Funding Rural | Episode #8 | Experts in the Field with Lesli Allison

Lesli Allison cut her teeth on a 50,000 acre ranch in Southeastern Colorado—a massive land management experience that taught her the importance of private lands and their role in the conservation conversation. On episode 8 of the Funding Rural podcast, Lesli shares how ranchers and farmers are leading the way on innovative climate and environmental projects, and the challenges of accessing resources including research. She touches on the importance of showing up to better understand the challenges facing communities and discusses how conservation projects require on-the-ground collaborations because they have a long runway, and can require multi-year funding. Lesli reminds us that it’s important to direct funding to those organizations within the community where the issues are happening—not just the national groups—in order to ensure project sustainability.

“We tend to pay for the things we can extract and consume. We don’t tend to pay for the giving back and I would just argue that on a very crowded planet, we have to figure out how to take care of land while we also derive our sustenance from it.” —Lesli Allison

Listen today where ever you get your podcasts.

Apple |  Spotify |  Amazon & Audible | iHeart | Google

More about Lesli Allison

Lesli Allison

Lesli is a founding member and chief executive of the Western Landowners Alliance. She was also a founding member of the Chama Peak Land Alliance. For the past three decades, Lesli has worked extensively with private landowners and multiple stakeholders to advance conservation, sustain working lands and support rural communities.
Prior to Western Landowners Alliance, Lesli managed a large ranch the southern San Juan Mountains of Colorado. During her 16-year tenure, she implemented progressive conservation management through award-winning programs in restoration forestry, prescribed fire, grazing, stream restoration, hunting and wildlife management, and scientific research and monitoring. Lesli holds a B.A. from Columbia University and an M.A. from St. John’s College, Santa Fe.

“We actually have a role and a responsibility to be part of the living community of this planet…and we can be constructive in the way that beavers and pollinators and all kinds of wildlife are very constructive, you can actually enrich landscapes you can give back to the earth as we take out for our sustenance.” – Lesli Allison

Discussion Questions

  • Does your organization work with conservation projects? How do you include private landowners in conversations?
  • How do you work closer with folks with lived experience? How do you do so in the conservation spaces?
  • If you are a research funder, how do you ensure your research gets to the ground so those practitioners can utilize it
  • How can we, as funders, help bridge the gap between the academic world and the land management world?
  • Lesli touches on the importance of long-term support for long-term sustainability and ecosystems support; what does long-term support look like for your organization?
  • How do we strengthen living relationships with the land?
  • How do we strengthen relationships with communities?
  • What do you think about the concept of Co-Created Research?


“We need funding to go to people within these communities who are trying to figure this out who have that deep, deep knowledge of place, knowledge of land, and take it out of really the control of sort of the ‘desk jockeys’ I’ll call it, who have ideas, but no experience in many cases with actual land management and actual food production. Empower people in rural communities to take a lead.”  — Lesli Allison

Transcript: Funding Rural Episode #8 Experts in the Field by Lesli Allison

Erin Borla: 0:10
Thanks for tuning in to Funding Fural. I’m Erin Borla, Executive Director and Trustee of the Roundhouse Foundation. I also have the privilege of serving as a fellow for the National Center for Family Philanthropy. Today I get the opportunity to talk to Lesli Allison. Lesli is the Chief Executive Officer of the Western Landowners Alliance. Here at Roundhouse Foundation, our offices are based at Pine Meadow Ranch. It’s a ranch we own and operate and, it’s a living laboratory where we get to try innovative agricultural practices that help others see working lands as part of the climate solution. Roundhouse had been struggling to find a community of folks who are combining conservation efforts and working lands, then I got connected with Leslie. Western landowners alliance is doing this work so well, all across the West.

