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Julie Blackburn– A Champion For Impact Through Partnership

November 7th, 2017

Julie Blackburn has been a longtime supporter and member of Environmental Initiative. In her prior role as Assistant Director of the Board of Water and Soil Resources, Julie was a key partner on the Land and Water Policy Project led by Environmental Initiative nearly ten years ago, which resulted in recommendations to streamline and better coordinate state and local resource planning efforts.

Now Julie leads the Minnesota regional office for RESPEC Consulting and Services and is a member of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC). Made up of 12 individuals representing state legislators and public appointees, the LSOHC is responsible for making annual funding recommendations to the state legislature for projects funded by the Outdoor Heritage Fund. The Outdoor Heritage Fund is one of four funds created by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment and provides approximately $80 million in annual funding for projects that restore, protect, and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife across Minnesota.

The Outdoor Heritage Fund Outcomes Project

In early 2017, the LSOHC contracted with Environmental Initiative to design and manage a process to define intended outcomes and impacts for the Outdoor Heritage Fund. The first phase of this endeavor concluded in July 2017 with a report that synthesizes outcome and indicator recommendations from stakeholders representing thought leaders and experts in conservation from various sectors and perspectives. The stakeholder work group for this process was tasked with developing recommended outcome metrics for the Outdoor Heritage Fund to demonstrate public benefit resulting from fund investments and provide accountability to the Legislature and to taxpayers for the use of public money invested via the fund.

Our short process resulted in recommended outcome statements related to fish habitat, wildlife/game habitat, outdoor recreation, and secondary benefits to people resulting from Outdoor Heritage Fund investments. Furthermore, the group identified specific indicators that could be used to measure progress toward these intended outcomes. Further work to explore potential data sources and measurement methods to evaluate the outcomes is anticipated in the near future. You can read more about the process and project results here »

Leadership & Shared Values

Throughout our organization, but especially in our policy work, our processes are highly focused on outcomes, accountability, and open exchange of ideas. In the Outdoor Heritage Fund project specifically, I got to see Julie also exhibit and apply these values. On topics like habitat conservation, where many people are extremely knowledgeable and passionate, it’s difficult to pull up out of the weeds of the technical details to focus on partnership and collaboration. But, Julie was an early advocate and important partner throughout this project and we are grateful for her leadership and willingness to advocate for transparency, accountability, and the ultimate impacts resulting from this important resource for Minnesota’s conservation legacy.

Ultimately, Julie’s dedication and willingness to put in the hard work and perseverance that partnership requires made the process successful. As an organization, we’re thankful to have people like Julie—who showcase a true, collaborative spirit and bring it to their work—in our corner and in our community.


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th anniversary, members of our staff will take turns throughout the year highlighting the organization’s most influential and effective collaborators. We want to say thank you to the amazing people who help us achieve all we do. 

Ellen Gibson

POSTED BY:

Senior Program Director

Convening & Collaborating in Grand Rapids

September 5th, 2017

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: An environmentalist, a diesel vendor, and a public health worker are sitting around a table in Grand Rapids…

Despite being tantalizing close to another “Sven and Ole” knee-slapper, these were just a few of the participants that gathered on Tuesday, August 15 at our most recent event: the Clean Air Collaborative.

As many of you may know, our Clean Air program has been experiencing exponential growth in partners and projects that reduce air pollution emissions and invest in Minnesota’s economy. As bigger and better opportunities lie ahead, this was the perfect time to reconnect with partners and stakeholders in Greater Minnesota. As our last Northern Minnesota convening event was a Clean Air Minnesota meeting in Duluth in June of 2014, we were overdue for a visit!

Our goal was to reintroduce ourselves to the region and, most importantly, learn about Northern Minnesota’s priorities from Northern Minnesotans. With Blandin Foundation generously hosting and resources provided by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Flint Hills Resources, the event was a huge success. Representatives from private, public, tribal government and non-profit sectors were all in attendance having meaningful conversation.

