Aireona Bonnie Raschke, Ph.D. hit the ground running when she joined the Center for Collaborative Conservation (CCC) a few short months ago, taking the lead on organizing a biennial conference, jumping into working group meetings, and getting to know as many people as she can who are working on collaborative conservation. As the Associate Director of Practice, Aireona steps in as the coordinator of the Western Collaborative Conservation Network (WCCN). She comes to this position with a passion for collaboration–one she has been developing throughout her professional career.
“With my first experience as a biologist out of undergrad, I realized… you had to be connected with communities to make a difference,” she said.
Her focus on conservation moved from studying an endangered red squirrel subspecies, to looking at how whale watching tourism impacted communities in the Caribbean, to doing postdoc work on community-based conservation on a global scale. This transition toward “the human side of things,” as she said, led her back to her home state as the program director of the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance (CAZCA). While with CAZCA, she honed in on the importance of collaboration in conservation and the challenges that come with it. During that time, she also became a member of the WCCN.
“I think it was the challenges that really drove me to the WCCN because I wanted to meet with people that were working in the same field who understood the complexities and that I could learn from,” she said.
Both through her time with CAZCA and through connecting with others working in collaborative conservation, she gained a better understanding of collaboration as a focal strategy for conservation at a landscape-scale.
“It was a good opportunity to see what worked well, what didn’t work well, and how things evolve. Things that worked super well five years ago change,” she said. “I really want to bring the lessons that I learned through CAZCA about myself and collaborative conservation to the WCCN.”
In determining how to best contribute to the WCCN, Aireona said, “It’ll be an exploration of how to support and lead when necessary and make the Network as healthy and helpful as it can be to everybody.”
For Aireona, creating a healthy Network means listening to members to find out what they feel is working well and where changes can strengthen progress. All the while, member voices should lead the process. Forming connections is at the heart of those productive conversations.
This September’s Confluence–the WCCN’s conference dedicated to convening Western states to discuss pressing issues in collaborative work, catalyze action, and provide capacity-building opportunities–may be the perfect opportunity to host those conversations. As organizing Confluence has been at the top of Aireona’s focus since joining the CCC, she’s excited to see faces beyond a computer screen and meet conservation practitioners from across the West.
“Meeting people and learning from everybody is what I’m looking forward to the most,” she said.
If you’re interested or actively engaged in collaborative conservation, we hope you’ll join Aireona and the WCCN at Confluence!
Aireona can be contacted here if you’d like to connect with her about the WCCN, Confluence, or her work with the CCC.