This week’s spotlight is Joseph Smith, Program and Events Director at the Snake River Fund.
Interview conducted by Kelsey Persyn, Civic Engagement Manager.
Joseph graduated from the Conservation Leadership Institute in 2020 and later got his dream job achieving a director role with the Snake River Fund. I interviewed Joseph about his experience with CLI and how it helped him as a community member of Jackson Hole and Program and Events Director for the Snake River Fund.
- What inspired you to sign up for CLI?
I started guiding whitewater trips on the Snake River in 2013. While I found my job as a river guide fulfilling, I experienced a growing sense of responsibility to advocate and care for the river and its surrounding environment. Simultaneously, I was also seeking personal and professional development, so I started looking into volunteer opportunities and job openings with our many local non-profits. A close friend of mine, and CLI alum, recommended I apply to CLI to broaden my awareness of environmental issues on a local, regional, and global scale, as well as plug into the non-profit community. I ended up getting all this and way more!
- You now have a leadership role as a Program and Events Director with the Snake River Fund. What are some ways CLI prepared you for this position?
While I already had some decent leadership skills and experience prior to CLI, I lacked the knowledge to leverage these skills for conservation. CLI workshops focused on grassroots organizing, campaign strategy, and local government greatly prepared me for my role at the Snake River Fund – these subjects are the bread and butter of much of the work we do. On top of that, a few classmates and I decided to focus on applying these new skills to water quality protection advocacy, culminating in a live, public comment to the county commissioners. Obviously, all that I learned and discovered about local challenges in water quality protection was directly relevant to the work Snake River Fund does.
- What is your favorite thing about living in Jackson Hole? Why is being a leader in conservation so important here?
First off, the ability to enjoy and explore the 440 miles of congressionally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in Teton County!
Second, the people. Sure, we have our fair share of hedonistic recreators, egomaniacs, climate change deniers, and profit-over-people POV’s; but for every one of them, there are folks in our community who care deeply for each other, the environment, and future generations.
Having grown up along the banks of a historically polluted river in central Massachusetts, I have an acute appreciation for the Snake’s resplendent waters. If it were not for the conservation leaders who came before me, the outstanding remarkable values of the river would have been lost, and all the incredible organizations that support our community and environment would not exist. The spirit of conservation in the Jackson Hole community is what keeps this place special.
- What was your favorite thing about CLI?
The course providers, classmates, and mentors I connected with during CLI created an incredibly supportive community for me to thrive in. They provided me with the tools, understanding, and encouragement to pursue environmental advocacy as a leader. In the same sense that you stand to become a better skier by surrounding yourself with other passionate skiers, CLI creates an opportunity for participants to form a community of future leaders in conservation. This community informed me on what effective leadership looks like, supplied critical feedback, assured me, and most of all, gave me the confidence in myself to speak for conservation. Many of my classmates, who I now consider friends, continue to inspire and encourage me through their example.
- Would you recommend CLI to members of the community and why?
Heck yes! No matter who you are or what you do, CLI is an incredible opportunity for professional, personal, and community development. If you live in or around the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, chances are you already care about the natural world and want to see it protected. CLI will equip you with the tools, connections, and information to help you help the greater conservation community. You are also likely to make some friends along the way, peers who share your passions and keep you engaged well after your CLI experience ends.
Folks around here like to debate what it means to be “a local.” To me, there is no better way to claim that coveted title than pursuing civic engagement and aligning yourself with our community’s spirit of conservation. CLI will lead you there.