This week, I’ve travelled across the country to Vancouver, Washington, to attend the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (RVCC) annual policy meeting. This will be my third year attending this meeting, and I always seem to leave feeling more connected to the work that I do.

RVCC attendees
2010 RVCC annual meeting attendees Lynn Jungwirth, Shanna Ratner and Jack Shipley. Credit: Sustainable Northwest/Flickr

Working in Washington, D.C., I don’t often get the chance to talk with people who are doing actual on-the-ground work with forests, water and land. That’s what this meeting is about. These people own land and work on ranches. They are out in the woods and watersheds. You can always tell who’s an out-of-towner at this meeting, and I know I stick out like a sore thumb. After all, I am a city gal taking a trip to the woods. I should have packed my flannel shirt.

Monday was a long day of travelling and changing time zones, so when I arrived at the lodge, I found myself going straight to bed. But the next morning, I woke up feeling refreshed. I don’t know if it was being in a new location or that I’m seeing familiar faces from meetings past. Even though I’m still a D.C. outsider, I feel like I belong. That’s what I like about this group. Even though we’re all coming from different backgrounds, we all care about the same things.

That’s the same message I took away from the meeting’s first panel which was comprised of regional foresters from the Northwest. They stressed the importance of RVCC’s conservation work and continuing to look for innovative ideas. Moving forward, they urged us to continue talking about conservation and frame it in a way that makes it as relevant and as important to all Americans as it is to those of us who work directly with the land, water and natural resources. These things matter — and not just in the present or for people that live in rural communities. They’re important for everyone for the unforeseeable future.

I often find myself doing a lot of reflection when I travel. This trip is no different. I find myself thinking about my connection to the land and the people that work to keep that land thriving. It’s certainly a humbling experience to be around people doing such incredible work for rural communities and economies, and I’m looking forward to continuing my conversations with them in the days, weeks and months to come.