Wyoming conservation districts attend national convention for education, policy discussions
Nashville, Tenn. – The last week of January, a delegation of 11 Wyomingites attended the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) Annual Meeting at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, where they participated in robust policy discussions and the opportunity to lead conservation conversations.
“Convention numbers were up from the past, and there was a lot of talk on how to strategize and keep conservation efforts intact under the direction the administration is heading,” said Shaun Sims, Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts president.
Among the top subjects addressed during the convention, Sims and Campbell County Conservation District Manager and Crook County Conservation District Supervisor Jennifer Hinkhouse noted the 2018 Farm Bill and USDA reorganization were top of mind.
“One of the hot topics of the day was the farm bill and the route that it’s going today,” Sims said.
Hinkhouse added, “NACD already has their farm bill principles laid out, but we continue to have conversations as the bill comes together.”
In particular, Sims noted funding for conservation on-the-ground will remain the top priority for NACD, including funding for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
“We need to get more people on-the-ground doing conservation work,” he commented, “and there was discussion about how to do that.”
Sims further explained NRCS is an important partner enabling conservation work to be realized on the ground.
“We, at the conservation districts, are the locally elected officials in states, and we are a liaison to help direct where funding goes on the ground,” Sims added. “We partner with NRCS to support the work of districts and landowners.”
Hinkhouse said, “Year after year, we talk about partnerships on projects, the farm bill and more at NACD, just to stay on top of what’s going on.”
In addition, Sims said robust discussions also considered USDA’s reorganization and how that process will play out for those who utilize USDA services.
“Nothing is certain with USDA’s reorganization, but there was some speculation on what will happen in USDA,” he said. “We had good conversations.”
Urban agriculture was also an important topic for NACD during the meeting. Sims explained a big push for urban food markets, urban gardens and other similar concepts has been seen lately.
“In Wyoming, we don’t see this push,” he said.
Sims continued, higher return on conservation dollars can be seen with rural projects, but he also recognizes the importance of teaching urban areas more about food production.
“We believe we can spend a lot of money growing a little bit of food in urban centers, or we can put the money toward growing a lot of food in commercial agriculture settings,” he said.
A variety of agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA and U.S. Forest Service all provided updates, as well.
For Hinkhouse, meeting with forestry groups were also important.
“I represent the Southwest on NACD’s Forestry Resource Policy Group, and we met to focus on forest stewardship plan and how those plans can be most effective for landowners,” she said.
In addition to policy conversations, Hinkhouse explained NACD also hosts outreach and education breakout sessions that cover a wide variety of topics.
“These breakout sessions provide a really great resource,” she said, noting district employees are able to gain practical information and knowledge during the sessions. “We talked about everything from soil health to communications 101. These sessions are always a great part of NACD.”
Currently, NACD is focusing on soil health, Hinkhouse explained.
“There is a big push to create soil health champions throughout the U.S. These champions are people who really work with the land day-in and day-out,” she said. “This initiative is landowner-based and provides great examples of things that can be done to improve soils in a way that’s applicable on the ground.”
During NACD’s business meeting, Wyoming’s delegation successfully took three resolutions that passed the board to be supported by the organization and guide policy work going forward.
The first of three resolutions dealt with reform to the Historical Preservation Act.
Sims said, “The resolution looked at dealing with reform to the act to make it more timely and less restrictive and get through the process of cultural resources and consultation of tribes.”
A second policy said any wild horses gathered or collected on the range should be spayed or castrated, regardless of whether they were going back to the range or to adoption.
“Then, the horses would be a non-reproducing segment of the population, which is hopefully more palatable to wild horse advocates than slaughter,” Sims explained.
“The final resolution was to emphasize state primacy over wildlife that are not designated under a congressional designation,” he continued. “The wildlife are owned by the state, and there have been a number of court cases that continually erode primacy over things like wildlife. We feel like this needs to be addressed by the government.”
For example, government entities are exerting influence over species like sage grouse and Bighorn sheep, though the species aren’t regulated by Congress.
“We were really happy to see these resolutions pass,” Sims said.
“Overall, we had a really good mix of district employees and supervisors from all across Wyoming,” Hinkhouse added. “It was a good meeting.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.