State of the Planet

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Students Study Conflict and Collaboration at Bears Ears

Bears ears
Since its creation, the Bears Ears National Monument has been a divisive issue for many stakeholders. The Bureau of Land Management recently approved a monument management plan that requires stakeholders participate in governance of the area and its resources.

This summer Josh Fisher, the director of Columbia University’s Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity, has been teaching a summer course at the Columbia School of Professional Studies called Clinic on Conflict and Collaboration in Natural Resource Management (NECR 5260). This year, the clinic focused on the case of the Bears Ears National Monument, and the clinic conducted research to explore how the management of public lands contributes to peace and conflict among stakeholders in the region. Bears Ears, an important cultural site for the five Native American tribes that live in the area, was designated a national monument by the Obama administration. But almost immediately after this designation, the Trump administration reduced the size of the monument by 85 percent. There are many stakeholders with differing views on the monument designation, from ranchers to tribal leaders to recreational users. 

In the course, students focused their research on specific stakeholders and natural resource issues, wrote a blog post on their individual research, then co-authored a policy brief on ways to enhance collaborative governance of the Bears Ears monument. The course was taught virtually in an intensive clinic format and featured Lisa Dale, a lecturer in the undergraduate Sustainable Development program and faculty affiliate of the Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes, as a guest speaker on the wider context of land management in the Western United States. The clinic format provides students a unique experience to gain first-hand exposure to natural resource and sustainability management issues by embedding them in active data collection, analysis, and interaction with managers and stakeholders in an issue. In previous years, this course was held in the Middle East in partnership with the Columbia Global Center in Amman, Jordan and the Porter School of Environmental Studies in Tel Aviv, Israel. This year the course was focused on natural resources in the American West due to unprecedented changes in US management and administration of public lands, which are central to issues of climate change and sustainability in the country.

As the class was unable to travel to Utah and conduct their research in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they interviewed stakeholders online, which presented a range of opportunities and challenges. Maitrayee Basu, a graduate student in the Climate and Society Master’s Program, said that she learned new skills conducting remote research, including, time management, empathizing with the stakeholders perspective,” and “being unbiased in creating a framework that would be beneficial in the future for management.” Another graduate student from the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program, Zachary Beaudoin, discussed some of the difficulties of virtual fieldwork, saying, “The research would have been a completely different experience had we gone to Utah.” He explained that one interviewee said “he would have been more willing to share information and talk with me if we could meet face to face, however, he was hesitant because he couldn’t gauge my intentions.” Despite such challenges, Beaudoin shared that he was able to interview another stakeholder only due to the circumstances of COVID-19 and the increased flexibility with scheduling.

Soon each student will post about their specific research and then the class will post a joint policy brief, so stay tuned! Related posts will be featured here: Regional Environmental Sustainability on Public Lands. Learn more about the students below.

Maitrayee Basu
Maitrayee Basu

Maitrayee Basu is a master’s degree candidate in the Climate and Society Program at Columbia University. She has a Bachelor of Science in Geology from the University of Texas at Dallas and a Certificate in Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) from Austin Community College. She has worked in GIS field positions with the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department and the Columbia Water Center, acted as a Climate Scientist Consultant at the Kenya Red Cross this summer for her capstone project with GSAS’s Climate & Society program, and assisted with qualitative coding for the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative. Her passion for environmental peacebuilding, climate change, and natural resources conflict management stems from volunteering at the non-profit Rainforest Partnership and experiencing the social injustices in the different countries she has lived in.   

Zachary Beaudoin
Zachary Beaudoin

Zachary Beaudoin is a master’s degree candidate in the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at Columbia University. He has received two bachelor’s degrees, one in English and another in International Affairs, from SUNY Fredonia. He hopes to pursue a career in protecting marginalized groups and vulnerable ecology. Beaudoin attended COP 21, including the Earth to Paris Summit, which further motivated him to become an environmental justice advocate that sees sustainability holistically. As climate change amplifies the injustices of the world and continues to morph our landscape, he hopes to use his skills to strengthen communities and prevent conflicts from emerging. 

David Carten
David Carten

A Canadian, David Carten is a student pursuing a Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution (NECR) at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies. Based in Vancouver, Canada, he spent most of the last two decades living and working globally while building businesses for the commercialization of advanced clean energy and health technologies; deploying some very innovative and differentiated platforms across multiple markets worldwide. David joined the NECR program in 2020 with the intent of leveraging his international and cross-cultural experience with a refined and disciplined approach to negotiation, as well as formalizing his understanding of conflict resolution in order to make unique, meaningful contributions to indigenous reconciliation in British Columbia.

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