Dirty Jobs: Land Conservation and Environmental Management

My time at Catawba Lands Conservancy and Carolina Thread Trail has been split in many different directions, doing many different types of work, and working with all types of people. You can really learn a lot about the society we live in behind stands of pines and hardwoods, in the riparian lands along our creeks and rivers. Last week I went on a site visit to a Catawba Lands Conservancy (CLC) property (I won’t specify the exact location so all landowners may remain anonymous). This conserved land is separated by just a few parcels, and as many landowners from our most popular natural surface trail in the Carolina Thread Trail (CTT) network. To make this connection, would add about two miles onto our existing trail, and is a very tangible goal depending on landowner cooperation. That being said, I and two others went to the site to walk the corridor and assess trail possibilities. What we were met with was both exciting and discouraging.

Our walk started off through a managed forest of loblolly pines, which make for a great trail because of the relatively clean understory and forest floor, and then shifted down to the creek bank where the walking got a bit more laborious, but still had great potential for a trail. The creek wandered through the forest, large native pines and hardwoods on the east bank, and an intimidating wall of invasive privet on the west. Eventually the forest gave way to a wide, beautiful wetland area fed by a creek (name undisclosed) and the flood waters of the lake (name undisclosed). This area was quite pleasant this time of year, but would be a breeding ground for mosquitoes in warmer weather. The wetland area would require a series of bridges or boardwalks to implement a sustainable trail (although bridges and boardwalks would be a nice amenity for users, it can be a very expensive obstacle for us). Back into the woods we went for a short distance until we reached an untouched pool of the lake. This water body encompassed about ten acres, but was only about two feet deep and littered with trees, fallen branches, and exposed islands of grasses—a heaven on earth for wood ducks and other waterfowl. As we approached, sure enough, we bumped up a pair of wood ducks, a blue heron, and three Canadian geese. This was a beautiful sight, and rare to see on a commercialized lake such as this one. Our admiration, unfortunately, soon turned to dismay as we made our way around the water and saw the disgusting scene on the other side.Dirty Jobs: Land Conservation and Environmental Management

As we circumvented the pond, we came upon a litter pile of glass and plastic bottles, plastic toys, beer cans, tires, Styrofoam, and old household appliances. This was the largest and most dense litter pile I have ever seen in an undeveloped area. It was amazing amount of trash, and we soon came to realize that to make a trail a reality in this area we would need to have multiple volunteer workdays with many hands working diligently for hours, filling several dump truck loads of trash for removal. Trash pickup is not the most glamorous work in land management, but one that is necessary in many cases. This is one of the “dirty jobs” in land conservation work, and frankly, a job that can be over-looked or brushed under the rug because of the limited resources in small land trusts and other environmental organizations like ourselves.

As a conservationist, this is extremely frustrating to see. Trash is a serious problem in our society and a major concern for the environment through its impacts on wildlife, water quality, etc. Action needs to be taken on this front, and I’m not exactly sure what that will look like. Is it local, state, or federal policy changes? Or is it an effort made through corporate responsibility initiatives from companies producing these products, maybe an effort at the grassroots level? I’m not sure, but if something isn’t done about this soon, the increasing global population combined with the societal obsession with Dirty Jobs: Land Conservation and Environmental Managementon-the-go products, fast food, and plastic products will be the demise of our natural environment as we know it today.

Seeing is believing. It is hard to wrap the human brain around something of this magnitude from anecdotes and photos, so it is important for organizations like us to get people outside and facilitate this conversation. But remember, non-profit environmental organizations love volunteers and would fall apart without them. So please look into spending some time researching and finding places to get involved in the conservation efforts wherever that may be.

The strangeness of starting my professional career

By Whitley Raney ’13

Last weekend I had to make the jump from being a student to taking ownership over the knowledge that I supposedly gained as a student. It was a weird concept to think about, and I’m still not entirely sure that I am ready to take that responsibility and change of identity.

FHMM is participating in a continuing education course for community facilitators. Since I wasn’t here for the first few sessions, I wasn’t obligated to go, but I’m really glad that I did (After all, I’m enough of a nerd that class is appealing—even on Friday night and Saturday morning—and as a Davidson grad, I hardly know what else to do when I’m not in class or on a deadline to work on something).

