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Women in Virginia Conservation Say Their Challenges Mean Growth

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Friday, March 31, 2017   

RICHMOND, Va. - Women working in Virginia on conservation issues say they sometimes struggle to be heard - but the way their younger peers are joining the fight gives them a lot of hope.

Giles Harnsberger, director of Groundwork RVA, said people can feel sidelined, both as environmentalists and as women, but she described her work with young people in Richmond as "really heartening." Part of Harnsberger's job is to build on an appreciation for nature that she sees even in teens who live in the city. She said the young women in their programs, many from communities of color, are serious, dedicated and "steadfast."

"They show up on time. They're interested in the science of what we're doing. They're taking notes when we have speakers," she said. "They're leaders when we present at city council, because a lot of these women are really eager to be leaders in trying to make their neighborhoods better."

Harnsberger said some of this dedication has been inspired by the teens' vision of national politics and culture, adding that examples of people such as Michelle Obama are having an impact.

Conservation once was seen as a job for outdoorsmen such as Teddy Roosevelt, but over time it's become the province of groups, often nonprofits, devoted to consensus and diversity. Mary-Stuart Torbeck, a board member of the Virginia Green Travel Alliance, said the Trump administration seems like a bit of a throwback, with a predominantly male and anti-conservation culture, but she added that its recent moves to roll back regulations that affect climate, air and water quality have motivated many to became engaged.

"People are taking matters back into their own hands," she said. "It's a difficult time. However, there's been more conversation around climate than I've ever heard. When we see this pendulum come back, it's going to come back and end up being one of the best things that has happened."

Torbeck said women and people of color are likely to be hit hardest by climate change, and those are among the groups now working on these issues. Defenders of Trump's rollbacks argue that the regulations are slowing economic growth and killing industries such as coal mining.

More information is online at groundworkrva.org and virginiagreentravelalliance.org.


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