Lesli Allison: 0:53
I mean, private land in the West is, you know, roughly 50%. And in states like New Mexico, Colorado, and others, it’s with more than 50% is actually in private ownership. And I think we forget that in the West because of the focus on public lands. And not only is it a very substantial part of the Western landscape, it’s also in many respects, the most important, because these private and working lands, I call them the cornerstones of both our human communities and our ecosystems, because they provide the food and the fiber and the energy. Essentially the sustenance that humans need to survive, as well as rural livelihoods, rural economies. They also are the cornerstones of our ecosystems, because when people settled the West, way back into the earliest days of human settlement, we always settled the best places first. And so we settled in the places that were the fertile valley bottoms, that were rich with water, rich with wildlife that were habitable year round. And those end up being the places that are also very important to wildlife as well, where you have the most biodiversity per acre. Right. And so those are the lands that really became came into private ownership, if you will, the wilderness areas, you know, tended to be those places that are less habitable, and in some cases, you know, less biologically diverse. And that’s why, for example, our big ungulate populations in the West, elk and deer, they depend in almost entirely on private lands for survival. That’s where most of the critical winter range is, which is actually the limiting factor on those populations, similarly endangered species, number of other species up to 80%, in fact, of wildlife depend on private and working lands for survival.

Erin Borla: 2:38
I love that phrase, the cornerstone of all the different pieces coming together, I think, it really does tell the story of of who we are as a nation, and you know, bringing all the pieces together economy and ecosystem in those, those spaces. So it’s interesting to think about over 50% of the land being private when we talk about impacts around, around climate, around outdoor recreation, and others. You know, the podcast itself is designed to work with philanthropic investment and to share with funders how, how do we better do this work to ensure that our investment, our philanthropic investment is truly making an impact. And when we talk about the swaths of land in the West, in particular, that are considered rural or even frontier, right. 52,000 acres under management of one particular family. And there’s a variety of different examples of that means there’s not a lot of additional people in that space. So how else do we? How do we tell that story in a way that elevates the wonderful things that are happening in those places, but also, the stories of the things that are already happening on the land that are, you know, some of our ranchers, our fishers, our farmers are really, truly making big impacts in a positive way on climate smart work? How do we bring those voices to the table, it feels like sometimes they get missed?

Lesli Allison: 4:06
I think they get missed a lot and to the great detriment of all of us. Because as, as you said, you know, so much great work is happening there. They’re so important. And these are people that are on the land every day, they watch the wildlife, they watch the seasons, they see how things play out on the ground. Many people have not had the luxury of, you know, lavishly trying experimenting with, you know, different types of innovation. So the land management practices have evolved carefully, slowly over time not to say that they’re right, we need to continue evolving those practices. But these are people who have stuck around long enough to see things tried and failed and tried and failed over and over again in different ways. And so there’s a great depth of knowledge within the working lands community. And I think what some people don’t really realize is just how much, and on top of just sheer experience there is within the rural communities and rural landscapes, is the amount of education that’s out there as well. We have tremendously well educated, thoughtful studied, individuals managing many of these places. And in, in so many cases that I see they have more knowledge about ecology and biology, than most folks coming out of graduate schools You know, just fresh out of graduate school, are people who’ve never actually managed a piece of land, and haven’t had the opportunity to see how all these systems interact. You know, how the natural world functions and then how the human beings function with in relation to that natural world. And all these things affect one another, or they’re all interdependent. And so that depth of knowledge and understanding is very important. And having that voice be heard is crucial if we’re going to get to real and enduring solutions that work for all the stakeholders that are involved.

Erin Borla: 6:01
Yeah, I think recognizing the experience and the education that is learned outside the classroom is a really special thing and things that we have talked about on other episodes, and why those those pieces tend to be forgotten, or oh, you don’t have the right initials after your name, or these different things didn’t go to the right school. But recognizing the value of intrinsic knowledge learned by trying those things.

