Changing of the guard
New general manager, youthful board usher in next era for Butte Environmental Council
When Danielle Baxter pictures the Butte Environmental Council’s future, she sees the nonprofit’s longtime members coming together with a younger generation of activists to enact change.
Young people are facing so much environmental destruction, they often feel overwhelmed and alone, Baxter told the CN&R. She can relate to those feelings: She’s 25.
Oftentimes, she has noticed that it’s easier for her peers to ignore the climate crisis. Baxter’s vision for BEC, as its new general manager, is to make it a place where folks “feel inspired and feel empowered by one another to make a difference.” She filled the spot vacated by Natalie Carter, who resigned in May.
Baxter is a Chico native who grew up with an affinity for nature. As a teen, she’d regularly walk with her friends from Pleasant Valley High School to Five-Mile Recreation Area to relax and cool off, and climb Monkey Face on the weekends. But it wasn’t until her college days that her “world view was totally cracked wide open.”
When she took Chico State professor Mark Stemen’s Geography 304 class—known for spurring students into environmental activism—Baxter said her heart “ached for the planet.”
“I didn’t know the true state of things until I met Mark,” she said. “And Mark really has a way about inspiring students and opening students’ minds to what’s really happening in the world.”
Stemen, also BEC’s board president, told the CN&R that, at the time, “you could tell [Baxter] had a passion that she wanted to put into action.” He encouraged her to consider an internship at BEC, which she landed in 2015.
After graduating with a bachelor’s in parks and natural resources management, Baxter was hired as one of the organization’s program coordinators. She left Chico in late 2016 to travel with her boyfriend, returning about a year later and getting hired at Butte College’s Associated Students’ Sustainability Resource Center and GRUB CSA Farm.
This past January, she was appointed vice chair of the city’s Sustainability Task Force and joined the BEC board of directors. She transitioned to general manager last month.
City of Chico Planning Commissioner and former CivicSpark fellow Bryce Goldstein, who was partly inspired to get on the BEC board because of Baxter, said she was a clear choice for the position. “Danielle has shown a lot of leadership here,” she said, “and really cares about this organization and wants to … revitalize BEC.”
Baxter’s hiring is indicative of a shift occurring at BEC this year. Seven out of nine board members are under 35, and its staff is now composed of younger folks, too. The organization sees its next chapter—what has been dubbed as “BEC 2.0”—as a return to its roots.
“This is the first time [in] 40 years that the board of directors and the staff members are [nearly] all young people again, collaborating and switching the vision up,” Baxter said. “That just feels really incredible.”
The nonprofit was formed in 1975 by a group of Chico State students. Co-founder Michael McGinnis took out a loan to get the organization started, Stemen said. It was housed on campus for its first decade of operation.
BEC’s board decided after Carter’s departure that it would be a good time to re-examine the nonprofit’s organizational structure. What they found was that it had led to a lot of burnout, because the vision and the direction came from the board but it was on the executive director’s shoulders “to carry everything out,” Baxter said. The board and the staff are working hand-in-hand now, she added.
There are some other changes in store, too. This year, BEC will host its first of many planned community forums to encourage folks to gather and discuss important issues that stem from the current state of the planet. This includes topics like working toward zero-waste and reducing CO2 emissions, but also extends to addressing food and housing insecurity. The nonprofit also is exploring partnerships with local organic farms to provide healthy food to those who otherwise cannot afford it.
Baxter says she wants to inspire environmental knowledge and activism during her tenure at BEC, and make sure longtime supporters still feel represented and connected as the nonprofit makes “much-needed space for younger voices.”
“We want people to feel the urgency that’s needed right now,” she said. “What’s happening with climate change should be the most pressing issue on everybody’s mind. … We should be, as a society, formulating all of the decisions that we’re making based on the ecological health of our planet and the abundance of our natural resources.”
The BEC team is striving to “re-create the environmental village,” Baxter said. “We want to be the place that people come [to] when they’re saying, ‘What can we do? How can we become involved?’”