Thursday, September 29, 2016
Robin Reid: Collaboration is not for the faint-hearted
Robin Reid does not like being called an expert, despite the accolades she’s received for her grasslands research in Kenya, Mongolia and Colorado. Instead, she gives credit to the people she’s collaborated with, individuals that she refers to as “great people” and good friends.
“I am always working very closely with people that live on the land, trying to bring science to help them on issues that they care about,” she said.
Reid, a professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and head of the Center for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University, delivered the eighth President’s Community Lecture in the Lory Student Center Theatre Tuesday night.
In an introductory video that kicked off the event, Reid said she enjoys helping people — students, teams of faculty, community members — reach their potential.
Reid said she has seen the power and magic that can happen when people come together and work on a difficult problem. She collaborated in recent years with the Colorado business community, government officials and others to figure out how to keep the next big wildfire from being as severe as the 2012 High Park fire, the second most destructive fire in the state’s history.
“It takes people with different perspectives, whether they be here in Colorado, Massailand or in Mongolia, to come together and solve a big problem. Sparks fly and a huge amount of stuff gets done,” she said, with a smile.
Massailand is in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, where the group of people known as the Massai live.
Reid shared several examples of how she challenged conventional wisdom through her research.
While pursuing a Ph.D. in Rangeland Ecosystem Science at CSU in the 1980s, Reid was investigating the role of herders and their livestock in areas affected by drought and deforestation in Africa. At the time, researchers thought the desert was spreading south because the pastoral people were overusing the land, cutting down too many trees, and because animals were grazing too much on the land. She worked on this subject with the Turkana herders of northern Kenya.
What Reid discovered instead was that the Turkana were, in fact, reforesting and not causing the desert to expand. “That taught me to look for the unexpected, and to not always follow the conventional wisdom,” she said.
Reid, who has brought disparate groups together throughout her career, said that at the local level, people are less divided. “When you get to the local level, you just can’t afford to fight as much, because it’s your dentist you’re fighting or your neighbor,” she said.
In the ranch lands in the West, Reid has explored the question of whether raising cattle is incompatible with conservation, taking into account that cattle are the cornerstone of ranchers’ livelihoods.
The Mountains to Plains Project in the Laramie Foothills, is one of the most remarkable examples in the U.S. of what can happen when city, county, conservationists and ranchers collaborate. “It is amazing,” Reid said.
Watch the full lecture here.