Lesli Allison: 6:26
I can give you a quick example that I think is relevant. We were experimenting a great deal with prescribed fire. And we, we were actually really at the cutting edge of the use of prescribed fire in certain kinds of forest systems. And we were trying things, spring burns, fall burns, different techniques of burning, and we were learning things that could save people’s lives in other contexts and things that could really advance ecological health and minimize risk and cost. But because none of us had PhDs after our names, there’s really no place to share the information we learned. And we learned it with people who were very knowledgeable people that, you know, came with all the correct credentials, and we did all our permitting and everything. We, we actually commissioned studies from Colorado State University. So we’re working very directly with agencies and academic researchers. And we amassed quite a bit of knowledge, but there’s really no way to share that knowledge not really even to the neighbor, in some cases, much less back out to the academic world, or to public agencies. And you see that on ranches, all over the United States all over every place really, all over the world, where there’s this deep reservoir of knowledge that doesn’t have a way to be shared out readily. With the rest of the world.

Erin Borla: 7:41
Yeah. It’s really the sort of pathway of how information gets out, that, it’s almost, there’s control over who gets to tell the story, how that story gets told, who gets access to the information. You know, I grew up on a ranch here, not nearly the size within which that you worked, but and felt like I was a I was ag kid like I knew those things, I had that experience and hadthe opportunity. And then our foundation purchased this facility that we have our office on this 260 acres, and we wanted to do things slightly differently. But then this is how we, you and I sort of met right, was through this process, was we came to the foundation and said we wanted to look at things differently in agriculture and be a test lab. And we couldn’t find anyone to give us that information of like, what if we looked at the pasture slightly differently? Oh, well, we have all these pasture experts, but they’re all in Oregon, in the Willamette Valley where there’s a lot more water. And so really trying to research, where do we go? And how do we do that? Knowing that we’re not the first people to ever look at things slightly differently. But trying to break into that space was really tough. So I’m glad it led us to you and others.

Lesli Allison: 8:53
Well, you know, the other thing that the other thing that’s tough if you’re out there, and I experienced this as a ranch manager was when you do want to access the scientific knowledge, right, that can be very challenging, if you don’t have you know, have access to those, you know, research, publications, subscriptions, right, where that peer reviewed sciences is being published. You can’t get to it a lot of times, that’s frustrating, right? There’s tons of those studies. And there’s not really an easy way to make sense of them. And they may or may not be relevant to a specific site. So there’s also a disconnect, I think between the academic world and the land management world, in the sense of us being able to access the information that they’re researching. There’s a second disconnect in that respect, which is that oftentimes, the research that’s being done in the academic world isn’t relevant to those of us who are actually managing land. And so we really need to be doing more with sort of co-created research or co-created science, that would be a great benefit and then making sure that it’s accessible and that that knowledge is flowing in both directions.

Erin Borla: 9:56
Yeah. So talk a little bit, I know of the work that you’re doing Now with WLA. You work across all sorts of different locations with different landowners. And then the concept of land ownership, meaning stewardship, like what does that look like? That sometimes maybe our urban and Metro folks don’t understand that landowners are stewards of the land and how they’re managing and we have screwed up. Sometimes there’s, there’s folks that have stepped in it, and what does that look like moving forward as stewards?

