Bill Raynor passed away on 1st September, after a battle with cancer. He will be buried in the fertile soil of Pohnpei Island, Micronesia, his home.
Bill was most recently the Director for Indo-Pacific Region for the Nature Conservancy, and with the global conservation organisation since 1993, based out of Micronesia. Bill helped establish several local conservation organisations, on the island of Pohnpei (Federated States of Micronesia), and across the Micronesia region. Bill was instrumental in carrying a unique island-led conservation message far beyond his shores. In 2006, Bill played a key role in the declaration of the ‘Micronesia Challenge’, a commitment by five island countries and territories to protect 30% of their coasts and 20% of their island territories by 2020. Bill’s influence in the region was gentle, persuasive and compelling, and he has inspired hundreds of people, old and young, from all walks of life, to get involved in the environmental cause.
Bill moved to Pohnpei in the early 1980s, and began to immediately integrate into local culture and affairs, including concern over the degradation of the island’s upland watershed forests. In a recent presentation to the Mwoahl en Wahu in Wein Pohnpei (The Paramount's Chief's Council of Pohnpei Island) in January 2015, he thanked them for 35 years of hospitality and respect during which time they made him the first American village chief (Pelien Dahl). He urged them to re-invigorate action for the Pohnpei Forest Watershed and the Island Marine Protected Area Work around the state and to continue the partnerships of 30 years to improve the lives of the poorest people who depend on Pohnpei's natural resources for their livelihoods and survival.
“We started working on the Pohnpei Watershed Forest Reserve in 1987. At that time, I was young, and a bit of a wildman, and had just finished teaching Agriculture at Ponape Agriculture and Trade School. In 1983, I married a royal-blooded woman. At that time, I didn't know what Royal was! Right now, my wife Pelihter Silbanuz Raynor is a Lih Mesekedel (Clan Leader). So maybe my brother-in-laws didn't know what to do with me, this Mehnihkehn Wai (American guy), so they made me the Pelien Dahl - first American ever to get that title as far as I know. I want to thank you all!!!”
Bill worked ceaselessly on Pohnpei to persuade people of the value of collective management of the forested upper slopes of the island. He was instrumental in establishing the Pohnpei Watershed Forest Reserve, one of the more successful, long-term case studies of community-led conservation in the Pacific.
Despite the success, consistent vigilance and adaptive management is also necessary. New global challenges, such as climate change and a growing commercialisation and loss of traditional knowledge, are increasingly affecting Pohnpei. In his meeting with the Paramount Chiefs, Bill called for renewed commitment to the Watershed “So here is my request – many people think that the Pohnpei Watershed is about trees, fish, birds, seafood, but no, our work is to protect lands in Pohnpei from the shore to the top of the mountains. It's about the very survival of the people, because our people survive on the fruit of the land, the mountains, the rivers and the ocean—not just the rich people, but the poor people that have nothing else to survive on. If our people can't find anything in the forest to eat; if the water comes down from the forest dirty and polluted; if they can't eat or drink anything from the river and forest, what's going to happen? If people can't shoot birds for their food, what are they going to do for food? If there are no more medicine plants in the forest because we abuse our forest for fast cash, what are people to use to get their health back? So our Watershed work is not about animals or plants, it's about our people!”
Following Bill’s final plea, the Paramount Chiefs Council unanimously agreed to a renewed conservation effort with the campaign message Ahi Mour, Ahi Pwukoah (My life, My community, My reef, My responsibility) for all the citizens and residents of Pohnpei.
Bill will be sorely missed by friends, family, colleagues and conservationists worldwide, but his spirit will live on in the wilds and waves of Pohnpei, and across Micronesia.