NACD emphasizes partnershipsWritten by Saige Albert
New Orleans, La. – Conservation district representatives, government agencies and others gathered from Feb. 1-4 in New Orleans, La. to look toward the future of conservation work in the U.S. at the National Association of Conservation Districts 2015 Annual Meeting.
The 2015 meeting was themed, “Conservation: Key to a Healthy Nation,” and during the Feb. 3 General Session, speakers looked at the history of conservation and then emphasized the partnerships they have developed that have influenced work across the U.S.
“To do the things we do on a regular basis, we have to have the cooperation and help of many, many people,” commented Barry Mahler, past president of the Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts and moderator of the session. “There is so much history here, but there is also so much future.”
In a panel discussion, Karl Dalla Rosa, forest stewardship program manager of the U.S. Forest Service, Ellen Gilinksy, senior policy advisor in the Office of Water at EPA, Kristin Thomasgard, program director of the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program at the Department of Defense, and Cynthia Moses-Nedd of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) all looked at the importance of partnerships for their programs.
On public lands
Dalla Rosa and Moses-Nedd both looked at the importance of working together to maintain conservation on public lands as very important.
“We are working more with connecting management on state and private land with management on federal land,” commented Dalla Rosa. “We are moving in a direction where we are taking a more holistic approach to managing the landscape.”
He continued that, by taking a landscape scale approach and working with partners, the Forest Service is able to address the pressing resource management challenges present.
“If we look at forest cover across the U.S., it has remained relatively steady,” Dalla Rosa adde,. “but many of us know that a lot of our forests are in really bad shape.”
From wildfires to pest and disease infestations, he mentioned that the Forest Service’s approach has been to address the most pressing and priority resource management concerns by developing statewide forest strategies.
“The statewide strategies encompass all forest lands – both public and private,” he explained. “The success of these plans depend on partnerships. Partnerships are also key for forest action plan implementation.”
Moses-Nedd added that BLM’s more recent Planning 2.0 Initiative has also focused on implementing partnerships across the country.
“Our partnerships are our greatest strength, and by leveraging our resources and maximizing the work we do, it will allow us to be fruitful and victorious over those challenges we face,” she commented.
“At the local level, conservation is tough work,” Moses-Nedd continued. “Because we have partnerships, like the ones with conservation districts, we are able to do conservation work effectively.”
Partnerships outside the realm of traditional pairings have also yielded positive results for conservation work, added Thomasgard, noting that many folks don’t see a direct connection between her organization, the Department of Defense (DOD), and conservation.
“Food security, water quality and water availability are as important to the national security of the U.S. as a trained and ready military force,” Thomasgard said. “The DOD and conservation districts are true and very valuable partners.”
Echoing the other panelists, she continued that because of local conservationists who understand their communities, resources and people, the DOD is able to accomplish their goals while furthering conservation on and around military installations.
“We solve problems on the ground with people who are working on the land and who live in the communities where we are,” she explained, noting that by adding cost-sharing to the equation, they are able to increase their impacts. “It is not as important that we have a handful of big partners as it is to have a lot of smaller partners on the ground. That is where the work gets done.”
Thomasgard added, “Everything happens at the local level. We appreciate that, and we know that. We need local input to be successful.”
Working on water
Gilinksy also mentioned that EPA shares common ground with conservation districts across the U.S.
“One of the cornerstones of our partnership with conservation districts is our long history of working together from state non-point source and source water protection programs to find ways to improve soil and water quality,” Gilinksy said. “We recognize how key this multi-party collaboration is to land conservation efforts.”
EPA relies on local groups to facilitate watershed working groups and in developing plans, as well as in carrying out source water protection work.
“Conservation districts are also playing an important role in the National Water Quality Initiative,” she mentioned. “We want to continue these valuable partnerships.”
“We are relying on conservation districts to help get practices on the ground and monitor their effects,” Gilinksy added.
Mahler noted that, despite the partnerships and relationships that have been built through the years, “A lot of times we don’t have the kind of communication we need to make sure everyone is engaged.”
“One thing I have learned is my life is that having the conversations and developing the relationships is extremely important to move into the future,” he continued.
“A lot of times, we are really proud of our independence as landowners, as producers and certainly as conservationists,” Mahler commented. “We need to make sure that every cog in the drive train on conservation is engaged and moving forward.”