Lesli Allison: 10:27
Well I think the first thing is that it really is important to acknowledge, acknowledge that we haven’t always gotten things right. In fact, we’ve very often gotten things wrong. And the science continues to evolve along with land management practices all the time. In the 16 years, I was on the ranch, I was surprised just how often the science evolved. In forestry, there were certain theories about how forest systems functioned. Had nothing to do with working lands unnecessarily as a forest ecologist, that you know, after big fires would discover that, oh, actually, the forest responded in ways that weren’t what they anticipated. And they have to go back and figure out why that was, and come up with a new theory. So science is always evolving, and practices are always evolving. And that doesn’t, that first applies to any industry and to any profession. Really, right. All of us in the world are evolving, we do things differently today than we did years ago in every respect, almost. What we eat, how we think about health, all kinds of things. And so the same thing is true with land. And there’s, there’s still, you know, very poor land management out there. And in too many cases, there’s also some outstanding land management happening out there. And that’s the thing that we need more attention on and to be really learning from. There’s a, there’s a, there’s a long standing idea that people are outside of nature, this kind of the environmental sort of thinking I grew up in here, was that people are bad for nature, nature’s kind of pure, and people over here were bad for nature, and we best not, you know, interfere with it. But that’s not a view that’s widely held in rural communities or often indigenous communities where there’s a different understanding of the relationship of people in nature, which is that we actually have a role and a responsibility to be part of the living community of this planet, of the Earth, and that that were needed, and that we can be constructive in the way that beavers and pollinators and all kinds of wildlife are very constructive, you can actually enrich landscapes you can give back to the earth as we take out for our sustenance, which we have to do, how do we give back and revitalize the earth? You know, we’re using the term regenerative agriculture, I think, to begin to get at that idea, moving beyond the idea of sustainability to this idea of regeneration, which is a lovely idea, sometimes sounds better on paper than it is easy to apply on the ground. But the notion of it, I think, is incredibly important. And, and so as we think about ways that we can do that every piece of land is different. And I think that’s something that funders really need to understand is that there’s no one set of practices that applies everywhere. If you want to enrich the productivity or biodiversity on a piece of land in the Southwest, and you don’t have water, your options are pretty limited. Some of the grazing systems are much more constrained in terms of what you can do, and not do. Some places you have may have too much water and so forth. So we have to be adaptive, right? What steward good stewardship about is really the art and science of, of Land Management, whether you’re doing agricultural production, or conservation or anything else. You’re working with a piece of land, you’re working with nature, it’s a dance, it’s an art, it’s a relationship that you have. And so we try things, we monitor, we practice adaptive management, we try to adjust as we go along. And hopefully we pass that learning on in some way. I think one of the weakest aspects of our systems generally, whether that’s federal funding, or philanthropic funding is that we tend to support these sort of one off projects, but we don’t tend to support that long term stewardship, that, that process of being in relationship with the land, learning, modifying, you know, monitoring, adapting, and continuing to be in that relationship. It’s, it’s like that thing about you buy a house, but then you gotta maintain it, or it’ll fall down. It’s that maintenance piece that we don’t get and, and people need to be able to make a livelihood doing this. And I think that’s the biggest piece is we want to take care of these places. We want to make sure that they produce food or that they can also support wildlife. It costs money to do that cost a lot of money, takes a lot of labor. It’s a long term investment for everybody. And we don’t have very good mechanisms in our society for that long term investment. We tend to pay for the things we can extract and consume. We don’t tend to pay for the giving back and I would just argue that on a very crowded planet, we have to figure out how to take care of land while we also derive our sustenance from it. Otherwise, what we do is we play this game here in the United States, we’re good with it, we want a place to be, you know, reserved for nature, which means that the food production or the mining or the logging, whatever it is, simply get shoved off to some other place. And that can be in some other part of the world where they have less environmental regulations, it’s going to have a bigger climate footprint, because that stuff has to get trucked around the world it’s not fair economically, to people. So there’s all kinds of issues when you take us off the land, and then you shove that productive need to some other place, right. Better to own it here in our own communities, and figure out how to do this better. Right. So I think that’s where the real game needs to be played. And we need funding to go to people within these communities who are trying to figure this out, who have that deep, deep knowledge of place, knowledge of land, and take it out of really the control of sort of the desk jockeys i’ll call it. Who have ideas, but no experience in many cases with actual land management and actual food production. And empower people in rural communities to take a lead in, in, in conserving all of these values. And that rarely happens. I think that’s one of the biggest troubles I see today.

Erin Borla: 16:40
There’s so much I want to unpack, but I love the concept of that you talk about social pressure. I think one, let’s step back, the, we’re always gonna have need for food, right? So the more we continue to push food production, whether that’s with with beef, or chicken or other animals, or whether it’s actual like, like vegetables or row crops and things like that. If we, the more we push that to another location that has less environmental standards, then it’s going to create this bigger impact. But how do we we’re always going to need that, we’re always going to eat as, as a race. That’s what we’re going to do with the human race. And so I think that’s a really important point to highlight. But I think you’re where you touched on is this social pressure. And the concept that so many of our farmers and ranchers and agriculturalists have heard for so long is that they are the problem. They are not good enough, not smart enough, don’t know how to do things. And then I think we forget as our as sort of the grandeur we, that there’s legacy and and other familial ties to the space that they’re in. So not only are our producers looking actively to make a living and help support their family, but their familial legacy is often tied up in the land within which they’re working. Whether that’s two generations, three generations, or in the case of our indigenous partners, many, many generations behind them, lifting them forward, but it’s also their children and their future generations and the mental load of carrying familial legacy in a time of climate crises, as well as the social pressure is almost too much to manage. And we’re seeing that I mean, what’s the average age of the American farmer now? 65?

