Symbiosis has always intrigued me. I was raised believing that nature was very one dimensional. That stronger animals always killed weaker ones to survive, and that with limited resources, intense competition must result. Yet, as I learned more about life on this wonderful planet, the more I learned that this was not, by any means, the rule.

For those of you who may not know, symbiosis comes from the greek word for “living together.”

In biology, this refers to a long-term interaction between two different biological organisms, in which both species benefit. A drastic difference from the understanding of nature that I had in my younger years.

These interactions occur throughout the natural world. Sea anemones give clownfish a home, while the clownfish protect the anemones from predators. Impalas are cleaned from parasites by the red-billed oxpecker, who in turn get a full meal of impala ticks. And flowering plants reproduce through pollination from bees, bats, and butterflies, while these pollinators get a tasty meal of nectar in return.

The natural world has demonstrated over and over again that life on earth is not a zero-sum game. That the success of one species does not require the demise of another. In fact, the complex biodiversity that exists today suggests the exact opposite; that the success of one species is directly associated with the success of others.

With this idea in mind, three biologists sat down at Paradise Creek Brewery in Pullman, Washington to discuss their vision of a world where the success of humans was directly associated with the success of the diverse biological world that surrounded them. Less than five months later, the Phoenix Conservancy received 501(c)(3) status with the mission of restoring endangered ecosystems globally for the communities that depend on them and the conservation of biodiversity.

Our approach to conservation focuses on the needs of local stakeholders, instead of solely on the environment, because we understand that nobody wakes up in the morning excited to take a toll on the natural world. However, many people wake up in the morning and seek to put food on the table, or pay for their house, or send their kids to college.

Unfortunately, many conservation programs in the past have viewed local communities as the enemy. They spend much of their time, money, and energy fighting with local communities in an attempt to change century-old traditions to fit some idealized conservation solution that works wonderfully in theory, yet does little to increase the well-being of local stakeholders.

Far from being enemies of the land, it is these local communities that hold a vast wealth of knowledge about the region and its many cycles; from summer to winter, and dawn to dusk.

The Phoenix Conservancy aims to use this knowledge, as well as groundbreaking research, to meet the needs of local people, and restore the natural heritage of the land.

That is why we exist. Because we believe as the late Bess Hudson, a local landowner, believed; that “perhaps now some happy balance could be achieved and held, and still our many purposes be fully served – for there is room and resources here for wealth of every kind.”