When my coworkers and I went around to introduce ourselves to the visiting professor from Mexico City, we had to tell him our names, what area we worked in, and what we are. Everyone said that they were psychologists, engineers, biologists, sociologists, economists etc. I introduced myself, and said that I had studied anthropology. The teacher then responded (after misunderstanding and mispronouncing my name no less than 4 times before finally giving up), “Oh, you’re an anthropologist!” I guess I went to school for 4 years and President Quillen gave me a piece of paper to make that distinction, but that was the first time that I was given the opportunity (read: forced, because I’m still not sure how I feel about that “opportunity”) to assume responsibility for my education and assume a certain degree of authority for the expertise that I should have. Since the course dealt with a lot of anthropological theory and fieldwork concepts and things that I should know a lot about…I got to actually feel like I did have some kind of expertise, which is always positive.

At the same time however, real life and real jobs aren’t measured on any basis that I am equipped to navigate. The ability to ration my time and energy and sleep while still making it to class and meetings and activities and lectures and back to my apartment for desert night with my roommates is a skill that I’m still trying to learn how to adapt and apply to my life. There are no grades, there are no syllabi that outline the specific guidelines, and office hours aren’t quite as easy to come by. It isn’t enough to be able to write about the progression from structuralism to functionalism, I need to understand how that applies to community outreach work and the development of projects that have real budgets, real timetables, and affect real lives and real health outcomes.

There is a much more superficial level to this changing identity as well. As a break from the identity as a student that I have cultivated for the past 17 years of my life, it’s considered polite here to refer to people by their titles. In the United States we do that for doctors, maybe judges or ministers, but everyone else pretty much just graduates from college and goes on with their life. But in emails or formal interactions, I get referred to as la Licenciada Whitley. Which is basically an impressive-sounding way to acknowledge that I have a college degree. Which basically means that I need to get used to the fact that I can’t hang on to being a student, something that I got pretty good at over the course of, well, my entire life since I can remember. I get to apply all the student stuff, and half the time I can’t decide if that’s more pressure or less. It’s a strange jump to try and make.

And the funniest change to my identity as a young adult living and working in Mexico is definitely my name. Besides the fact that no one can pronounce it and I usually end up being called Wendy, there have been various forms to fill out that require both given names and both last names. People really don’t like the answer that I only have one last name (because, well, my birth certificate and social security card and passport and anything that legally gives me an identity says so). That explanation seems to make very little sense. So I get my two given names, my dad’s last name and my mom’s maiden name.

I’m la Licenciada Whitley Raye Raney Hensdale and I’m an anthropologist. I might need reminding occasionally, because I’m not entirely sure what to do with that information.


Early signs that I am in the right profession

By Eli Kahn ’13

It’s hard to imagine that I’m into my sixth week working at the Foundation For The Carolinas.  This opportunity through the Davidson Impact Fellows program has truly been an amazing experience, and one that I will cherish.  Before I started my fellowship at the Foundation, I would often struggle with answering the question, “So what does FFTC do?”  I knew they were a community foundation which I was able to rattle off a basic definition of when prompted, but what I didn’t know is how much more than just a community foundation this place is.

Every day I walk into the office, I am not only amazed at the efforts and abilities of the staff here, but more importantly by the humility of each individual doing such amazing work.  Through my time growing up, and as a Bonner Scholar at Davidson, I became captivated by the non-profit sector but always struggled personally with how I could enter the sector and hopefully make a difference.  By the time I graduated in May, I knew that I wanted to work in the non-profit sector, but knew that my calling wasn’t teaching or “getting my hands dirty” so to speak by doing the amazing work that so many non-profits do on a daily basis, but instead working in a capacity to allow non-profits to continue and expand their work to touch more communities in need.

Even though most of my time at the Foundation thus far has been spent behind a desk or in meetings in the comfort of a conference room, I have not lost the sense that what I am doing is making a difference, and will positively impact the community.  I have had the humbling opportunities to interact and work with individuals who are tackling some of the largest issues facing our society.  To know that what the Foundation does by connecting donors and financial support to causes and organizations that are capable of tackling these problems, and that what I have been doing at the Foundation will help enable others to make a positive impact on our communities is more than enough for me, and something that I can be proud of when I leave the office every day.

With many of the largest social issues in society, say homelessness for example, there is generally a level of pessimism that the issue is too big to tackle.  I have found that in the philanthropic world of a foundation, this pessimism is outweighed by a sense of optimism – that each small initiative we take on, or grant issued, is a step in the right direction.

If I were to be asked now, “So what does FFTC do?” Or even, “what do you do at FFTC?” I am still not sure that I would be able to deliver a complete and concise answer, which I don’t necessarily see as a bad thing.  The opportunities thus far to involve myself in a variety of initiatives and projects tackling a variety of issues have truly been amazing .  To know that the Foundation, and the philanthropic world in general, has the resources available to make a positive impact on society  has made these first few weeks a great experience, and one that will continue to get better throughout my fellowship.

Thank you Davidson and DIF for launching me into the “real world” with such an amazing opportunity!