Lesli Allison: 18:33
Yeah, or older? {Yeah.} No, it’s tremendous. I think there’s something else that people maybe don’t understand in a very transient world that we have today. I mean, I know so many people just, you know, move every few years to a new community, a new place. There’s a tie a profound tie to place that happens when you’ve been rooted in in place for a long time, right, that multi generational attachment to land. It’s, it’s, it’s both the family legacy, if you will, but it’s also this really profound relationship with the land itself and with the place. And I’ve, I’ve heard people say, well, why don’t they just move someplace else? Why don’t they just up and leave? Why don’t they, it would almost be like, say, be like saying to people, well, why don’t you just leave your family, leave your children and go find some children elsewhere? Right, it would be almost be equivalent to that, the heartbreak of that for people who have been, you know, deeply anchored in place is profound. And so, you know, we Aldo Leopold said that, you know, we’ll we’ll take care of the land when we begin to think of it as a living community to which we belong, and, and not a commodity that we own, right. And I really particularly love that concept. I do think that land is a living community. And when you are a deep and responsible member of that community, it means everything to you. And I think that our job really is to strengthen not break those relationships with our community of the land and with one another. And so I would love to see conservation be more about how do we strengthen relations, human relationships with the land? How do we strengthen human relationships with one another? How do we help one another be successful in our different endeavors. You know, the, the urban world needs the rural world, it always has you know rural places have always provided the food and the fiber and everything else that makes life possible in the urban zone. And it’s always done so at a discounted rate. You know, you sometimes hear people saying, Oh, we’re fatigued with subsidizing rural communities, actually, rural communities, agriculture, has been done in a way that essentially subsidizes urban life for a very long time. And, and so but at the same time, rural people also need what’s happening in the urban side, right. We have this incredible bond and connection. Just like in the West, private and public lands are very much interdependent ecologically and economically, they’re interdependent. Urban and rural are ecologically and economically interdependent, particularly economically. And we do have all of this in common. And we do need to be helping one another be successful. And I think every time we do this thing called othering, where we have, you know, those rural people, those red state people, they think, this way. They don’t know what’s good for, you know, those kinds of things or, oh, those urban people or those environmental elites, every time you hear that language, we’re doing this, this othering thing, which is not helping us one bit. And so we need to, I think, steer away from organizations or advocacy campaigns or, you know, messaging that creates that divisiveness and makes it much more difficult for us to succeed on all fronts.

Erin Borla: 22:00
So it talks I mean, what you mentioned, though, is these partnerships. And what we see, at least I see from the philanthropic side is the the money that is being requested, received, often comes to these larger conservation projects. And are often, not often, but sometimes done for people without people, right. For lands without, without the land ownership or private. So how do we change that dialogue? How do we work with the people on the ground? And the conservation groups together? Is there a possibility? Or is there what are you seeing in that space?