Event Snapshot: Outcomes & Attendees

The event began with presentations of Clean Air Minnesota programs, projects and partners, but the real pay dirt came from the facilitated breakouts sessions that followed. Participants explored:

  • Cost-effective ways to use Volkswagen settlement dollars to better Minnesota’s environment, economy and public health
  • A possible logging truck project through Project Green Fleet’s clean diesel work
  • Actions to assist low-income residents in Northern Minnesota and on tribal lands access Project Stove Swap benefits
  • How to engage other professional associations and community organizations in air quality, energy, and other environmental work
  • Partnership opportunities that advance voluntary emission reductions and investment in Northern Minnesota

When the Itasca County Public Health Department is having lively discussions with the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association, you know you’re doing something right. Other organizations, agencies, businesses, and governments in attendance included:

  • American Lung Association
  • CAT Ziegler, Inc.
  • Fireplace Lifestyles, Inc.
  • Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board
  • Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
  • Minnesota Logger Education Program
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
  • Minnesota Power, an ALLETE Company
  • Northern Minnesota Builders Association
  • Nuss Trucking and Equipment
  • Red Lake Band of Chippewa
  • St. Louis County
  • And many more

As always, the hours fly by with such fantastic people and before we knew it, we were on our way. Though our time was short, it was extremely productive and just the beginning of our push to continue our work for the benefit of Minnesota’s environment and its people. If you’re interested in what we talked about, presentations or the agenda, all materials are posted on our website »

As the great Herb Brooks once said, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.” Here at Environmental Initiative, we look forward to making many great moments to come.

Bjorn Olson

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Project Associate

Better Together for Bees

March 7th, 2016

On February 12, 2016, Environmental Initiative hosted a Pollinator Summit at the Wellstone Neighborhood House on behalf of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. While we are still in the midst of digesting the massive amounts of input and information that came out of the summit, I want to reflect a bit on the experience and what it meant to live out Environmental Initiative’s values of “Open Exchange” and “Better Together” in the context of designing and organizing this event.pollinator summit participants

Research (and the headlines) reveal our pollinators are threatened. We know if we don’t do something soon, we risk losing many of our domesticated bees and entire species of wild pollinators. Participants at the summit heard from experts about the many different stresses pollinators face – from pesticide use, to habitat loss, to parasites, and a changing climate.

Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith set the stage for us at the beginning of the summit by channeling John Lennon and singing for us (!) a rallying cry “All we are saying, is give bees a chance!” And that was the goal of the summit — to gather real, meaningful ideas from the community that could be implemented by state government to support our wild and domesticated pollinators. The community grabbed this opportunity with both hands. Instead of the 100 or so attendees we initially planned for, we ended up with more than 200 registered participants!

DESIGNING FOR ENGAGEMENT

We had one of the most diverse communities gathered that I have seen in my time at Environmental Initiative. Farmers, lobbyists, hobby beekeepers, landscape architects, activists, academics, legislators, and local government all had a seat at the table. Environmental Initiative’s job was to make sure we designed and executed an event that gave every participant a voice.

So, that’s what we did. We designed a summit that forced participants to engage with others. We placed an emphasis on small group discussions and deliberately organized discussion groups to have a set of diverse stakeholders at each table. We also asked each group to report out up to three broadly supported ideas for action, which we then posted on the wall for all other groups to react to.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t disagreement. Of course there was. Not all of the ideas we generated at the summit will be able to be implemented, but some might. The point is we created a space where folks could talk with, rather than past, each other about all of the ways we could improve the outlook for our pollinators.

We’re in the process of reviewing all of the input generated at the summit and preparing a summary for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate in this important conversation. Watch the blog and your email in the coming weeks for the summary of what we heard. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture will be reviewing all of the input from the summit to help inform their strategies for pollinator protection.

While it remains to be seen what ideas get adopted and put into practice, I walked out of the summit knowing that by living up to our values of “Better Together” and “Open Exchange”, my colleagues and I at Environmental Initiative did the best we could to give our insect pollinators a chance.

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program
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