Thursday, July 2, 2009

Green Leadership Academy: Of Partnerships and Passions

I mentioned in a previous post that Lisa Berger, Audubon activist and visionary, gave birth to the idea of the Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems (GLADE). Interested in how GLADE emerged from the ethereal, I asked her to write about its origins. So, in this final post in a four part series on the Green Leadership Academy, the topic is roots and the words are Lisa's.

l. to r., Dr. Janice Greene, me, Terresa McPheeters, and Lisa Berger

GLADE Beginnings: Of Partnerships and Passions
by Lisa Berger

We have to travel ten years back to record the earliest seeds of GLADE. In fact, the story really began with the inception of the Missouri State University’s (MSU) Bull Shoals Field Station (BSFS). In 1999, Assistant Director of the new BSFS, Mike Dickerson contacted me, then president of Greater Ozarks Audubon Society (GOAS), to discuss a project. Would we like to partner with them to build a bird checklist for the new field station, he and Dr. Brian Greene (MSU Biology Department) asked at a meeting at Panera’s?

What could be better than engaging our chapter in citizen science, doing the things our members love? Birding! Old time birders remember field trips to the old Drury House, built in 1924 overlooking the majestic White River, now Bull Shoals Lake. Better still, I envisioned a multitude of opportunities with MSU.

During this same time frame, Audubon Missouri (AM), the State Office of the National Audubon Society (NAS) was opened and one of its primary objectives was to initiate the Important Bird Areas (IBA) program. Started by BirdLife International, the IBA program is an international project to identify the landscapes that are of critical importance to birds at the population level. The IBA program is administered by NAS in the U.S.

In 2003, I was asked by AM to chair the state IBA steering committee to shepherd the process of nominating IBA sites in Missouri. Our chapter rallied to the call and nominated several sites across southwest Missouri.

By 2004, the Drury-Mincy Conservation Area, in which the field station resides, had been identified as part of the newly designated White River Glades and Woodlands state IBA. It is one of just a handful of the 47 IBA sites across the state to be included in the IBA Implementation Plan; a strategic document prioritizing the sites where state and federal agencies will invest limited resources, and where there is adequate capacity provided by groups like GOAS to do projects.

The current BSFS Director, Dr. Janice Green (MSU Biology Department) and I met at Panera’s to discuss potential opportunities for MSU and GOAS. The field station’s capacity was growing. The Drury house was being renovated. A new well, solar power with generator back-up, and an alternative septic system were in the works.

Are there opportunities for expanding our partnership within the context of the new IBA status, I ask? What things are possible that benefit both MSU and our chapter? GOAS is implementing a giant river cane restoration project to improve habitat for Swainson’s Warbler and the whole suite of species that utilize cane in this IBA. Is there potential intersection between MSU and GOAS activities? What about graduate student studies based upon giant cane; studies of insects, birds, and monitoring responses to habitat modifications? What about bringing kids to the glade areas of the field station and IBA to learn about restoration; to actually participate in on-the-ground restoration?

And that is when the vision was born.

The planets began to align, one by one. The early MSU and GOAS partnerships, the AM state IBA implementation plan and conservation action plans, the GOAS strategic plan, all building the critical capacity of and between organizations, and with each step the framework necessary to support a GOAS project connecting kids with nature.

But we’d need money. In spring, 2008, NAS announced the TogetherGreen program, a project of NAS made possible by a generous $20,000,000 donation from Toyota. Janice Greene and I scrambled to submit a grant application. Who would serve as director? Greg Swick had just retired from teaching. He said yes, and we were awarded the grant. Our GLADE solar system was complete.

Fast forward to July 1, 2009: GLADE week is complete. The kids learned all about sustainability at the field station. The alternative septic system required using environmentally-friendly soap, less toilet paper, and less water. Power use during the hot days had to be balanced with the solar-powered system.

The GLADE team is also learning about sustainability. We’ve given birth to a new environmental education concept that we want to keep alive. And so we set along the path to bring new stars into our solar system. We need sustained funding to provide the gravitational force to keep GLADE on course. We also need volunteers and professionals to share their talents, and we need teachers to shepherd their most promising students toward GLADE. Most of all we want our GLADE grads to carry with them the skills acquired at camp, and to be inspired to be leaders, to make a difference, knowing their actions today will shape tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Green Leadership Academy: The Power of Flight

Although I'm well aware of the pitfalls of anthropomorphism in scientific research, I believe that it is essential in the human journey to become environmentally aware and appreciative of this experience called Life. An aspect of the GLADE model draws from this idea. Nothing seems to transform humans more than connecting with a sentient being on a personal level. A bird in the hand has that power, so Tuesday GLADE adventures touched young lives in a remarkable way. Rudbeckia sp., a member of the Compositae family of wildflowers can do the same thing. With a complete flower forming each and every ray and disc, its stunning beauty is a result of the simultaneous blooming of many flowers, each supporting the other and filling its specific niche in the whole. Any member of compositae can serve as a living example for human beings, as we strive to see collective visions come into fruition. What an example for grass roots leadership training!

Does an acorn know that it will become a mighty oak? No, it doesn't. It simply senses a natural impulse to sink its roots deeply into the damp nourishing soil and to continually reach for the light overhead. If it falls in a thunderstorm, does it give up? No, it follows a natural impulse to regrow and continues to stretch upward. We can teach so much using these examples.

Birder friend and GLADE Project Admnistrator Lisa Berger wrote to me yesterday. "This morning a golden glow hangs over the White River Glades and Woodlands. Some say it's the energy emanating from sixteen exceptional GLADE participants' life transforming experiences." I'm not even going to touch the metaphysical aspects of her words, but I'm equally sure something significant happened in our social experiment in GLADE.

To sum up GLADE Wednesday, I'd have to paraphrase something I read long ago. I think it was in The Book of the Vision Quest...... "There is a gift to give away, a vision to perform, a path to follow, a light to bear."
Giant cane restoration was the order of the day, and the GLADE-iators were tireless and joyous in spite of the sweltering heat in the high 90's. They had discovered the joy of connecting with Nature...... and each other. By this time the media have discovered us, and they swarmed in on this serendipitous day! I think I'll let them tell the rest of the story. Click on the links.

The last days of camp were simply a joyous adventure for the students. We escaped the heat on Thursday as we studied the surface and sub-surface biology and geology of Tumbling Creek Cave and Dr. Tom Aley's Ozark Underground Laboratory. That evening, we collected noctural insects with Dr. Chris Barnhart of Missouri State University
On Friday we collected data on Bee Creek and Bull Shoals Reservoir, comparing lake and stream ecosystems both qualitatively and quantitively. We enjoyed an evening of microscopes and music, a perfect combo for our young naturalists.

Students reluctantly packed their bags and returned home on Saturday morning, but not without a renewed vision and a sense of empowerment. Each received a $100 grant to develop a "green" project in their home community. We now await the results of our experiment to shape communities in a clean, green, and sustainable way.
One thing is certain. We "acted today to shape tomorrow", and I feel honored and priveleged to have been there to tell the story. Here's what I sensed:

I listened
While 16 young people told a story of Life
As old as the Ancients
In a fresh, new way
With Green Hands, Warm Hearts, and Open Minds
The Roaring in their Ears
Led them to its Source
The River of Life
Where they plunged in
And were carried away
When they rose out of the depths
They found that they were
Cleansed, Renewed, Alive
And capable of Flight!