You can imagine the celebration that took place at my house when the purchase of the Rainforest Reserve was completed last month. I hope you had a great celebration too! Thank you for making this possible. Even my kids were genuinely excited when I shared the news, having lived the campaign alongside me. All three came over to give me big hugs.
Then 9-year-old Eli looked up at me, his little elfin face scrunched and serious. “Wait, isn’t that your job?” he asked me. “Now what are you going to do?”
Poor guy: He thought his mom was suddenly unemployed. No wonder. This project had spanned most of his life. All of his life, really, given that NCLC had eyed this goal for more than a decade. It is a bit surreal, given how large this campaign loomed in our hearts and minds, not to mention how much time and energy it consumed.
I didn’t tell Eli, but I had some heart-fluttering moments. I found myself thinking, “Wow, is this really done?” The Rainforest Reserve has been the backdrop of nearly my entire 16 years with the conservancy. And now it’s guaranteed to be the backdrop of our North Coast. I mean, wow! If we can do this, then just imagine what else is possible. I took a deep breath, filled with pride, relief, gratitude and humility, and thought to myself, “I wonder what we’ll do next?”
In the face of this climate crisis, what other choice do we have? Despite the divisive and devastating times in which we find ourselves, those of you reading this letter are still finding common ground in the ground itself. And there are thousands of us. You are a constant inspiration. The solutions we can offer are tangible and simple.
I recently read a surprisingly upbeat essay titled “The Disaster We Must Think About Every Day.” Have you come across that one? The author, overwhelmed and feeling paralyzed in the face of climate change, sought out marine biologist and ocean policy expert Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. Dr. Johnson’s advice to her: “Pick a thing.”
You don’t have to do the thing that’s going to solve everything, she said: “Part of picking your thing is trusting that your fellow human beings are also going to pick a thing, and together, we’ll pick enough things to start moving the needle.”
Something we’ve come to love at NCLC is our strategic plan. Doesn’t the thought of it just give you shivers of excitement and hope? Okay, I get this is not everyone’s favorite activity, but no joke, I love strategic plans. And NCLC has just launched into a transformational one.
It’s hard to describe why I’m fond of this process. It sounds so dry that you’re probably wondering what I was thinking, including it in a fundraising letter. Stick with me, though, because you’re going to love our strategic planning too. Much of the impact we’ve made in our community and our environment is because of our strategic planning and your community support. Without it, there would be no Rainforest Reserve, no Tillamook River Wetlands, no Circle Creek Conservation Center.
When we go through planning, our board and staff allow ourselves to zoom way out, out of the weeds and into the forest canopy, to gain perspective and rechart our path. We pop our heads above the treetops and allow ourselves to take in the infinite possibilities. We reach out to partners, cities, leaders, and neighbors and ask them, “What do you need us to do next?” It can be as overwhelming as it sounds. But we trust. And we listen.
Think of it like opening up your heart to love. It’s a little scary but worth it. And yes, I just compared a strategic plan to true love: That’s just how much passion this mission can ignite! Sure, we can keep plugging away, doing good work, but if we don’t open up and put ourselves out there, might we miss our next great love affair? When you find that love, that shared passion, and you come together, all of a sudden you know where you’re going and with whom. It’s just the most amazing feeling.
As we go through strategic planning, we are opening our hearts to new ways of making an impact, and more than ever, we believe there is much for us to learn and many people to learn from. Despite all the uncertainties of the future, it’s comforting to know that in this land of water and big trees, our local role is playing a significant part in shaping a resilient future.
Diversity is, and always has been, our greatest priority at NCLC. We focus on the richness and critical importance of biodiversity and connectivity. Yet, we have missed a piece: cultivating that same richness in our community involvement and decision-making.
We know the population currently involved with NCLC is not fully representative of our community, which means we are missing out. We are missing out on the deep, place-based knowledge of indigenous people, whose ancestors have always known these lands and waters. We are missing out on the perspectives gained from biculturalism, particularly from our Latinx community members on the coast. We are missing out on the ingenuity of the hardworking problem solvers who have figured out how to live and work and enjoy this beautiful place, even without systems that support them.
As we open ourselves more fully and include many different hearts and minds in our plans for the next three, 10 and 20 years, our collective impact will be more profound than ever.
We are still going to create protected habitat reserves, restore rivers and streams, plant trees and remove invasive species. Our vision continues to embrace an Oregon Coast where people, plants and wildlife all thrive. But are we looking at ways to do these things differently, more inclusively? Yes.
- In the months ahead, we will continue to assist the Arch Cape Water District. They have taken conservation of rainforest and turned it into a community asset that will ensure cold, clean and abundant water always flows from their taps.
- In the year ahead, we are expanding our focus on ecosystem connectivity to include the Cape Falcon Marine Reserve program in order to elevate public support and focus on the critical value of marine protected areas in Oregon. We are also working with an international organization, Of/By/For All Change Network, so we can learn how to amplify the voices and understand the needs of Latinx community members and harness even more support for local conservation.
- In the years ahead, we are dedicating ourselves to a tribal learning journey in order to support the prosperity of indigenous people and the return of land to those original stewards who have cared for, sustained and revered the abundance offered by the coast since time immemorial.
Climate resilience and a culture of stewardship are at the center of all our work. Large-scale forest and water protection is the direct impact you can expect your donations to support (with a sprinkling of hope for the future all along the way).
Maybe Eli’s concern was not so much concern that I was out of work, but concern that we were going to stop working on his behalf, on behalf of the future. No chance. If we are not doing this work for the next generation, then what are we doing it for?
We are gifted this life by our ancestors, and our greatest privilege is to gift our descendants with life on a planet where people, plants and wildlife all thrive.