Wyoming leads in forestry issues at National Association of Conservation Districts meeting
Gillette – The Resource Policy Groups (RPGs) within the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) work to tackle conservation and natural resources issues across the country, and Campbell County Conservation District’s Manager Jennifer Hinkhouse takes on a leading role within the Forestry RPG.
“I represent Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico on the RPG,” she explains. “I serve as the key contact for a forestry network within these states, and we have quarterly calls to talk about issues in our region and about concerns on the national level.”
During early February’s NACD Annual Meeting, Hinkhouse and the Forestry RPG discussed a number of topics impacting forests across the nation, looking at a range of concerns that include everything from policy issues to management concerns.
Among high-level concerns of the committee, Hinkhouse notes State Forest Action Plans will be updated in 2020, and NACD members hope to engage in those processes across the country.
“The State Forestry Divisions in each state are in charge of writing State Forest Action Plans, which set up a strategy and priorities of what will happen on forests in individual states,” she explains. “We encourage conservation districts to get involved and engage with their partners in updating these plans.”
Conservation districts, she comments, provide a great conduit to landowners for state forestry officials.
Hinkhouse says, “We can engage local landowners, take input and assist State Forestry Divisions with that process.”
In addition to State Forest Action Plans, Hinkhouse notes Forest Stewardship Plans are also a topic of conversation for the RPG.
“Forest Stewardship Plans are long-term plans for landowners, that assist them in managing their forests for their goals,” she says. “In our state, Wyoming State Forestry Division typically creates those plans.”
In developing stewardship plans, foresters meet with landowners to discuss goals and management actions for individual areas. The foresters evaluate the trees and provide suggestions to reach the desired objectives.
“These plans give a blue print to landowners on how to meet their goals,” Hinkhouse says.
Stewardship plans can also be used to assist landowners in applying for farm bill programs such Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
She adds, “These plans are very different between states, so there have been discussions about streamlining these plans, so they work well for landowners and agencies.”
Hinkhouse emphasizes, “Forests across the country are very diverse, so a one-size-fits-all plan doesn’t work. We’re trying to make sure the quality of those plans is maintained and useful to the landowner.”
With a new farm bill passed, Hinkhouse mentions NACD and conservation districts across the country are focused on sifting through the bill to determine how it will impact conservation work across the country.
“It will be interesting to see what programs look like after funding is attached,” Hinkhouse explains.
While conservation districts will be unsureof farm bill impacts until appropriations are available, there is initial optimism about several pieces.
“In particular, I see some opportunities for good neighbor authority,” Hinkhouse comments, noting good neighbor authority was implemented in the last farm bill and saw success. “Good neighbor authority allows state agencies to assist the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in implementing projects on the ground.”
“There are some key projects where the state might be working on private land and have coordinated with USFS using good neighbor authority to extend the work onto public ground,” she continues. “Working together allows us to achieve a landscape-scale on our projects.”
The farm bill will also maintain the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). In northeast Wyoming, conservation districts and partners utilized $1.2 million from RCPP for forestry projects on private land.
“RCPP is a nice way to tap into farm bill dollars to meet specific needs of a region,” Hinkhouse notes. “Using RCPP, we were able to utilize Wyoming State Forestry Division bark beetle funds as matching dollars to create landscape-scale projects.”
The Forestry RPG also works to understand forest systems across the U.S.
“This year, the Forestry RPG will travel to Puerto Rico to look at agroforestry work they’ve been doing,” Hinkhouse comments. “They’ve been conducting post-hurricane storm damage projects to deal with debris.”
Additionally, the RPG will tour a Joint Chief’s Project, which is special grant funding from NRCS and USFS. The trip will take place in June.
Joint Forestry Team
As a result of her position within the Forestry RPG, Hinkhouse has also been appointed to serve as chair of the Joint Forestry Team.
“The Joint Forestry Team is a coordinating group for NRCS, USFS, NACD and the State Foresters Association,” she says. “It’s pretty exciting and a big honor to be on this national team. I take the appointment on March 11.”
Over the next year, she will serve as chair of the group, which looks at forestry concerns across the country.
“Forestry, in general, continues to be challenging, especially in the West where we deal with drought, wildfire, insect issues and more,” Hinkhouse says. “Having organizations like NACD and the State Foresters Association come together to reach solutions is always positive.”
She continues, “We learn things from each other, and we will continue to coordinate and collaborate to get proactive management done.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.