Class of 2004
EcoMadera Project in Ecuador
“Beloit teaches people to take their education and make a difference with it.” Blair Rynearson lives this lesson. After majoring in biology (with an emphasis on ecology, evolution, and behavioral biology), he’s tackling one of the world’s most pressing problems: destruction in the rainforest.
Blair is a research fellow with the EcoMadera Project. Working in the jungles of Ecuador, EcoMadera marries economic incentives with conservation. “They call it a triple-line business model,” Blair explains. “Social change, conservation, and profit are your three motivations.” When EcoMadera Forest Conservation, a business part-owned by local people, purchases land, forty percent remains untouched, while 60 percent gets logged on a sustainable rotation. While sustainable logging might seem counterintuitive, it’s actually an ingenious balancing act. For local farmers, profit traditionally lies in harmful practices. Blair’s team makes sustainable practices viable, and supports the community by providing resources like healthcare and stable employment.
Blair’s environmental commitment took root when, under the guidance of professors Yaffa Grossman and Ken Yasukawa, he studied rainforest ecosystems in Ecuador. While there, the students met eco-entrepreneur Judy Logback’95. Logback founded the Kallari Association, which sells products produced by the indigenous Kichwa people to bring in income and preserve land. “I realized that you couldn’t have conservation if you had people near the area who were impoverished,” Blair recalls.
This understanding influences Blair’s work today, as does the alumna connection. After time spent in the U.S. Forest Service and working for an eco-friendly logging outfit, Blair met his current boss through Logback. He’s still excited to see the business develop, but he’s also considering graduate school. “I’d really like to get a firm base in policy,” he says.