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Communities adopt conservation practices when learning from each other
Rural communities, separated by tens to hundreds of kilometers, participating in WCS Community Exchange Days build their capacity to address the challenges of living in or near protected areas and co-existing with wildlife. In the High Divide of southwestern Montana, WCS staff have found that enabling communities to exchange how they co-exist with wildlife has motivated adoption of community-devised and proven solutions, such as composting livestock and road kill carcasses and using livestock guard dogs, to minimize conflicts with large carnivores. In the Adirondack State Park of Northern New York, once-isolated communities share how they have expanded economic opportunities by taking advantage of local residents skills and knowledge and leveraging private and government support for the sustainable use of the park’s natural assets and cultural history. In both places, collaborating with local communities to host Community Exchange Days strengthens long-term constituencies for local and regional conservation efforts. Sharing experiences inspires people to innovate and improve on one another’s efforts and work across political jurisdictions, and creates opportunities for grassroots initiatives to grow into regional approaches for a greater impact on conservation and well-being.
The Adirondacks of Northern New York and the High Divide of Southwestern Montana are vast mosaics of public and private lands. Each are similar in size to the state of Vermont, or the country of Belize. Both are home to iconic wildlife, that are a valued for their contribution to region’s unique identity and for the potential they offer for driving economic returns to local residents. Co-existing with wildlife, especially large carnivores is challenging, and land-use restrictions associated with living in, or near, protected areas often seem to limit opportunities for economic development. Though some small communities have found innovative ways to share the land with wildlife, they are typical isolated from one another and lack ways to exchange ideas and to share successful approaches they have devised for addressing the social, economic and environmental challenges posed by living in remote and wild areas. WCS Community Exchange Days are an important tool for enabling communities to share what they are learning. Community Exchange Days showcase willing individuals and groups that have experimented successfully with novel solutions to the challenges people face living in remote areas in close proximity to wildlife and wilderness. By sharing their stories and ideas, these innovators and early-adopters help inspire and motivate others in similar situations to diffuse new approaches to other isolated communities. Community Exchange Days create an environment where people can learn from others facing similar challenges. Participants at Community Exchange Days discuss the pros and cons of various solutions, and consider opportunities for replicating effective projects and solutions across a larger geography to enhance rural livelihoods and, at the same time, protect the cultural distinctiveness and natural areas of the places they call home. During exchanges ranchers learn from ranchers, town supervisors learn from town supervisors and communities quickly embrace a collaborative spirit that motivates them to take action, adopt new ways of doing things that best meets their needs and seek ways to continue working together to solve shared challenges. Community Exchange Days are a powerful tool for building trusted relationships with and among communities. Relationships forged at Community Exchange Days have enabled local officials to be conservation leaders and contributed to building strong and vibrant constituencies motivated to advocate for the benefits of coexisting with wildlife and wilderness.
Community Exchange Days improve the ability to exchange knowledge and skills for generating and implementing solutions to coexisting with wildlife and wilderness. Innovative ideas successfully implemented by one community inspire participants from other communities to expand dialogue across a region and experiment with new approaches. Community Exchange Days motivate individuals to become local leaders willing to champion successful practices and collaborate with relevant regional partners to encourage broader adoption throughout the landscape.
Community Exchange Days increase community well-being by recognizing and promoting successes of early adopters, providing a forum for exchange of ideas, and creating a network of individuals who can support each other’s efforts to work together on projects that have positive outcomes for multiple communities facing similar issues. Community Exchange Days resulted in increased momentum on at least 15 topics showcased at these events. Community Exchange Days have helped generate over a million dollars in foundation and government investment for some 15 projects that improve community well-being, by linking the protected natural environment to tangible economic benefits (e.g., improved livestock management, better access for visitors to historical and cultural interpretation, promotion of locally-made products)
Community Exchange Days build constituencies for conservation by strengthening social ties within the host community and with individuals facing similar challenges in other communities. By 2016, over 350 participants from more than 32 Adirondack towns and 4 counties of Montana have attended Community Exchange Days. Over 75% of the participants have subsequently participated in other WCS led activities in these landscapes or supported WCS with donations.
Carcass composting CXD in southwest MT/John Vogel ©WCS
CXD in Long Lake, NY Highlighting Adirondack themed businesses/Heidi Krester ©WCS
CXD on addressing tailings, buildings and ponds from derelict mining operations, Star Lake, NY./Leslie Karasin ©WCS