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WACD hosts 78th Annual Convention in Dubois

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“Preserving the Past, Conserving the Future” was the theme of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) 78th Annual Convention, hosted by the Dubois-Crowheart, Popo Agie and Lower Wind River conservation districts in Dubois Nov. 14-17. 

The yearly gathering included a jam-packed agenda, including committee meetings, guest speakers, agency updates, an awards luncheon and a dinner banquet.

“There are a lot of ways to think about preserving the past,” noted WACD Area Four Director Reg Phillips during his welcome speech on the morning of Nov. 16, giving a nod to the convention’s theme. “I think from our standpoint, we see it as preservation of soil and water through conservation, which many of us already do.” 

“Conserving the future is the tough part,” he continued. “But, when I look around this room, I see the think tank we have here in Wyoming, and there’s not many problems that we can’t solve in this state. I hope everyone uses this meeting as an opportunity to network and try to solve some of these issues. Thank you for being here, and have a great convention.”

Preserving the past, conserving the future

WACD President Todd Heward was next to take the stage, offering insight into his take on the focus of the 2023 convention. 

“As it has been stated, our theme is ‘Preserving the Past, Conserving the Future,’” he said. “There is a lot in those words to discuss, and there are a lot of examples of how many of us are already doing this back home.” 

Heward shared a slideshow with meeting attendees, touching on some of WACD’s most notable highlights from past years. 

He noted WACD was formally established in 1954 and called the Wyoming Soil and Water Conservation District. During this time, the first Wyoming contract – the Great Plains Contract – was signed in the Intermountain Conservation District, now known as the Campbell County Conservation District. 

In 1967, the organization received its first state funding – a grand total of $250 per district. Twenty years later, the first director was hired, and in 1993, the foundation was established. 

In 1997-98, Wyoming’s conservation districts established legislation requiring data submitted for leasing purposes had to be credible, and in 1998-99 the districts started the Water Quality Program, which lives on through today’s certification program.

Although WACD’s activities have expanded and adapted over the years, Heward shared its overarching mission to conserve Wyoming’s resources has remained the same. 

Today, WACD is focused on providing education and training programs, supporting the forestry and agriculture industries, monitoring soil health and water resources, administering grants and overseeing programs related to wildlife and infrastructure.

“My question to all of you today is, if we are preserving the past and conserving the future, what is our future? What is your future?” Heward asked. “This is a question we can all take home to our boards and discuss at board meetings.”

He concluded, “I can never say thank you enough for everything you do back home in your communities. I appreciate all of you and everything you have and continue to do for our state.” 

NACD update

Following the president’s remarks, Guest Speaker Rachel Theler of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD), provided an update on current happenings at the national level.

To begin, Theler gave a quick overview of NACD’s responsibilities, which include advocating for conservation districts across the country; providing a unified voice at the national level; communicating the value of conservation districts through media, publications and in-person interactions and developing leaders in conservation. 

“We do a lot of advocacy work at the Capitol,” she noted. “The superpower of NACD is we get to take somebody’s issues or thoughts on a resolution from the local level in Wyoming and make real change at the national level. I think that’s the coolest thing about NACD.”

She also shared NACD has a strong presence as far as communications go, offering nationwide resources such as a weekly e-newsletter and quarterly publications. Theler also publishes a southwest newsletter, focused on issues closer to home.

“We also focus on leadership development, which is achieved in a variety of ways but primarily through our Next Generation Leadership Institute, open to anybody in the conservation district world who is interested in furthering their leadership skills at a district, state or national level,” she explained. 

NACD also offers a Sustainability Institute to help undergraduate college students explore careers in conservation and agriculture. 

Additionally, Theler noted it is an interesting time to work in conservation, as federal funding made available for conservation is seeing its highest levels in decades.

“We are working on how best to get that money to our partners on the ground,” Theler said.

She continued, “Like all of you here in this room, NACD still believes locally-led conservation is the best way to really make a difference on the landscape. We also think it should be voluntary and incentive based, while incorporating all lands and all people.” 

Congressional comments

To conclude the Nov. 16 morning session, Sens. Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso as well as Rep. Harriet Hageman (all R-WY) provided comments of support for WACD and wished attendees a productive conference. 

“The efforts of local conservation boards not only enhances wildlife habitat, reduces siltation of streams and reservoirs and promotes the efficient and wise use of Wyoming water to preserve these resources for future use, but also maintains local economies by protecting local tax bases,” stated Lummis. 

She continued, “Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers rely on the guidance of their local conservation districts for help to ensure they will be able to enact sustainable, economic conservation practices on their land so they can rest assured knowing there’re passing on abundant natural resources and well-stewarded lands to the next generation.” 

“Improving Wyoming’s rangeland and managing our watersheds are critical roles Wyoming conservation districts play each and every day, 365 days a year,” commented Barrasso.

“You’re working on critical issues from controlling invasive species and improving watershed health to engaging in wildfire control and prevention,” he added. “The talent and experience you bring to the table in these issues is incredible. Wyoming continues to be a national leader in conservation policy, and it’s due to the dedication of all of you here today.”

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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