Conway students kicked off the winter regional planning term in January meeting with two engaging and highly regarded professionals working on ecological restoration and land conservation. During the first week of classes, we met with Erik Van Lennep (Conway ‘83) via Skype. Erik is currently in Barcelona heading up the new Circle Squared Foundation, an organization that focuses on ecosystem restoration in Mediterranean climates. By tapping into the best research available and building stakeholder relationships, Erik and his colleagues are looking to align groups and funding behind projects that address environmental challenges in ways that will build productivity and engender economic development across the Mediterranean bioregion. Erik told us that this endeavor–following a few decades of wide-ranging work bridging ecological design, social justice, and economic development–harkens back to an interest he had in working in the Mediterranean, after hearing John Todd voice concern in the 1980s about environmental degradation in the region, (particularly the widespread loss of productive topsoil from the agricultural belt bordering the sea). Erik came to Conway to study systems thinking, and his experience here and his rooted belief in a systems approach still guide his work. Looking ahead to our lives after Conway, Erik emphasized practicing resiliency and building relationships to weather changing economic fortunes, while still finding meaningful and fulfilling work. Encouraging words, indeed!

Keith Ross launched this term’s Monday night speaker series. Keith is a trained forester, conservation consultant, and member of our Board of Trustees. As a senior advisor at the real estate firm LandVest, Keith devises innovative, multi-faceted land conservation schemes that satisfy the financial and conservation-related goals of clients, looking to buy and sell land, while dovetailing with the local and regional conservation efforts of land conservancies and other groups. Keith’s approach developed during his time working at the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) where he advocated for and successfully implemented an aggregation approach to land conservation. Bringing together multiple parties, including landowners and conservancies, to conserve large tracts of land or several parcels belonging to different owners, aggregation can achieve what piecemeal land conservation efforts often cannot: conservation on a “large landscape scale” that is of significant ecological value. It is also more financially viable in many ways, clustering all of the legal and business expenses of acquisition and other transactions, and pairing landowners with investors and consultants that help to sustainably forest and manage land. For many of us, this was a new concept, and definitely one to consider as some of us work on open space plans and greenways during the winter term. You can read about the Pingree Forest Partnership, one of Keith’s landmark projects, at NEFF’s website; bigger than the size of Rhode Island, this forestland conservation easement in Maine is the largest in North America.

The third guest in Conway’s winter speaker series will be Joel Russell on Monday, January 27 at 4:30pm.

Trevor Buckley came to Conway from Richmond, Virginia. He has a background in field work, agriculture, and farmer’s markets. His fall project was a green burial design in Chesterfield, MA and he’s now working with one other student on a rail trail design in southern Connecticut.