SCA Alumni Practice Sustainable Stewardship

In his New York Times best-seller ‘Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food,’ author Paul Greenberg regularly refers to his 1988 SCA salmon monitoring internship in Oregon. “In my three months of stream surveying,” he writes, “I saw one fish.”

Despite spying just a single Chinook, Paul’s reconnoitering informed policies enacted to protect Northwest salmon populations. SCA volunteers make important contributions to conservation every day. However, with the arrival of 2017 and SCA’s 60th anniversary, it’s also worth noting the ongoing impact of the more than 85,000 SCA alumni who remain devoted to forging a more resilient and sustainable planet.

Paul used an electroshocker to conduct fish surveys in Oregon in 1988.

In researching his book, Paul traveled the globe to examine the state of the most common fish on today’s menus – salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna. After years of decline, he says, “we are the first generation in five hundred years that has seen an increase in fish availability in North America.” He credits recent conservation measures, adding “I can’t help but think there are SCA volunteers and alumni out there doing the monitoring and science that are the backbone to this effort.”

One of the world’s leading voices on fish, oceans and aquaculture, Paul describes his SCA experiences as “extremely influential. They exposed me to the poetry of ecosystems. It was an almost a Buddhist, meditative experience.

“But I was really impressed with the way SCA said ‘here’s what you have to do to go in the field.’ Being alone in nature for days on end is scary. Over the years, I’ve often been marooned in remote places, but every time I achieved a sense of peace that I trace back to SCA.”

Through essays and lectures, Paul passionately advocates for the conservation of fish spawning areas. “It’s incredibly important to protect estuaries and spawning streams,” he states. “Keeping them clean, functioning and reproductively-healthy is vital.”

Nearly 30 years after Paul’s summer in Oregon, SCA interns continue to safeguard the Willamette watershed and, like Paul, educate others on how they can support our fragile fisheries.

“Local Action Increasingly Important”

SCA’s work is not limited to the backcountry, however. SCA pioneered urban conservation in the mid-1970s and presently engages youth in city parks nationwide.

Heather Davis interned with SCA in the Bay Area in 2012, and today is a Los Angeles-based Urban-to-Wild specialist with The Wilderness Society. “Eighty percent of the country lives in urban areas,” she states, “and that’s where we’ll find the next generation of stewards.”

Heather Davis enjoying time out on the water.

Heather is among the more than 70% of SCA alumni who continue to work or study in a conservation-related field. In L.A., she oversees pilot initiatives to increase pubic engagement and overcome access and transit barriers. “Urban residents often aren’t aware of the resources available to them or how to care for these lands,” she says. “We need to increase the environmental consciousness.

“When I was with SCA in San Francisco,” Heather continues, “I led a youth program with Parks and Rec and worked with teachers to move classroom lessons outside and stress experiential learning. At first, the kids didn’t want to get their hands dirty. They expected to sit and be talked-at. But it was amazing to see them open up.”

Heather, who grew up in Compton, in intent on delivering similarly compelling experiences to area youth.

Some 2,300 miles away, Matt Gray, the newly-installed Installed chief of sustainability for the City of Cleveland, is focused on energy efficiency, clean water, tree canopies and myriad other issues that he says will “redefine what Cleveland is and what it’s going to be in the future.”

Matt Gray (right), was sworn in by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson on Jan. 3, 2017.

Two decades ago, Matt joined an SCA trail crew in Indiana (“my first time camping”). He served a second summer after that, and later led five SCA crews. Eventually he earned a Masters’ in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia and worked for the U.S. Energy and State Departments, developing a deep expertise in climate change adaptation and energy management.

On climate policy, he says “This is a pretty daunting time with a lot of uncertainty. But it’s clear that local action is going to become more and more important, with cities playing an increasing role.”

Being in his hometown in his new role carries what Matt calls “special significance,” made even more so by SCA’s growing presence in the city.

“It’s amazing that SCA is sixty years old,” he says. “To me, that speaks to its mission and that the organization was structured to be, well, sustainable. SCA is more relevant than ever. I hope we get another sixty years.”

<i>Matt (in white tee short) with his SCA crew in Crane, IN, 1997.

Advancing Youth Development

Environmental education is a crucial component of any SCA program – but it’s not the only one. Research shows that SCA experiences also foster character traits and leadership skills that fuel lifelong growth. What’s more, these attributes are transferable to virtually any field or situation.

Maia on an SCA trail crew in the Colorado Rockies, 1984.

In the mid-1980s, Maia Enzer traveled from New York City to Colorado to join an SCA crew. Building trail at 13,000’ elevation is something she will never forget and always draw on.

“The physical challenge, the self-reliance, the social setting – that combination was so powerful,” she says. “We had a guy from Nebraska, another from Idaho, a woman from New Hampshire. I grew up around a lot of diversity but had never met people from other parts of the country. We really, really clicked.”

Maia has spent her career “advancing the intersection of the health of the land and the health of the community. SCA showed me you can’t separate one from the other.” After 20 years with nonprofits, she now coordinates Pacific Northwest partnerships and community engagement with the US Forest Service. “Each step of my work,” Maia says, “helps people find common ground in how to take care of the land and put long term needs ahead of short term needs.” And the lessons she learned in Colorado are never far from mind.

Maia todays works with the US Forest Service.

“As I sit here talking to you on the phone,” she states, “there’s a photo on the office wall showing a crew in a boulder field on exactly the kind of trail I was involved in building.” The trail, she notes, had to accommodate hikers as well as horses and withstand all types of weather. “I learned so much about how to balance conflicting values. We understood it had to be done right because nobody was coming back to fix it later.”

With the intervening years, Maia also understands how that month on the mountain came to influence her. “Spending time in the woods as a kid changes how you think of yourself in relation to other people and the world. We have to find a way to connect people to nature and the whole land ethic.”

With so many past SCA volunteers continuing to pursue that very goal, their cumulative ripple effect is only gaining momentum in parks, governments, businesses and neighborhoods in all 50 states. Neither our alumni nor SCA – even at age 60 – are showing signs of slowing down.