Lesli Allison: 22:37
Well, yes, what, what we see a lot of times is, you know, these likes, let’s say you had one of these collaborative conservation efforts, maybe it was a group of ranchers got together and decided to try to work with the environmental community and agencies to tackle some of these thorny issues and, they struggle for funding. It takes a lot. If you, let’s say you want to restore a watershed, for example, and it’s got, you know, 80% private land or 40% private land, the other, you know, public lands, state land, right. It’s a mix of ownerships and jurisdictions, it’s hard to organize one of those projects. You got to get everybody on board, you got to overcome all the little different ownership and legal requirements that each one has. You have to deal with all the different timing of how they all operate. And then you got to go out and you got to find the funding to do it. And then you have to manage the project. And, you know, it takes years in some cases, you got to do the NEPA clearances, you know, it takes a lot of effort. Some human being has to organize all that, right. Somebody has to do that. And so somebody needs to be paid to do that. And, and when you have somebody in a local community that’s already ready to do that, because maybe they’re part of one of these little place based groups that already has the network of producers and local stakeholders that understands the landscape understands the logistics, because we have to be practical and how we do these. And that’s one piece that gets missed from the science all the time is just the practical aspect of how you do these things. Somebody that understands all that has the credibility, the knowledge and the buy in, wouldn’t it be wonderful if that person were funded to actually be able to do these kinds of projects. Yoo often what happens is we have a large NGO that’s funded, maybe they even hire one or two people to be in charge of this thing. So they get a full time position out of it or more. And then they want to the funder might offer to pay the local group say $5,000 to be at the table, as they say, right to collaborate. Well, $5,000 doesn’t pay that person to do their job. Right? And you, they probably already are working on a farmer or a ranch or have another full time thing or already have a grant obligation. They’re trying to fulfill that 5000 doesn’t make any more time in the day. So they’re not getting the funding that they would actually need to execute these projects locally. So that leaves us at the mercy of larger organizations coming in from outside and opposing their idea of what a good project might be. Now, I think some of these big NGOs are getting pretty good at trying to reach out and find those local collaborative partners and work with them. But again, there’s a great inequality in the funding, right. You’ve got people coming in, that are well funded, they have secure jobs. And they’re trying, they’re now asking for the input and support and really execution. Because that’s where a lot of it actually hits the ground of people who are not well funded, who are probably working two or three jobs who are trying to do this on the side of their plate, right. And we need to flip that, we need to flip that around, so that you’ve got the local capacity is funded well, to do the work, and then we ask for help from these groups from outside that can bring in some additional expertise and, and support. So I think that’s one place, the funding community could do a lot more as funding those local, local initiatives, and you can’t just go and make one up, you can’t go to a landscape and say, well, we’d like to sprinkle some money in here and suddenly make this wonderful, you know, landowner, collaborative group. You know, there has to be the, it has to be ripe, there has to be a leader in the community or more, willing to do it, there has to be a need in the community, a desire. And so I think what you do is you look for those places where it is ripe, where, where the community is asking for that opportunity. And then let’s, that’s just the that’s where you’re gonna get the biggest conservation gains that work for all stakeholders, of anything I can think of investing in for the most part.

Erin Borla: 26:38
No, I think you’re right, I think those the, the challenges, and it’s frankly, it’s what we’ve seen when I stepped into this role in in the foundation, and I, how we got connected to some of these national organizations. So they just called me so there’s no way we were the only ones that have ever done this work before. I’m gonna learn from someone else. And every call that I made, whether it was around climate, whether it was around gun violence prevention, whether it was on sustainable food systems, was you’re the only rural funder we’ve talked to. Well, why is that important? And the more I sat back, and I was like, I, there’s a reason the needles not moving on some of these issues, is because we’re only talking to the same 12 people at the same table. I think it would have just a desk jockeys, that’s hysterical, I love that, just because that’s how I feel. I feel like my job is very easy. I sit behind a desk, and I’m like that projects great. They’re doing great work. I’m not the one doing the work they are. And so how do we empower those communities to get their, to hear their stories and know what they’re doing? Because there are great things happening in these spaces. And that’s how we change the world. It’s me being naive, naive, but it is that like, how do we move the needle on these big, complex issues. It’s by widening the circle, building a bigger table.

