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The Magic of Confluence

by Aireona Bonnie-Raschke

My objectives for Confluence have been to (1) create a in-person platform for knowledge sharing and learning, and (2) create space for networking and community-building among the people of the collaborative conservation field.

There are many things to appreciate about Confluence 2024 that allow us to do those two things – the depth of knowledge that was packed into three days, the exceptional field trips, mentorship match, and an amazing keynote speaker – among other things. However, what I would like to reflect on here is the element of Confluence that is really exceptional- the kindness and openness of the people that have come to these gatherings.

photo from the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum field trip by Katie McGrath-Novak

If you have been in a meeting with me when I try to describe the special space that is Confluence, I always preface by saying that I am not and have never been a good conference networker. Typically, unless I go to an event with colleagues, I am one of the folks who either ends up connecting with other lone folks in a haphazard way, or I might be busy trying to look busy to avoid looking too awkward. You know the type!

The magic of Confluence is that I never feel that way with our community. Yes, I am lucky enough to know many of you, but I also meet SO many new people. I can sit down at a different table for every meal and session, and whether I know anyone there or not, I feel welcomed immediately. There is a sense that our Confluence community is interested in sharing about their work and themselves, but that they are also genuinely interested in learning about others – no matter where they are at in their careers or where they work.

When you say hi to people in the hallways at Confluence, I always get a sense of being among friends, even with people you haven’t met before.

Maybe it is because of our field; after all, you would think that those of us who ended up in collaborative conservation would be interested in building connections with one another. And at the very least, as facilitators, we are used to jumping up in front of groups of people that we may know more or less, and creating avenues for learning and decision-making.

But I would like to posit that beyond all that, there is something really special and welcoming about the WCCN and collaborative conservation community. And I am SO grateful for the kind of environment that we have been creating year over year. I firmly believe that not only is this something that sets Confluence apart, but it really does create an environment in which most of the people that come to the gathering can accomplish both learning and community-building for themselves.

photo of “passing the mic” at a fundraising panel on day 3 by Katie McGrath-Novak

I know that I have never felt quite so supported and welcomed in any other conference space. And I think that this is something that is worth celebrating and thinking about together.

If you were at Confluence with us this year, feel free to let me know if you have any thoughts about how to keep this magical trend going for Confluence 2026 (Spring in Fort Collins, CO). And if you weren’t at Confluence 2024, but wish you were, please keep us on your radar for 2026!

I can’t wait to reconnect with you all in-person then!

photo of the expansive view on the “Implications of Border Policy on Wildlife Movement” field trip by Matthew Juneau
photo of members of the Center for Collaborative Conservation (CCC) team at Confluence 2024. Pictured left to right: Aireona Bonnie-Raschke, PhD, Director of the Western Collaborative Conservation Network and CCC Associate Director of Practice; Dr. Allison Brody, CCC Associate Director of Learning; Dr. John Sanderson, CCC Director; Nicole Reese, CCC Communications Manager & Conservation Engagement Specialist; Katie McGrath-Novak, Colorado Forest Collaboratives Network Coordinator.