Resilience Thinking in the Lakes Region

This post originally appeared in the Earth Notes column of the Bridgton News, June 27, 2013.

Resilience is a concept that is emerging as a way to think about protecting ecosystems and human well-being. In my resilience research at UMaine, I have come to see resilience as a useful lens to think about how to make the abstract idea of sustainability tangible and accessible. Sustainability, as I understand it, is not an endpoint but a process:  always relational, sometimes contested, and in a perpetual mode of becoming real. Resilience, in partnership with sustainability, helps organize relationships to work across difference and guide the emergence of sustainability. One of the most important parts of resilience thinking is a commitment to building adaptive capacities. We improve adaptive capacities by strengthening social networks; promoting learning among individuals and organizations; and building flexible and collaborative institutions, among other strategies. Social networks, social learning, and flexible institutions enhance our abilities to respond in the face of uncertainty and change, such as changes brought on by a destabilized climate, degradation of water quality, or opportunities for innovation like developing and installing alternative energy technologies. We need each other in times of change.Bog in spring

From a resilience thinking perspective, the greater Lakes Region is well on its way to growing the kinds of adaptive capacities necessary for sustainability. This progress is based, in large part, on the non-profit organizations in the area who bring people together for community development projects; provide education programs on topics of interest and concern; and who work as collaborative capacity builders among education, civic, business, and other institutions.  I selected five non-profit organizations (listed in alphabetical order) who are improving our ecosystems, human well-being, and collective resilience. For each, I highlight one event that exemplifies their resilience-thinking approach and also provides a unique opportunity to become involved this summer.

Through the evening natural history programs and the volunteer docent-led guided walks, the Greater Lovell Land Trust (GLLT) exemplifies what a group can do when many people volunteer their time and expertise. Nature in 3-D with Roger Richmond at the Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center in Fryeburg, Maine on Friday, July 12th at 6 pm offers a view of nature impossible with the naked eye and a glimpse into the everyday wonder of ecosystems. This program will leave you with a renewed sense of why attention to sustainability and resilience is critically important in this complex and beautiful world we inhabit.

The Kezar Lake Watershed Association (KLWA) is working at the front edge of several pressing water-related issues in the region, including serving as a watchdog for forestry projects around streams which serve as salmon spawning areas; raising awareness and actively preventing the spread of invasive aquatic plants; and, new this summer, promoting boating safety in response to recent accidents on local Maine lakes. Join them for a boating safety, fishing clinic and family fun day on Saturday, July 27th from 9 am to 3 pm at the Lovell VFW Hall.

Bridgton readers are no doubt familiar with Lakes Environmental Association (LEA), who for more than 40 years has taken a resilience thinking approach to lake protection. LEA is a forward-looking group with a vision for a Lake Science Center which will grow its education and research capacity for improved decision making in the face of potentially dramatic landscape change in the coming decades. To learn more about this vision, join LEA for its annual meeting at on Thursday, August 15th from 5 to 8 pm (location TBD). LEA’s annual meetings are like a family reunion with good food and friends and usually in a lakeside setting where it is easy to remember why creative visioning is essential to the process of sustainability.

The Loon Echo Land Trust’s (LELT) Hike and Bike trek on Saturday, September 21st is an important fundraiser for this group’s extensive land protection work, but it is more than that too. By drawing attention to the restorative and environmental benefits of human-powered motion, the Hike and Bike trek promotes a culture in which of multiple forms of alternative transportation is a more accessible option. When we ask the question: what do we want to sustain and how do we get there, finding safer, healthier, and less fossil-fuel reliant modes of transportation needs to be part of our answer and LELT is helping mark that path.

DSC_0081-001Finally, Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, NH is a leader in environmental education in New England. Their nature camp programs offer age-appropriate earth-based explorations for kids throughout their childhood. Through these enriching programs, Tin Mountain grows generations who understand the interconnections of all Earth systems and the human responsibility to steward them. Check out the Summer 2013 nature camp programs on their website and while you’re there, look for the many adult education programs they offer as well.

“Saving the planet” and “Making the world sustainable” are lofty ideals that leave me a little bewildered. These goals are set at a scale that is too high to comprehend and they also promote a sense that someday, we’ll get there and be done with it. Instead, sustainability continually emerges from communities where individuals are connected to one other and to the ecosystem that sustains them. Resilience begins when we show up with an open mind and a readiness to listen; a willingness to learn from difference; and a commitment to create a desired future together. These organizations are showing us what sustainability and resilience mean in practice and they invite you to join them to become part of this good work too.

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