlooked typo. The seemingly innocuous typo that ends up in the key question, of course; the one that wakes you up at 5:30 a.m. and eventually compels you to persuade your patient husband into spending hours of time with a staple remover and White-Out.

For me, however, the ultimate lesson of this decidedly messy, unpredictable, and exciting process is the importance of getting on the ground in the communities we research, survey, observe. Before constructing my survey instrument, I visited communities potentially impacted by the proposed uranium mill. I found it immensely valuable to observe daily life in communities where residents largely support the mill’s construction versus lifestyles in towns where residents largely oppose the mill.

On my first visit, I ate at the main local diner, drank a beer at one of the local bars, and tried to strike up conversation with anyone who looked my way. Not only did this allow me to meet some friendly people, it let me learn what mattered to community members, how they perceived the controversial permitting decisions, and what it might be like to live – and try to make a living – in one of the most remote pockets of the continental U.S.

The knowledge I gathered through casual encounters such as these led to tens of interviews with people and, eventually, a survey instrument to which people responded. Given the rurality of the communities I’m studying, it turns out that my physical presence and conversations with residents made my survey instrument much more salient and real to many of them, so I’ve been told, people who have grown skeptical of surveys, state institutions, and academics. Instead of an anonymous surveyor, they had a face and perhaps a conversation to put with the questionnaire that arrived in the mail. This connection, I learned, may be more valuable than many of the methodological tools we learn as social scientists. In an era of plummeting response rates, I’m realizing that a little field work can go a long way in creating connections to communities we study, laying foundations for social exchange – even on a tight, graduate student budget.

Stephanie Malin is a PhD candidate in Environmental Sociology at Utah State University. You can read her musings about life as a doctoral student here each month.