By Mike Beacom
Steve Hedstrom and his family manage a 3,000-acre cow-calf operation in Raynesford, Montana. For the past year he has served as the chair of the Forestry Resource Policy Group (RPG), which consists of representatives from each of NACD’s seven regions and representatives from both the National Conservation District Employees Association (NCDEA) and the National Association of State Conservation Agencies (NASCA).
Q: The Forestry RPG recently met in Cherokee, North Carolina. What were the highlights of that meeting?
A: Anytime we can spend with partners is a highlight. We welcomed guests from the Forest Service, NRCS, American Forest Foundation, and a dozen or more North Carolina agency staff. It’s good just to visit another part of the country and learn about their forest resource needs and what they are doing to manage them. The more we learn at a meeting like this one, the more we can bring back to our respective states and help the fight in our own backyards.
Q: Why are conservation districts strong forestry partners?
A: Because we can help in so many ways. We know of conservation districts leading multi-land ownership efforts, engaging civic leaders and state legislators, educating our youth about the importance of maintaining healthy forests… In every part of the country a conservation district is making a difference in the forest. In some cases, the conservation district is the leader; in others, the district plays a small role. I think that’s one of our best selling points – conservation districts are willing to be involved, however we fit best if it means making a difference. That, in my mind, is the definition of a good partner.
Q: You live in a state that’s had its share of wildfires. How can conservation districts make a difference in that fight?
A: You’re right. Fire is a reality in Montana for many days of the year. During the fire, conservation districts can help to organize locals and prepare them for what life will be like after the flames are stomped out. But I think we all hope that the best thing conservation districts can do is help before the fire hits. I’ve learned of examples for how districts have built fuel breaks that have slowed fires, and of districts that have worked with state and federal partners on sound management that makes the forest more resilient from fire. One of our neighboring states (Washington) does a lot of work with people living in heavily forested areas to build defensible space around their structures. These are all good deeds. Conservation districts are doing a lot to battle wildfire, and I think they can do even more.
Q: Where else do conservation districts have the potential to do more forestry work?
A: The obvious answer is urban forestry. We know from our recent forestry survey that a good many conservation districts are helping with green space projects and urban tree plantings, but this is a growing area. Our federal partners have stressed they need help. Conservation districts are uniquely
positioned to help. We know the community leaders, have partnerships, and can get work done. And urban forestry is often an easy sell. The Forestry RPG is working on a number of new partnerships, but another example I would add is all-lands partnerships. These projects bring a large number of stakeholders together to impact areas covering both public and private lands. The Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership is one program that is doing this effectively. Conservation districts should seek out these opportunities because the projects often require a need for landowner outreach.
Q: What should conservation districts know about the Forest RPG?
A: That we want your input. No, we need your input. The RPG’s job is to represent conservation district forestry, and to give local districts a voice at the national level. And we also consider it our job to help carry information from our federal partners and policy staff to the local level. But we need relationships. We want to have that conversation. I suppose the best way is for conservation districts with something to say to reach out to their regional representative. Make that person aware you have a concern, or that you have a question you’d like an answer to. It could be related to a federal program, a forest pest, or anything. We want to hear from you. Also, we want to hear about your success. It’s important for districts that have found a solution to share what is working so that other districts can follow their lead, and we can help share those stories.