Western Colorado University’s graduate students involved in the Mountain Resilience Coalition (MRC) met with the Mountain Partnership Secretariat (MPS) at the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FOA) headquarters earlier this month to further develop strategies and action plans to advance sustainable mountain development throughout north and central America and the Caribbean.
The MRC is formed by three Colorado-based mountain health organizations, including the Telluride Institute, the Aspen International Mountain Foundation and Western’s School of Environment and Sustainability.
“Our goal is a net-carbon neutral region of that size by 2050, with 30 comprehensive climate action plans by 2030, weaving together diverse mountain communities, including alpine and tropical, developed and developing, rural and urban mountain communities,” said Dr. John Hausdoerffer, dean of the School of Environment and Sustainability at the Gunnison university. “We seek to build solidarity across mountain communities to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”
Telluride native, Jake Burchmore, who graduated from Western’s School of Environment and Sustainability in May, joined the MRC at the meeting with the MPS to present a one-minute film highlighting why mountain communities need to be resilient about sustainable mountain development.
“The MRC work relates to the Telluride area in many ways. Whether it’s sharing information about renewable energy transformation successes from a similar town to model new projects in Telluride, as well as including surrounding communities like Ophir, Ridgway, Norwood or Naturita,” Burchmore explained. “We must be leaders in the clean, renewable energy movement since climate disturbances are so prevalent in mountain communities.”
Through the MRC, Burchmore has been involved in a multitude of projects that include producing a documentary of Gunnison’s first sister city partnership with Majkhali, India, and gathering qualitative data from Sitka, Alaska.
Burchmore is passionate about inspiring others to take action by combining cinematography and storytelling with more complex scientific information, noting that doing so helps to strengthen the understanding of why mountains matter.
“The project I’m currently working on is a documentary set between the Gunnison Valley and the Chiriquí Province in Panama,” Burchmore said.
For the project, Burchmore is teaming up with Western master of environmental management candidate and photojournalist, Sam Liebl, as well as Panamanian filmmaker Abdel Filos and Alberto Pascual, who runs Fundacion Comunidad, a nonprofit based in Panama.
Hausdoerffer explained that through the MRC, Western’s masters program provides over 6,000 hours of masters projects per year from mountain-focused students.
“Western is going big in serving mountain resilience efforts,” Hausdoerffer said. “We also have students helping with community-based mountain resilience in Peru, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica.”
A big part of the MRC’s efforts involve water that is sourced in mountain areas. “This is not just about mountains,” Hausdoerffer said. “This is about the resilience of civilization and humanity,” noting that 60 to 80 percent of the water consumed by humans comes from mountainous regions.
Hausdoerffer explained that the Telluride Institute provides the gold standard on place-based, watershed-scale mountain sustainability projects.
“They give us the ideal case study to show all mountain communities we work with, and their board is visionary in helping us think through how to represent such a big UN region equitably,” Hausdoerffer said.
Currently, the MRC is working on inclusively redefining the terms of what is a “mountain community,” while also mapping the UN region based on that new definition. The group is also conducting climate action plans, bringing refurbished solar panels to low-income homeowners in mountain communities and building mountain-based Sister Cities International partnerships.
“I take 12 students to our Himalaya/India sister city next month and three students are travelling to our Panamanian candidate next month to make a film comparing Coloradoan and Panamanian climate actions in the mountains,” Hausdoerffer said.
Haudsdoerffer expressed that involvement and support from mountain communities is imperative to establishing and improving sustainable efforts in mountainous areas.
“We are looking for the best students on the planet to run these vital mountain projects for the UN, based right here on the Western Slope of Colorado,” Haudsdoerffer said. “To do that we need the support of mountain citizens interested in funding our hard-working students,” noting that students who are passionate about these projects have to take out student loans in order to make a difference.
Buchmore explained how growing up in the mountains has helped fuel his drive for sustainable mountain development.
“My experiences as a Telluride native have contributed to my successes as an MRC fellow because of my passion for contributing to the health of mountain communities,” Burchmore said. “I just want to give back equal if not more of what the Telluride community and natural landscape has taught me.”
Learn more about the MRC at western.edu/mountain-resilience-coalition.
To check out more of Buchmore’s filmmaking, visit vimeo.com/burchmorephoto.