A fresh face in an old fight
December 07, 2011
VARD’s new boss wants every voice in the conversation
As the new executive director of Valley Advocates for Responsible Development, Stacey Frisk has the background to help the organization broaden its mission to include sustainable use of natural resources in Teton Valley. Citizen photo/Hope Strong
Maybe you wouldn’t have expected the executive director of VARD to be a lifelong Packers fan, but the value of a stereotype is lost when trying to make it stick with Stacey Frisk.
With season tickets at Lambeau Field a valuable part of her inheritance, Frisk will return to her native Wisconsin for a visit over the holidays to watch her home team play the Detroit Lions, but she’s also got another reason for returning each year.
Frisk once worked with a community of dairy farmers in Brown County, Wisc. located southeast of Green Bay. This was a community dealing with fractured bedrock that played a role in contaminated drinking water.
“Kids would be sent to school with five-gallon jugs to fill up at the water fountain because that was the only safe source for a time,” Frisk said.
Working with the Brown County Land Conservation Department, Frisk was tasked with helping farmers reclaim abandoned wells that were a contributing factor in contamination of the aquifer. It was not an easy job and one that found her at the receiving end of a gun barrel too many times.
“Everyone was culpable, but everyone was also vulnerable,” Frisk said. “Because of the naturally fractured bedrock, farming practices contributed to contamination, but we needed those farmers’ help to make the drinking water safe. People were getting sick, but we couldn’t solve the problem without listening to the farmers. We needed to figure out what was practical. The solution was crafted by a community. It took a lot of potlucks and picnics, but we had fun solving the problem together.”
As far as it goes, our drinking water in Teton Valley is in pretty good shape, but that doesn’t mean this community is without its own set of challenges. After years of subdividing land, the bottom fell out of the real estate market as Teton County continued to struggle with providing basic services. Many developments were left half done and some are still platted with no infrastructure in place. In either scenario, initial investors were left holding the bag alongside a county with limited resources.
“People are wary,” Frisk said. “They’re cautious because they’ve been taken advantage of. In many cases, we just need to start a conversation. I’m not here to tell anybody they’re wrong. I believe we can provide property owners with options.”
In the midst of completing a PhD in Human Dimensions of Ecosystem Management, Frisk knows that talk of sustainable development comes with partisan baggage. But in her study of invasive species control within riparian corridors, Frisk has learned that we all live downstream of somebody, and that somebody lives downstream of us. Working together will result in the cleanest river, so to speak.
Arriving a month ago, Frisk didn’t expect to see people that were hurt by a lack of regulation argue once again in favor of less regulation, but she attributes much of that to bad information, not bad people.
“You can’t right the wrongs of the real estate bust, but you have to be able to identify what those wrongs are,” Frisk said. “It’s not the bank’s primary interest to make sure people’s retirement is safe. If that’s where you’re getting your information, you could continue to be confused.”
Between working as a conservationist in the fields with Wisconsin dairy farmers and alongside the many groups that advocate for the rivers during her research, Frisk knows the impediment that extremists can have, and she is not about to dig her heels into the Teton topsoil with a one-sided view.
What she is committed to accomplishing is collaboration and finding compromise.
“That’s a great place to start,” Frisk said. “The conversation doesn’t even get started if you hold on to an extremist view. VARD is a moderate organization that’s not about forcing drastic change. The message is about being a good and reliable neighbor.”
The farmers in Wisconsin once explained to Frisk that certain conservation methods were not feasible if they needed to still make a living, and she learned to understand what they were talking about. Eventually, she helped farmers spread their manure around to protect an essential service in the midwest, and she’s looking forward to shooting the bull with you in Teton Valley.