Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Restoration, Economics & Education

In the Clark Fork Basin, environmental restoration is big business. At the headwaters, the ongoing restoration of Silver Bow Creek continues. Downstream, workers continue to excavate century-old mine tailings from the former Milltown Reservoir. And, with the filing of the Consent Decree for the mainstem Clark Fork River Superfund site in February 2008, local governments, state agencies and community groups are making preparations for the many new restoration projects that will result from the $104 million in new funding that will be administered by the State of Montana’s Natural Resource Damages Program.

Restoration projects have been recognized as an economic driver in southwest Montana for most of the last decade, and, at the state and national levels, others are beginning to quantify and explore the idea of a “restoration economy.” To explore the educational and training needs of such a restoration economy, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, along with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education and Montana Tech of the University of Montana, presented a workshop on “Filling a Void: Growing Montana’s Restoration Workforce” at Montana Tech’s Copper Lounge on Thursday, October 2nd in Butte.

Before a packed house including Montana scientists, government officials, educators and representatives from labor and community groups, speakers and panelists recounted the history of environmental damages in Montana, and how by restoring damaged landscapes communities create not only healthy ecosystems, but new economic opportunities. Make no mistake, restoration is hard work, and it requires a wide variety of expertise. From on-the-ground heavy equipment operators to scientists and researchers engaged in monitoring and analysis to the designers, administrators and coordinators who take restoration projects from idea to action, restoration means jobs.

After an initial panel discussion on restoration workforce needs in Montana, workshop attendees put their heads together to better define the state’s restoration needs and the sorts of jobs and education required. There was general agreement that the greatest needs lie in the areas of communications, science, and technical skills, and that a balance must be struck between specialists focused on one aspect of the complex process of environmental restoration and generalists who can articulate a “big picture” understanding.

CFWEP Director Matt Vincent sat on an afternoon panel on the present and future of restoration education in Montana, discussing the obstacles the program has overcome and the successes it has enjoyed. The panel largely agreed on the necessary ingredients for successful restoration education: an interdisciplinary approach; project-focused lessons and courses; real-world experiences and mentorships for students; and the promotion of Montana’s stewardship culture. It has been through just such methods that CFWEP has achieved measurable successes over the past several years, and, as the concept of a restoration economy gains traction, CFWEP can serve as a valuable model for other communities seeking to promote restoration, while improving education and local economies at the same time.

A healthy environment, better education and job creation? It almost sounds too good to be true, but, from Butte to Missoula, the restoration economy is thriving. With the commitment on display at the Governor’s workshop, Montana just might be the first state in the nation to develop a sustainable economy hand-in-hand with a sustainable environment. The rest of the country stands to learn a thing or two from the transformation of the nation’s largest Superfund site into the nation’s largest restored, healthy watershed.

-Justin Ringsak, CFWEP Communications Coordinator

1 comment:

Storm Cunningham said...

Hi, Justin. Great article! I didn't know about the Milltown Dam removal / Clark Fork restoration when I wrote The Restoration Economy (2002). It's certainly a great example of restorative development in action. I had planned to include the Milltown Dam story--and Gov. Schweitzer's restoration economy initiative--in my latest book, reWealth! (McGraw-Hill, May 2008), but wasn't able to get sufficient information from the Governor's office. Maybe it was too soon: the story might be more impressive after the project is "complete" (restoration projects of that size are never really completed), so maybe it will be a better fit for my next book. Hope to work with you on that research! - Storm Cunningham, CEO, Resolution Fund, LLC (Washington DC)