The First Step: Reconnaissance Trip
Early in the semester, at the beginning of this class ENVS 295: Environmental Engagement, we went on a “Reconnaissance Trip.” At the time, I did not question what exactly “reconnaissance trip” meant. The word choice of “reconnaissance” seemed quite militaristic and official as if we were going out to investigate enemy territory. However, it became clear during and after the trip that what we were really doing was taking the first step to building a foundation for the rest of the course. The trip was before we had really dug into the course material, but it provided an excellent backdrop for the work that we would be continuing for the rest of the semester.
On this trip we as students had the opportunity to listen to a variety of different people, all with a different connection to and definition of environmental engagement. The Hood River Forest Collaborative discussed how they enact discussion and conflict resolution with all of their different stakeholders and community members. The Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) presented us with a bit more of the legal side of environmental engagement, particularly interesting to me was the importance of language within this aspect. CRITFC aims to protect access to all “usual and accustomed” fishing areas for use by the tribes, a definition that is likely difficult to pin down exactly. CRITFC also discussed how the four tribes: Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce, engage with one another in this Commission, and how that relationship is further complicated is further complicated by the state and local authorities.
The Columbia Gorge Interpretive Museum provided a good background for the context in which many of the following organizations operate including a brief history of fishing in the Gorge. At Champoeg State Park, we received a presentation on the History of Willamette Valley Agriculture. The presenters had an altogether different definition of environmental engagement, focusing on how native American tribes and settlers used the landscape of the Willamette Valley. Willamette Egg Farms offered a large-scale business perspective of engagement. They are motivated by the consumer– even when the consumer is uniformed, a key example of this being their organic eggs. They explained to us how the consumer believes that organic eggs can only be brown, despite there being no nutritional difference between white and brown eggs. Because of this, white organic eggs do not sell well and Willamette Egg Farms decided to only offer organic brown eggs. This to me was an interesting example in which it was actually easier and more profitable for a company not to engage with the public, they could have for instance tried to educate their consumer somehow, but they opted to simply give the people what they want.
Another business that opted to change direction thanks to consumer demand was the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farms. Barb Iverson explained to us how tourists visiting the farm for photo-ops became more profitable than growing crops. Does posing with flowers constitute some sort of environmental engagement in this age of instagram? As president of the Oregon Farm Bureau Barb Iverson had more problems to deal with such as the use of pesticides, immigrant farmworker rights, and the endless red tape that comes with growing hemp and selling CBD products. Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), as a social justice organization, introduced many issues that concern environmental engagement. In Laura Galindo’s presentation we learned the history of PCUN and what sort of issues they are currently addressing.
All of these organizations introduced us to topics we would further delve into in 295. We started with effective action. The effective action movement is based on the idea that action should be done in a more efficient way. Effective Altruism is representative of this movement. Their goal is to make altruism as efficient as possible. They argue that as it stands, altruism, such as charity work, does not employ enough “research, evidence and reasoning.”
Next, we began framing the “who” of environmental engagement. In this section we looked at examples from the Hidden Tribes of America site which divides the people by their political mindset. We also looked at the “who” as stakeholders who must be “identified, characterized and organized in order to give them a specific degree of participation” (Luyet et al. 2012).
I found our work on models of communication or the “how” of engagement to be the most compelling concept we discussed. Specifically, the contemporary dialogic which focuses on two-sided conversation and allowing for all perspectives to be heard. This model, which has been used to some success (Brookman and Kalla 2016), is extremely hopeful and promising to me. When I think of engagement, the image of making change through understanding and beneficial dialogue is what comes to mind. This model represents the future of environmental engagement.
With the partner organization work we were able to grapple with all of the ideas in our coursework on a closer level. The partner organization for my group is PCUN. I was interested in working with PCUN because I found that out of all of the organizations we looked at, PCUN is the most intersectional in terms of how many issues the address with their work. In gathering further background information on PCUN we learned that they have created a vast network of groups and organizations that all focus on different issues. All of the groups and issues under the PCUN umbrella can be seen in our Actor-Network map. Simply making this map represented a challenge for our team, and it was in making it that we initially realized just how far a reach and how influential PCUN really is.
For the past few weeks, engagement for our group has been all about researching, writing, and synthesizing our own thoughts and questions. We written about PCUN in the context of effective action, post-truth, dialogue, and the divided who. In doing all of these posts, we were able to fully understand the concepts we read about and discussed for class. With all of this work we were primarily engaging with ideas and information within our groups and the class as a whole. We only reached out to PCUN recently, and although they seemed interested in a future project together, due in part to the recent pandemic chaos, we were not able to set up a meeting with them. Is this the reality of engagement? After all of the work and energy we put into investigating who PCUN is, and How they might classify their methods of engagement, at the end of the day, what we’re really doing is waiting for a response. Perhaps that is half the battle of engagement. We as students can devote a huge amount of energy to this, but in reality these organizations might have much bigger and pressing issues.
The Next Step
On our reconnaissance trip we were able to gain an initial understanding of how all of these different people and organizations view engagement. In class and in our partnership posts we have started to figure out the many facets of engagement within the greater environmental studies community and the world. Through all of this, my own understanding of what environmental engagement means has been expanded and complicated. So far in ENVS 295 we have been building a foundation for engagement. In the remaining time left of this semester, I look forward to using this foundation to engage in meaningful dialogue with PCUN as well the Lewis and Clark community.
Broockman, David, and Joshua Kalla. 2016. “Durably Reducing Transphobia: A Field Experiment on Door-to-Door Canvassing.” Science 352, no. 6282: 220-24.
Luyet, Vincent, Rodolphe Schlaepfer, Marc B. Parlange, and Alexandre Buttler. 2012. “A Framework to Implement Stakeholder Participation in Environmental Projects.” Journal of Environmental Management 111 (November): 213–19.