NACD’s newest RPG supports conservation partnerships with tribes

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By Dave Vogel

The NACD Tribal Outreach and Partnership Resource Policy Group (TOP RPG) met for the first time last week at NACD’s 71st Annual Meeting in Denver. There, the TOP RPG’s members and stakeholders agreed to do the following to help enhance collaborative partnerships between districts and tribes:

  • Identify opportunities for successful partnerships between tribes and conservation districts
  • Solicit, share, and celebrate success stories in such partnerships
  • Assist NACD members, traditional partners, and new tribal partners in putting additional conservation on the ground through partnerships between tribes and conservation districts

Members of the TOP RPG include district supervisors from eight states – Alabama, Arizona, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Washington, and Wisconsin – together representing all seven NACD regions.

Tribes represented at the group’s first meeting included the Blackfeet, Cowlitz, Creek, Mescalero Apache, Navajo, and Passamaquoddy. NRCS, NASCA, and NCDEA are also members of the TOP RPG and in attendance. Fourteen other individuals joined as well, representing additional local conservation districts, state associations, and state conservation agencies.

Photo courtesy of BLM. In Idaho, BLM partnered with the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe to plant native forages as part of a sage-steppe restoration project in 2015.

TOP was created nearly a year ago after the Washington Association of Conservation Districts gave a presentation on the success of its own tribal outreach initiative at NACD’s 70th Annual Meeting in Reno, Nevada. Through the TOP RPG, NACD is working to apply the outreach and partnership building approach Washington’s state association implemented at the state level on a national stage.

Newly elected Second Vice President Michael Crowder and Tanna Engdahl (both of Washington state) are the current co-chairs of the group. At their first meeting, RPG members discussed examples of how districts and tribes share resources and provide technical assistance collaboratively at the field level. Other topics covered included: joint conservation planning, tribal participation on district boards, formation of Tribal Conservation Districts, leveraged tribal and district/NRCS funding for conservation, tribal participation in Local Working Groups, preparing cooperative agreements and contracts for services, and collaborative forest management.

From these discussions, the group outlined several recommendations to conservation districts in their outreach and engagement with tribes:

  • Place an emphasis on mutual trust, respect, and points of common interest (such as care for natural resources, and the importance of locally-led decision-making)
  • Celebrate field-level accomplishments, particularly when they demonstrate a willingness to overcome barriers
  • Establish a mutual understanding of one another’s philosophy and processes

Participants outlined some likely next steps for the RPG, too, including: holding sessions at NACD annual and regional meetings, assisting state associations with tribal outreach activities at their state meetings, inviting tribal youth participation in education programs, and attending tribal association and organization meetings and conferences. The TOP RPG will be also be working to identify or develop a model for partnership building that would help districts in their outreach to tribes.

The TOP RPG invites you to become a part of this outreach initiative. If you would like to participate in the RPG’s work, contact NACD Second Vice President Michael Crowder at

Dave Vogel is the advisor to the Tribal Outreach RPG. If you have questions regarding this story, contact TOP RPG staffer Jeff Burwell, NACD’s western issues specialist, at

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