By Megan Feeney, Policy Intern
Growing up in Ahwatukee, Ariz., opportunities to experience elements of forestry or urban greenspace were limited to the rushed car trips up the West Coast for swim meets and crashing my bike into a patch of prickly pear cacti at age seven. It wasn’t until entering my first year of college in Western Pennsylvania that I was finally introduced to the intricate nature of forestry and the abundance of wildlife that accompanies it. The various hiking trails surrounding Allegheny College have proven to be a valued asset within the local community, for both the environmental expert and a novice such as myself. The reservation of these spaces for environmental research, restoration efforts and public recreation truly promote the value of these woodland regions.
My appreciation for forestry was again solidified through a recent academic experience in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, where I resided in the Amazon Basin to study the biodiversity associated with the region’s rainforest. While the weather was extremely humid and the mosquito nets appeared to be defective, I have never felt a stronger connection to the natural environment. The opportunity to experience the changing environmental landscape, along with observing the exceptional beauty of creatures, such as the blue-headed parrot and the black caiman, was well worth any temporary discomfort. Our guides also expressed a respect for the forests, treating specific trees as sacred components of local cosmology. The Peruvian appreciation for the Pachamama, Mother Earth, also added an interesting sense of spirituality and cultural understanding to the greater question of environmental conservation.
Throughout my studies within the field of Political Science, I have noticed that the environment tends to take a back seat within the public discourse surrounding both federal and state policy. Aspects of development and the possibility for economic opportunity tend to dominate the conversation, while environmental consideration is pushed aside. As a student of policy, this seemingly blasé attitude towards elements of climate change, carbon emissions and the destructions of forests is deeply troubling. Although wildlands play a vital role in the daily life of citizens, there appears to be a societal disconnect between the incentives of private enterprise and the need for preservation.
Luckily for the nation’s forests, as well as our global community, American Forests is providing a much needed voice to the political conversation. The founding of this organization in 1875 was well ahead of its time, attempting to address the environmental concerns of the steadily expanding nation. Today, American Forests strives to promote action, as well as education, in support of environmental conservation through policy discussions, advocacy and community programs.
I am happy to say that I have found my summer home with American Forests. Assisting with substantive work that promotes a worthy goal or cause is the dream of any college intern. While I may not have reached this point through the conventional path of growing up with a forest in my backyard, my experiences of the past few years will serve as a strong base to motivate my learning process. It is an honor to work for such an established environmental organization that is striving to make a true impact within public policy and local communities.