By Mike Beacom
Four times a year, Hawaiian forestry leaders hop on the phone to hash out real world solutions for the state’s forest landowners. Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, state forestry agency (Department of Land Natural Resources), NRCS, and the Hawaii Association of Conservation Districts keep the agenda short, NRCS State Forester Michael Constantinides told NACD. The most important work is done at the ground level, he continued, where communication sharing and program cooperation help make things easier for partner staff and landowners.
Hawaii is one of more than two dozen states to organize a state-level forestry memorandum of understanding (MOU) since the national Joint Forestry Team (JFT) executed its first MOU in 2008. Hawaii’s first MOU was drafted in 2011 and the state signed an updated version last fall.
“It allows state leaders to define their partnership, identify priority landscapes and resource concerns, and create an integrated approach to address resource concerns. This integrated approach includes working as a team to provide technical and financial assistance to individual and family woodland owners, ranchers, and farmers,” Schoonhoven added.
States have used the opportunity to achieve a variety of objectives. Pennsylvania, for example, constructed a special document to outline each agency’s roles and responsibilities. In most MOUs those items are listed in addition to resource concerns and priority objectives.
Montana is in the process of renewing its MOU with help from NACD Forestry Resource Policy Group (RPG) Chairman Steve Hedstrom. Hedstrom, a Montana forestland owner, encourages other conservation district state associations to participate in creating and implementing their own MOUs.
“Conservation districts have a role to play in every state,” he said. “Maybe it’s a bigger role in some states than others, but conservation districts need to be at that table. Our agency partners need help reaching out to landowners and districts can do that.”
Hedstrom is one of the three NACD representatives on the Joint Forestry Team, along with Tom Crowe of Indiana and John McAlpine of Arkansas. The other partners include the U.S. Forest Service, NRCS, and National Association of State Foresters. The JFT hosts regular conference calls and meets annually to “make recommendations that result in coordinated interagency delivery of forestry and conservation assistance.”
“It’s so important to work together in the forest,” Hedstrom continued. “Budgets are tight and many of our partners are losing people to do the work. But the forest needs us now more than ever.”
Constantinides said one thing that has proven helpful in Hawaii is participating in partner committees. He attends the state forest stewardship committee meetings and provides input on program criteria and revisions to the state manual. State forestry participates in NRCS meetings.
Hawaiian leaders helped American Samoa construct an MOU and continually evaluate shared opportunities. The JFT tracks state MOU progress and identifies partnership obstacles, and hopes to inspire more states to draft agreements.
“When we work as a team, it streamlines outreach and enables landowners to meet their management objectives,” Schoonhoven said.