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This new symbiotic relationship between nonprofits will enhance our world

I’ve always loved the concept of symbiosis as a beneficial relationship between two organisms.

That is the example we use in our fourth grade winter adaptation program with the Clark’s nutcracker and the ponderosa pine. The ponderosa provides critical food for Clark’s nutcrackers. All summer and fall, these birds are busy collecting and hiding up to 30,000 seeds in various stashes that will sustain them through the winter. In fact, the birds so dutifully stash the seeds they inevitably forget some and leave them to germinate in the snowmelt-moistened spring soil. By unintentionally planting these seeds in new places, Clark’s nutcrackers serve as inadvertent farmers of ponderosa pines.

If you look at the definition of symbiosis, it’s simply living together in close relationship. There are several types of symbiosis. Commensalism is a form of symbiosis in which one species benefits without harming the other species. Parasitism is also considered symbiotic, but in this case, one species definitely benefits at the expense of the other. Most of us are used to the type of symbiosis called mutualism, which is where both organisms benefit – such as in the example with the ponderosa and the Clark’s nutcracker.

Along the lines of mutualism is a secondary definition: “a cooperative relationship between two groups or organizations,” and this is where we have some big news to kick off 2020.

Effective this month, Durango Nature Studies has formally joined with San Juan Mountains Association. Our merger is a strategic effort to better meet the needs of residents and visitors in this region. Both long-standing nonprofit organizations have employed passionate staff and have benefited from loyal volunteers over the course of 25 and 32 years, respectively. There are few people in this community who have not participated in DNS and/or SJMA programs at some point.

DNS’ time-tested education programs, youth camps and after-school programs will remain as you know and love them. Advantageous of the merger, our programs will now be offered to a broader geographic area, including youths from Montezuma County. All children in our region deserve educational opportunities like we provide. DNS’ programs will further expose youths and adults to the vast ecological diversity of this region, particularly in the San Juan Mountains. Together, DNS and SJMA will be stronger and more effective in instilling a conservation ethic and raising the next generation of public lands stewards.

The Durango Nature Center will remain an important learning laboratory for school programs throughout the Four Corners during the fall and spring as well as the perfect natural playground for children during summer camps.

A new report from the Outdoor Foundation shows that just over half (50.5%) of all Americans experienced outdoor recreation in 2018. While this is a slight increase, these statistics support strengthening efforts to provide quality outdoor programs that inspire the next generation to enjoy the great outdoors in a responsible way. Merging DNS with SJMA will allow both organizations to deepen and expand our reach – symbiotic mutualism at its best.

The biggest shift from this merger will come in administration. The DNS educators will join the SJMA team. Brent Schoradt, executive director of SJMA, will lead this newly-expanded organization forward, with exciting opportunities. Two current members of the DNS Board of Directors will join the SJMA Board of Directors, ensuring the continuity and quality of DNS programs.

My two and a half years as executive director of DNS have flown by, and I have loved the opportunities to interact with many of you on behalf of DNS. With the merger, I will step down and become an independent contractor for SJMA. I have lofty goals for improving our mission and getting community members outside. After a brief hiatus, I will be back with renewed energy. I hope to see you on the other side.

Meanwhile, as DNS integrates with SJMA, there will be existing and new opportunities to get involved as volunteers and supporters. Be sure to check out how to be involved at sjma.org or feel free to contact me or Brent with any questions.

Stephanie Weber is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Reach her at stephanie@durangonaturestudies.org.