Aerial view looking down on a coastal Eastern Shore community. Houses are clustered around open fields and surrounded by stands of trees. Open marsh extends behind the community ending at the water.
Coastal Communities A small community on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland is surrounded by rising waters. © Severn Smith / The Nature Conservancy. Aerial support provided by LightHawk.

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Two New Positions Hired to Work with Communities and Farmers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

Elizabeth Van Dolah and Matthew Houser will work to ensure local perspectives and needs are integrated into conservation strategies.

The Maryland and DC chapter of The Nature Conservancy announced today that it has recently hired two new positions that will work directly with local communities and farmers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  Environmental anthropologist Dr. Elizabeth Van Dolah will support the chapter’s coastal program, while applied social scientist Dr. Matthew Houser will support the chapter’s sustainable agriculture program in a joint position with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

“We’re thrilled that Liz and Matt have joined our Easton office and will be working directly with local communities on conservation strategies,” said Tim Purinton, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in Maryland and DC.  “They will make sure the voices and experience of local community members and farmers play a major role in developing conservation strategies that benefit both people and nature on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.”

In her new role, Liz Van Dolah will work closely with local community members to document and integrate community needs and goals into TNC's conservation projects focused on marsh health, flooding and coastal resilience.  Said Van Dolah, “When we think about conservation work, it’s easy to overlook important local perspectives and human connections to the lands and waters that we want to protect. Too often though, the people we end up overlooking are the ones who find themselves on the losing end of the coastal environmental challenges that we want to address on the Eastern Shore. As an anthropologist, I want to make sure that their voices are included in shaping how we do conservation so that we can effectively leverage nature and people in building a more resilient future.”

Van Dolah is originally from coastal South Carolina, and first began working with Eastern Shore communities while working on her MAA and PHD at the University of Maryland. Much of her research has been carried out as part of the Deal Island Peninsula Partnership, an initiative to improve adaptation support for rural coastal communities on the Lower Shore. 

As the new Regenerative Agriculture Fellow, Matthew Houser will work with local farmers and agribusiness partners to document their views and the challenges they face in relation to climate change and sustaining a thriving agricultural community. Said Houser, “The perspectives of farmers often aren’t heard these days, and my goal is to make sure they are. As a social scientist who focuses on farmers’ management decision-making, I want to ensure their voices and experiences play a major role in creating a more sustainable, profitable, and resilient agricultural system.”

Houser grew up on his family’s beef cattle farm in Central Pennsylvania and began his research with farmers while working on his MA and PhD at Michigan State University.  Most recently, he was a Faculty Fellow at Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute.

TNC's Regenerative Agriculture program works to support a thriving agricultural community where farms provide healthy food, clean water and resiliency to climate change, and support a healthy Chesapeake Bay for people and nature. The Resilient Coasts program seeks to help Maryland’s critical coastal habitats and historic communities adapt to the effects of climate change through collaboration with private and public partners, strategic land protection and management, and conservation science. 

Liz Van Dolah can be contacted at e.r.vandolah@tnc.org and Matthew Houser can be reached at matthew.houser@tnc.org.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.