September 12, 2016
“I’d like to be an environmental conservationist.” Sound familiar? Many of us grew up declaring some version of this in grade school and perhaps even into college (you know who you are). At the same time, many of us probably couldn’t even describe what an environmental conservationist really does or – more important to your high school guidance counselor – what a career in conservation looks like. The Anthony A. Lapham Fellowship at American Rivers is a unique path towards the start of a career in conservation and protection of river resources.
It turns out that “environmental conservation” encompasses many professional fields, each addressing multiple pieces of a larger puzzle. The Lapham Fellow gets to witness the cogs and gears of conservation turn together within American Rivers, and to take part in the process. As the Lapham Fellow I’ve applied and built upon my background in natural sciences through research and writing, developed a working understanding of environmental policy and law, and gained invaluable experience in pulling this all together through grant writing and partnerships to make projects happen on the ground.
The Lapham Fellowship begins in Washington, D.C., providing a nitty-gritty look at how things move (or don’t move) through our legislature, and the role environmental groups play in the policy process. In the science world the process of informing policy is often alluded to but rarely discussed. During my first week as a Fellow, I was scheduled to meet my supervisor on the Hill for legislative meetings. I showed up in the bustling halls of Congress; feeling slightly disheveled in my less than perfectly pressed suit, expecting to attend some congressional hearing. Instead, I was shepherded into a series of meetings with Congressional Offices to discuss our recommendations for reforming the National Flood Insurance Program. That morning I was not just seeing the science-informing policy process unfold, I was actively engaged with it.
As a Fellow I’ve been mentored by professionals with years of experience in the ‘trenches’ of river conservation and protection. Working with a national expert in flood policy, I’ve helped craft recommendations for floodplain management policies that support natural river processes and reduce risk to communities. I’ve learned how environmental laws can act as tools, and how to work alongside agencies and other organizations to meet common objectives. I’ve also come to understand that progress on the policy front is not just moving things forward, but also keeping things from being dismantled.
The Lapham Fellowship provides an interdisciplinary immersion in conservation. Within American Rivers’ conservation and restoration teams I’m helping apply current science to design and implement floodplain restoration projects. I’ve worked closely with American Rivers staff and with partners in other organizations and agencies to compose a report that details the natural processes that underpin river-floodplain systems, and presents a science-based approach to restoring them. I’ve had the opportunity to present this work to environmental professionals and restoration practitioners at conferences and to the American Rivers Board of Directors.
I recently transitioned from DC to salmon country to carry out the second half of my Fellowship working on the rivers of the Puget Sound in Washington State. The Puget Basin is home to some of the most spectacular river ecosystems in the United States, many of which own tremendous cultural value. I’m here to work with regional partners in implementing concepts we’ve developed over the past year; to learn how floodplains can be restored to support rivers, and to develop capacity for successful restoration and conservation projects on the ground. I’m involved in work that is impactful to rivers, benefits communities, and rewarding to me on a personal level. I already know that the skill sets developed, experiences gained, and relationships built through the Lapham Fellowship will benefit me for years to come. I may even get to call myself a conservationist one day.
September 24, 2014
Coming out of law school, I fully expected to be working somewhere drafting memos, checking Bluebook citations, and occasionally going outside. Nothing big, nothing special, and definitely not saving the world. In the past year, as the Anthony A. Lapham Conservation Fellow, I have had the opportunity to draft legislation for U.S. Senators, raft down the Colorado River, meet with farmers and ranchers concerning water conservation, and work with a dedicated conservation team on issues pertaining to the future of water in the West. Let’s just say my expectations have been surpassed.
The Lapham Fellowship provides young professionals with an opportunity to dive head first into important policy and scientific issues and contribute to meaningful projects, work that otherwise would be inaccessible to recent graduates. The Fellowship offers an opportunity to network with other conservation professionals; gain valuable hands on experience in policy, research, and communications; and be part of an organization that uses a pragmatic approach towards solving complex issues concerning the fate of our most precious resource.
As the Lapham Fellow, my work focuses on supporting public policies and programs that promote agricultural water conservation initiatives that help sustain working farms, while benefiting overall watershed health. In particular, I’m working on several projects examining federal financing for water conservation, including the Farm Bill, to determine how those programs can promote instream flows, water conservation efforts and landscape scale restoration. Through this work, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with Congressional staff, agency officials, watershed groups, and agricultural stakeholders across the western United States. Working on agricultural water conservation has also helped strengthen my background in water law, hydrology, ecology, and policy, helping me to become a better rounded conservation professional. Finally, the Lapham Fellowship provides an amazing opportunity to explore and work on those issues I feel strongly about. I really feel like my work is contributing to the overall goal of river conservation and environmental protection, and will provide me a solid foundation for a long career in conservation policy.
Alex Funk, Lapham Fellow 2013-2015
Alex is now a Policy Analyst and Staff Attorney for the National Young Farmers Coalition.