Lesli Allison: 28:01
It is and sometimes that’s going to affect what conservation looks like. And I think that’s one of the big challenges, is if you come in with a preconceived agenda, a preconceived idea of what needs to happen. And your goal is to just get those people in that rural community to go along with you. Probably not going to be very successful. There’s a, we, again, this happened to me personally. So I understand this. I came to my job as a ranch manager initially very much as an as an environmentalist. I was anti, lots of extra I was anti grazing, I was anti logging, I was anti hunting, I was all these things, from my experience. Growing up in a world where there was, you know, bad industrial logging happening around me. Where I, you know, felt displaced from the, from my own little landscape by, you know, the guys that were running the cattle there, or the hunters that would come in, in the fall, I didn’t like those things. So I had that particular perspective. But once I began managing a ranch, I began seeing the world in a very, very different way. It’s hard to describe that if you haven’t lived it. But one example I guess I could well, I could give many examples. But you know, one example is that I had made a friend down the road who was a rancher, right and, and her cattle were out on the National Forest. And the more time I spent with her and understand, understood her relationship with her land, she was a very good Land Steward and was a pioneer in doing conservation easements there as well and cared a lot. I understand her relationship with her land, with her family, with her livestock and with wildlife that she cared very much about. Then when I would go out on the national forest and I would see her cattle there. I had a completely different relationship and understanding of those livestock, I had a different feeling towards them. And a much bigger picture of how all of this fit together. And that’s just one very small example I begin to understand the real need for forest management and the fact that the forests that I thought were pristine, were anything but pristine. They had been managed for centuries way before even, you know, Europeans arrived there, there has been all kinds of, you know, indigenous burning and landscape manipulation by people and figuring out how to manage a forest is incredibly tricky. It’s, it’s a challenge it’s very complex. So my, some of my simplistic ideas about things in my judgment, black and white judgment dissipated. And then the way I began to think about conservation, you know, and stewardship became different. And so there, I guess what I’m trying to say in a long winded way is, you have to be open to the idea that conservation can be achieved in different ways than maybe you thought needed to happen. And when somebody on the land, who cares a lot about the same values you care about, says, you know, what, here’s a maybe a path that could work better. You know, we have to be really receptive to that. And collaboration starts, I think, at the ground level. And that’s between funders and grantees. It’s also between the groups, stakeholder groups, collaboration is not about coming in with a predetermined agenda, and getting other people to agree with you. You know, it starts with, here’s something we all want to accomplish together. It’s identifying what we want to accomplish together, and then figuring out, how we can do that successfully, and giving each other the benefit of the doubt, and building that trust, and learning as you go, and being able to make those adjustments. That to me, is where you get real and enduring conservation.

Erin Borla: 31:36
Its grace, right? {Yes.} Giving each other a little bit of grace. And the theme that I’ve I’m hearing through all of these stories is in every, every episode, and every recording, and every phone, and every conversation I’ve had is, take a minute and get to know the people that you want to work with. Show up, be present in that space, and build that trust, and give each other a little bit of grace. What you may have interpreted from behind your desk is very different than the reality on the ground or different from someone else’s reality. And so recognizing that we can work together if we just give each other a little bit of grace and get to know one another. I think there’s, there’s power in that, for sure.

Lesli Allison: 32:22
Absolutely. And I hate to use this word, people don’t like it at all. But I think it does describe something that’s worth calling to attention. And it’s this idea of colonialism. And we can say well, we’ve been doing colonialism, you can say you know, every wave of people that’s come onto a piece of land has done another wave of colonialism. And I do think that that’s true. I think it must be something about human nature, that we tend to operate that way. The more recent colonialism is really kind of this urban environmental colonialism where people who don’t live there are imposing a value from afar. They’re trying to impose control from afar, that affects the lives of the people who have been there long term who, you know, depend on that land, who depend on those livelihoods, right. And we want something out of it, but we’re not the ones out there living it, right. And we can by force of law by force of vote, you know, because we outnumber people in rural communities, you know, what is it 98% or, you know, what is less than 2% are in agriculture and land management today. So we have to be very careful of a kind of tyranny of the majority in that sense. And that kind of colonialism, that that tends to say, hey, I’m from an urban area, I want you guys out there to be to be living this way and managing this way and doing this way for my benefit. Right. I think that’s really important that we are aware of that. And one of the things we see for example, is I mentioned it, but if you live in an urban area or suburb, you’ve already displaced most of the wildlife that are there, for example. And now we in the urban areas and suburbs, look out to the rural parts of the West and say, you there you rancher, or farmer that has managed to keep that land open and available to wildlife you with the last year a cow leopard frog you with the last, whatever it is, it’s now your moral and financial obligation to take care of that species, not mine. I didn’t pay an impact fee for where my house sits today. I didn’t pay it for the office building I might work in or for the transportation corridor I use every day, you know, or for the impact that the restaurant has, where I go down and get my latte or my lunch, right? Those have all obliterated the wildlife. And yet we put that burden out on the rural people to say now you guys have to be the ones to step up. Right. And that, that’s what I mean by that kind of colonialism. There’s a kind of hypocrisy in that. Which is very evident if you’re living on the rural side, on the receiving side of that, right. So how do we flip that around and recognize oh, my gosh, those are the last places where those values exist that we care about. How do we help those folks be successful and keep those lands open? Right. That would be a different way of thinking about it.

