Due to the incredible opportunity posed by the U.S. State Department, in a handful of days I get to embark on a trip-of-a-lifetime and take what I know about forest protection and conservation in the U.S. Southeast to the communities and forests of Laos. I work for Dogwood Alliance, an organization that works on protecting the forests of the Southeastern United States. For nearly 3 weeks, I have the opportunity to learn from and share my own knowledge with WWF Laos. While Dogwood Alliance and WWF Laos may be on opposite sides of the world, may be defending two very different kinds of forests, and may be operating under different rules, regulations, and cultures, the similarity in the challenges we face means that my opportunity for growth and skill-sharing cannot be understated.
For over 20 years, Dogwood Alliance has defended the forests in this region because the Southeastern United States is the largest wood basket in the world. More paper, pulp, and wood pellets come out of our 14 state region than anywhere else in the world. Industrial logging in the Southern US accounts for our forests being four times more logged than the rainforests of Brazil. Towering tupelos, majestic cypress, black bears, alligators, and countless other forms of biodiversity are threatened every day from industrial logging— and that’s where we come in. We mobilize diverse voices to protect southern forests and communities from destructive industrial logging.
WWF Laos also focuses on a region that has high concentrations of endemic species and aquatic biodiversity, they are just located a whole ocean away. I’ve learned that Laos’ biodiversity faces numerous threats including wildlife crime, development, and habitat loss— and that’s where WWF Laos finds their role. For nearly 40 years, WWF Laos has worked on species protection and forest governance, amongst other priorities, and working toward their goal of building a future in which the people of Laos live in harmony with nature is something I am lucky to be part of, even if for a brief time.
Being able to take my skills and background to Laos and the WWF offices there feels like an incredible way to spread my roots. “Great oaks from little acorns grow.” As I intimately know from my familiarity with the beautiful forests of this region, our great, tall, sturdy, and strong oaks were once acorns that can fit in the palm of my hand. I have a genuine desire to embrace the humble beginnings of my journey: to recognize that I am now a novice and can learn much from the WWF Laos staff I’ll be working with. Like trees, I must indulge in the quest for wisdom and have the courage to be resilient. I have a chance to deepen my roots with this opportunity, and I’m excited to grasp it!