Welcome to Earth Matters. I will be sharing this space weekly with Billy Mason, who will introduce himself in a future column. The essential point is  he and I will be writing for Telluride Inside… and Out on a wide range of issues related to the environment: climate change, overfishing, agricultural policy.

While I am currently “Out” of Telluride, I have strong ties to the region, having spent a good part of my childhood and adult life there. Telluride has been both personally and professionally formative for me, and it is a pleasure  to have this opportunity to interact with other people interested in Telluride, inside and out.

I’d like to start our new series with a brief biography to give some context to the themes I’ll be addressing.

If I had to sum up my life, interests, research, passions, and goals in three words, it would be these: food, environment, politics. Certainly, there are innumerable other things I could include – sports, family, language, writing, friends – but the three  aforementioned themes keep resounding.  Food from seed to table: growing, harvesting, selling, preparing, cooking, eating. Environment as everything that is around us, and especially interactions with the natural world. Politics, in its basic sense, as interactions among citizens.

I have long been interested in food. My parents, Telluride residents Irina and Michael, whom many of you may know, are excellent cooks. Irina worked a chef at Chez Pierre (which a few readers may still remember) and taught cooking classes at the Telluride Academy. Michael makes his own pasta and the best slow-roasted tomato sauce I have ever tasted. I, too, love to cook. Eating isn’t bad, either. My love of food translated into curiosity about what I’m eating: how it was produced, who produced it, how it got to market, what changes it underwent before that time, what it’s related to, what you can do with it. In addition, I am fascinated by food traditions and history. How does food travel? What do certain foods represent to different communities? How are people influenced by what they eat?

Growing up in Telluride (and New York, which was quite a contrast) stimulated my passion for the environment. At its most basic, I loved playing in the mountains and the deserts, loved the landscapes and incredible range of biomes in a relatively small region: tundra in the high alpine areas, with soft moss and multi-colored lichen; conifer forests, with sweet-smelling spruce; aspen groves that turn brilliant yellow in the fall; ancient fens; riparian wetlands along the San Miguel, one of the few remaining undammed rivers in Colorado; and, descending just a few thousand feet, piñon-juniper woodlands and high deserts. Further, these quirks of the landscape endured over time as the region itself shifted from a summer camp for semi-nomadic Native Americans to a Victorian mining town to a ski resort with high-end real estate development, where constant, often destructive, interactions between humans and their environment became only too obvious.

My interest in politics developed somewhat later, but became integral to the trajectory of my academic and personal development. I voted as soon as I was old enough, and studied government as part of my Harvard undergraduate major, Russian and Soviet Studies. When I was 23, I ran for and was elected to a two-year term on the Telluride Town Council (I did not take Stalin as my model). I subsequently was elected San Miguel County Commissioner for two terms. In these positions, I learned about new aspects of environmental and agricultural problems and policies. As you might imagine, most of the issues I worked on were related to the environment: transportation, open space, wetlands, ski area expansion, logging, water quality and quantity, and air quality, among them. After leaving office, I worked on ballot initiatives related to development and open space protection.That work gave me another view on the environmental politics and decision making, and also increased my desire to go to graduate school to learn more about the interactions among science, citizens, and government.

My study at UCSC in the interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Department allowed me to explore those issues in depth. Researching my dissertation, I looked at the role of local government in agricultural and environmental policy, in particular, at the issue of regulating genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs bring together issues of food policy, agricultural policy, and environmental policy, and thus provide the perfect vehicle to review issues of governance, democracy, and subnational actions. I conducted fieldwork in California, France, Italy, Austria, and Hawaii, among other places, and looked at what kind of actions local governments have been taking and what kind of effects these actions are having.

Finishing my Ph.D. gave me the opportunity to explore new avenues in the environmental field. From local government and then academia, I turned to the non-profit world, and have been working in Washington, DC, for Ocean Conservancy since Fall 2009. I am Senior Manager of Ocean Conservancy’s Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning program, which brings together my graduate study and my past work on planning issues. Planning is as important for the coasts and oceans as it is on land, but historically, the ocean has been managed on a sector by sector basis – for oil and gas drilling, or for fishing, or for shipping – without good coordination and without an overall understanding of both human and ecological elements of the ecosystem. As Ocean Conservancy notes: “Without smart ocean-use planning, we end up with haphazard and uncoordinated development… [we are] missing opportunities to maximize what we get out of the ocean while minimizing the threats to its health.”

I have also been able to pull in my graduate research on the issue of transgenic salmon, the subject of my next post.

  • Joan Henehan
    Posted at 16:38h, 18 February

    It’s always interesting to gain perspective on what informs the writer’s work, not to mention that s(he) stands on a strong foundation of knowledge.

    Anna’s areas of interest are crucial for our species’ endurance; I look forward to more of these accessible episodes!

  • Joan May
    Posted at 07:05h, 19 February

    Looking forward to articles by Anna and Billy! This will be great!