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Members in Action: Matt Hill, GreenAgain Madagascar

Wednesday, November 13, 2019  
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Matt Hill is the executive director of GreenAgain Madagascar (GAM), a (pending) 501c3 organization restoring tropical rainforest in northeastern Madagascar. Matt retired to rural Madagascar in 2011, after a successful 15 year career on Wall Street. During his first few years in Madagascar, Matt worked on projects such as training local Math and English teachers, designing a program to help local fishermen protect their coral reef, and re-growing a local rainforest which had been consumed by wildfire. His restoration work led to the founding of GAM. To further his rainforest restoration goals, Matt enrolled in a graduate degree program at the University of Minnesota, where he received a M.S. in Restoration Ecology in June 2018. 

He has been a member of SER since 2017.

GreenAgain currently has 12 ongoing projects, all focusing on different aspects of restoration work but with the common goal of answering scientific questions while still actively planting trees. For example, GAM’s "Islands vs. Plantations" project is testing whether planting smaller, sparser clusters of trees can still provide ecological benefits when resources are limited, or whether time and resources would be better spent planting fewer but denser and/or larger stands. GAM is also using that design to test for ways to prevent tree loss from wildfires, a recurring threat in eastern Madagascar thanks in part to the highly flammable invasive fern, Dicranopteris linearis. A wildfire destroyed Matt’s thesis research site in 2016, but some trees survived, and some even slowed down the fire and reduced it’s intensity. Now GAM is looking at whether surrounding plots with fire-resistant species can decrease losses to fire. To increase the diversity of our "fire-resistant" plantings, we're working on a trait-based approach to find more native Malagasy trees that can survive fire and protect neighboring trees.

The best moments at GAM are all the same flavor: when a grandma or grandpa farmer is aghast that their 16-24 year old grandchild doesn't know about "traditional Malagasy ways". The young people haven't been taught about the medicinal plants of the rainforest or how to make a dugout canoe. Their parents didn't teach them, because the rainforests no longer exist. The grandparent will complain to the parent, and they will all bemoan the loss of the rainforest. But then they'll get excited about GAM restoration projects and, as the rainforest grows back, the grandparents teach their grandchildren the "traditional Malagasy ways". These are the best moments - and they happen again and again and again. 

By far, my best experience at SER has been connecting for collaboration with colleagues like Leighton Reid & Rakan Zahawi and mentorship moments with leaders in the field of tropical ecology, such as Rebecca Montgomery & Robin Chazdon.

Matt encourages others to get involved in restore action ecology because it matters. It matters to your own heart & mind. It matters to the local community in which you will work. And it matters to the  world!. What could possibly matter more in this whole wide world than trying to heal our damaged planet!