Erin Borla: 35:06
I love that kind of flipping the script, right of like, what, how do we, how do we bring those people to the conversation? And that strange bedfellows, right, that does makes for strange bedfellows in those things. Oftentimes, we talk about conservation and climate things. And, and it’s, well, that’s they’ve been othered, we don’t want to talk to those people, because they disagree with us. Well, I think we can find that common ground. So I appreciate that. Thank you for for spending time today. And, gosh, all the wonderful things that you’re doing and across such a wide space, so I really appreciate working with you and getting to know you through all this process. So thanks again.

Lesli Allison: 35:47
Oh, well, thank you. And thanks for the conversation and the chance to just share some perspectives. And you know, I’ll say it goes all ways, right? We talked to the agricultural community to like, hey, you guys come to the table and work on, on these issues as well. I mean, it’s not just one sided. It’s just the one side that doesn’t get heard as much that, you know, I’m appreciative of the chance to share that perspective with you today.

Erin Borla: 36:13
Thanks for tuning in today with Lesli, I think it’s such a unique perspective that sometimes we don’t hear from especially when we’re sitting behind a desk. I wanted to start off by unpacking Lesli’s use of the term colonialism to describe organizations coming into communities and expecting to call the shots. It really brought me back to our conversation with Elizabeth Moreno, the linguistic anthropologist from Oregon State University cascades, and how language can be triggering. And I know that term is, for many people. And I want to acknowledge that. But I think in a way when folks come into a community or with a preconceived agenda, or a plan that really superimposes their values over what the community may want, or need, that really echoes the definition of colonialism. And as we compare that to things happening in academia, we want to talk about the colonial matrix of power. These are things that we can’t ignore. There, there is this power dynamic through all these different layers, and even land ownership. Private land ownership is an act of colonialism. So I think we need to just call that out. And think about it. And if it resonates differently within your body, I think that’s something we should do some more research on, and really look into. And we’ll have lots of information on the website after the podcast. So you can definitely check it out. Links to other articles and information that will help drill, drill down about that. I also really loved what Lesli talked about around co-created research. This was another topic that was brought up earlier. And it does align again back with the academic world and the rural community. So when organizations come to us and say, Hey, I’ve already made those connections with this place, and we’re building it together. That type of a project is really a slam dunk for us. It makes us see that the community is invested in the work and really cares about the project. And they’re seeking outside expertise to be able to elevate what they know that they need. As Lesli said that the research will be more relevant to communities on the ground if they’re invested in the work ahead of time. So, having them help build that process, recognizing what their issue or challenge may be. And then really bringing in the experts to surround that, but building up and leveling up the folks that live in that community because ultimately they’re going to be the ones project managing throughout the whole process. It’s not going to be somebody flying in. There may be some experts that offer advice, but they’re not going to be there on the ground every day. And that’s again, how communities are able to utilize the research that we we create or we fund. So talking about hiring rural, hiring rural folks, not just funding rural, not just funding those experts to helicopter in, drop in, and give their best advice for a short period of time, but really building those skills within community. Thanks again for tuning into Funding Rural. As always, you can check out more information and show notes a transcript from today’s episode at


Published On: April 15th, 2024 / Categories: Funding Rural Podcast /