We had the good fortune of connecting with Alexandra Hostetter and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Alexandra, what’s something about your industry that outsiders are probably unaware of?
Environmental protection should be common sense and common ground. How could you disagree with the defense of the air, water, land, and climate? The very systems that support every single aspect of life on Earth? Including every person you know and love? Unfortunately, many people are unware that the protection and restoration of the environment is underfunded, underrepresented, and outrageously polarized in the US. Take federal funding for the US Environmental Protection Agency for instance. There is currently a proposed 26% decrease in funding for the EPA in FY21. If approved, this would slash an already bare bones budget. The picture is not brighter at the grassroots level, with charitable funding for the environment only being about 3% of total US annual charitable giving. With a lifelong passion for protecting the environment, having worked to advance conservation missions professionally in the US and internationally for the last decade, I’ve unfortunately experienced firsthand how the underfunding of government and non-government organizations stunts conservation progress – arming groups with limited resources and limited power to save a world that supports us all. The issue of underfunding is compounded by a lack of support for and deep political polarization of environmental protection in the US. Over the last several years there has been a dismantling, or proposed dismantling, of over 100 major climate and environmental policies. Such as weakening efforts to reduce climate change, protect clean water, and preserve national monuments and land. This reality breeds confusion and apathy among those that don’t regularly work or engage in the environmental space. And frustration and despair for those that do. Fortunately, there are people, resources, and organizations available in every community – local and global – who can help guide us to become better stewards of the Earth and support groups and policymakers that prioritize a healthy, environmentally-sustainable future. For starters, feel free to contact me!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My personal belief is that most people ignore glaring conservation warnings because 1) they don’t believe the health of the environment affects them or 2) they get overwhelmed with the science – the often doom and gloom – of it all and tune out. I’ve always viewed this challenge as an opportunity to connect people to conservation by sparking commonalities. Protecting and restoring the environment is multifaceted and impacts virtually every aspect of our lives – our health, our economy, our security, our families, our food. By taking the time to listen to people, hear their stories, and better understand the factors that shape their lives, you can identify the strongest connection points people have with the natural world. Ones they may not even realize were there in the first place. This ability to meaningfully connect with people is a gift. Not only because it gives me the opportunity to help motivate people through environmental writing, activism, outdoor adventures, or simple conversations, but because through each new relationship I learn. I grow. And I more acutely develop my own understanding of our interconnectedness as people and as a part of this planet. As mentioned, my efforts are currently dedicated to working for Big Life Foundation. I lead fundraising and partnership development for Big Life, based out of my home office in Colorado. I also freelance write to help raise awareness about a myriad of environmental issues, including advocating for plant-based diets, which can play an enormous, and impactful role, in combating climate change. My writing has been featured in Medium, One Green Planet, as well as a number of newspapers and online publications.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
When I have friends visit me in Colorado, I try to show them the best of Denver and then head out to Colorado’s famous mountains. Assuming we are in a post-Covid-19 era: For starters, I think a true gem of Denver is the West Highland neighborhood. From the local coffee shops, farmer’s markets, and restaurants, there is always something fun and uniquely-Denver happening. One of my favorite spots is El Camino Community Tavern. Their coin-style margaritas are not to be missed. And their green chili nachos are the best nachos I’ve ever had (skip the meat and top the nachos with tempeh – by choosing a plant-based option you’re helping combat climate change!). From there, for a once-in-a-lifetime music experience, a concert at Red Rocks is a must. Experiencing live music in a natural amphitheater that took over 200 million years to form is spectacular. The word is overused, but in this case, it is the only word: a show at Red Rocks is magical. Lastly, you can’t entertain a guest in Colorado without showing them the amazing wilderness of the state. One of my favorite mountain towns is Crested Butte. The area is adventure-focused and off the beaten path. It is the perfect basecamp to explore and let nature recharge you. Disperse camp and watch the sunrise, hike long, breathtaking ridges, or read a book along a peaceful river. Colorado at its best.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
For me, the most rewarding part about working in the environmental conservation field is the opportunity to learn and grow, personally and professionally, with each new position I undertake or person I meet. From remote islands in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay to rural landscapes in East Africa, I’ve been truly fortunate to have had profound experiences in the natural world that have taught me how to be a better person, a better steward, and a better advocate for the Earth. I currently work for Big Life Foundation, which protects over 1.6 million acres of wilderness in East Africa, home to some of the planet’s most iconic wildlife species including a world renown elephant population. Big Life’s work has largely contributed to a near elimination of elephant poaching, a reduction in conflict, and an increased preservation of habitat areas in its area of operation. A holistic, community-based conservation model has been key to this success. My shoutout is dedicated to Big Life, and the amazingly-dedicated people at Big Life who I’m lucky enough to call colleagues. Before joining the Big Life team, for me, “community-based conservation” was largely a buzzword and a nebulous concept. But by working to help advance Big Life’s mission I’ve learned firsthand how conservation movements can be truly successful in protecting wildlife and wild spaces – hopefully into perpetuity – by fostering meaningful ownership and empowerment at the local level. From being the largest employer in the region of local Maasai, to mitigating the economic impacts of human-wildlife conflict, to expanding access to healthcare services and education, Big Life has built a lasting model that values and supports both people and wildlife. It has been life changing to witness communities become ignited to care and fight for the world around them when they are a central part of the solution. This learning has forever impacted my understanding of how to purposefully implement conservation goals and has better equipped me to help lead change in the spaces I know and love.