Save sustainability

by Dege Legg

A motivated group of environmental science graduates, current students, activists and conscientious folks of various backgroungs are banding together in a letter writing campaign to save UL's Renewable Resources Department.

As reported in this week's issue of The Independent Weekly the Department of Renewable Resources and its two curricula (sustainable agriculture and environmental & sustainable resources) are being phased out over the next few years due to the state budget cuts. There are currently 236 students enrolled in the renewable resources department at UL, which has been in existence for approximately 18 years. It is the only renewable resources program in the state with an emphasis on sustainability.

A motivated group of renewable resources graduates, current students, activists and conscientious folks of various backgrounds is undertaking a letter writing campaign, voicing deep concerns about the closing of the department. The letters will be addressed to Dr. Durga  Poudel's (professor and head of the Department of Renewable Resources), Dean Bradd Clark and UL President Dr. Joseph Savoie.

Many of those participating in this campaign are well versed in this kind of struggle and were instrumental in the Save the Horse Farm movement at UL. The genesis of the letter writing campaign began as soon as news of the department's closure was revealed. Among those participating in this advocacy campaign to save the department is 2006 UL renewable resources graduate and Save the Horse Farm alumna Danica Adams, who currently resides in Austin, Texas and is studying for a master's degree in community and regional planning at the University of Texas.

"We are ramping up a letter writing campaign. In keeping with our general approach to life, the tone of the letters is very positive and encouraging, stressing the importance of sustainability and how other colleges have been adding these programs recently, and which UL has had for a awhile and is now dismantling," says Adams. "Most of the other colleges in Louisiana have agriculture, environmental science and natural resources programs, but UL's programs is the only one that brings all of those concepts together under one roof and under one degreed program so you get the full spectrum of how to live a more sustainable life and how to promote a better quality of life for all citizens. Sustainability is not just environmental, but the intersection of social equity, economic viability and environmental longevity."

Adams entered UL as an undeclared liberal arts student. After taking one of Griff Blakewood's classes, she like many others found her calling and immediately switched her major to renewable resources with a concentration in environmental sustainability. "Griff is what kept me in the department and at UL. He's the one that set me in my direction for the future. But it's not just the teachers and classes, but it's the variety of people coming together and forming a community within the Renewable Resources program," says Adams. "It's this same community that has worked together to make projects in Lafayette viable. It's this renewable resource community that embraced the horse farm project and lifted it up off the ground. It's people from these classes that care about you and the greater community at large. These people feel connected. They feel plugged in and they want to participate. And that is something that the Renewable Resources department has that a lot of departments don't have and a lot of colleges around the country don't necessarily have."

The story of students finding their calling while trafficking through the open-minded and encouraging atmosphere of UL's Renewable Resources Department is one heard over and over. "The renewable resources faculty has made such a huge difference in the lives of all the students that run through that program," says Adams. "There are a lot of people in the community that are doing really good things that have moved on to bigger and better types of things people who would never have considered getting involved with these types of things without the mentorship of people like Jim Foret, Griff Blakewood and Leon Labbe. They are the ones that have mentored, encouraged and taught the people that are growing our local foods. They are the ones that are helping Louisiana move from the conventional resource and financial-input type of farming to a more economically viable way of doing things through soil and water conservation and other methods."

Far from being unrealistic and impractical star-gazers, the participants of this letter campaign so far numbering in the dozens are well aware of the current economic situation in the state and county. "We know that budget cuts are really tough decisions. Nobody likes budget cuts. And it's hard to sit there and say who gets to stay and who has to go. And we know that some of that has to happen, because we don't have the money for everything under the sun," says Adams. "Programs like this, if administered correctly, can start to bring in money for the university, though grants and new students. When I tell people what I majored in and where, they are surprised that a university in Louisiana has a program called Environmental & Sustainable Resources they have never heard of something like that. And I am talking about progressive people. People from other parts of the country have to find these same concepts scattered throughout their particular university and piece it together themselves. UL's renewable resources is a really unique program. And if we promote it properly and market ourselves, we can bring in good students. And if we do the research, we can bring in research grants and monies. But out of all of the things that are really important with the Gulf oil spill, the economic crisis, and the brain drain from Louisiana sustainability is the future. This program is what is going to keep people in Lafayette and maintain the economic vitality of our region. We need to continue to diversify our economy and this is one of the major ways we can do that."

The letters in support of keeping UL's Renewable Resources Department (or "Save UL Sustainability" campaign) will be addressed to the following:

ULL President: President Joseph Savoie

P.O. Box 41008 - Lafayette, LA 70504-1008

ULL Dean of Authement College of Science:

Dean Bradd Clark of the Authement College of Sciences of UL-Lafayette.

ULL RRES representative: Dr. Durga Poudel

Dept of Renewable Resources

P.O. Box 44650, Lafayette, LA 70504-4650