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University of Wyoming student Taryn Brooke Bradley interviews Colorado ranchers Penny and Cal Howe. (Adlynn Jamaludin)

University of Wyoming student Taryn Brooke Bradley interviews Colorado ranchers Penny and Cal Howe. (Adlynn Jamaludin)

New website features local voices to help encourage people to take part in conversations about a changing environment.

Editor’s note: Our Towns strives to tell the stories of people addressing sustainability and environmental issues at the local level, including their challenges and opportunities alike. We feature those reports here.

In this original report, first published by WyoFile.com here, Dustin Bleizeffer tells how Taryn Brooke Bradley, a graduate student at the University of Wyoming, turned a school assignment into an opportunity to tone down the contentious discussions about climate change by drawing out personal stories from usually-quiet citizens. As Bleizeffer reports, Bradley’s work led to A Changing Frontier: Voices Across the West, a website she built featuring profiles and comments from community members, and links to climate and weather resources.

Bradley invites those who often exclude themselves from public conversation to speak up, reminding us of the first step in the Community Heart & Soul® process, where a broad sweep of residents share personal stories about their towns, which can lead to a consensus of their shared values. This looks to Our Towns like the practice of democracy, at a very local level.

We don’t yet know the full outcome of Bradley’s project, but it is an example worth noting and paying attention to.

By Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile.com

No matter their lifestyle or politics, anybody who has spent a decade or more outdoors in the West has seen environmental changes that worry them, University of Wyoming graduate student Taryn Brooke Bradley said. Yet many find it difficult to engage in public conversations about how those changes affect them and what to do about it. 

“The way we talk about environmental change sometimes feeds into polarization — and that does have an effect on people,” Bradley said.

There’s a lack of understanding about how a changing climate impacts local communities, Bradley said. There is also a lack of depth and nuance about how people — from every walk of life — might respond if given the opportunity to learn and discuss it without politics or other divisions getting in the way.

For her communications master’s thesis, Bradley wanted to learn more about how people in the West are reacting to climate change and what can be done to spur conversations about it. Last fall, she began gathering stories from people who are not often part of the public conversation. Now she’s published the result on a website: A Changing Frontier: Voices Across the West. It features several written and video profiles, as well as links to climate and weather resources.

One video features Brian Dimoff, a gunsmith and co-owner of the firearms and outdoors retail shop Gold Spur Outfitters in Laramie. “We need to have everybody basically sit down at a table and hash some stuff out instead of just screaming at each other from across the aisle,” Dimoff says. “I think we need to get to the point that people are trying to understand where everyone else is coming from.”

Wyoming Catholic College professor Tom Zimmer discusses faith and commitment to the environment for the “A Changing Frontier” project. (Taryn Brooke Bradley)

Another video features Rachel Watson, a competitive skier and co-coach of the University of Wyoming Nordic ski team. “Over the many, many years that I’ve been an elite ski racer and coach, one of the biggest changes that we’ve seen is a change and accessibility to skiing,” Watson says. “But what I know is that we will only make positive change if we all come together.”

The website also invites visitors to share their stories about environmental change. The hope is that readers identify with a wide range of perspectives and feel welcome to engage by sharing their stories and ideas about how to begin taking practical steps to improve the situation at the local level, Bradley said. 

University of Wyoming student Taryn Brooke Bradley at Palmer Lake in Colorado. (Hannah Cossmann)

“One of the things that I was kind of surprised about that came up in a couple of the interviews was kind of a general frustration as it relates to the polarization around environmental change and climate change,” Bradley said. “I think a lot of the frustration I heard comes from how people like them are portrayed in the media and on TV because, you know, they do care about the environment.”

Bradley, who grew up in Colorado, wants to work in the realm of science writing and communication. She intends to add stories to the website and hopes the project will grow and become a resource for others who are trying to elevate conversations about climate and the environment — in Wyoming and beyond.

“A lot of people have expressed a need for something along these lines — people talking about their own personal experiences and encouraging others to begin thinking about it,” Bradley said.

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.