Several years ago, Doug Rushton had an idea. Some conservation districts in his home state of Washington had a forester on staff, but others did not. What if those without could borrow the neighboring district’s forester? What if Washington’s conservation districts could share resources to get more work done?
Rushton, a longtime member of the NACD Forestry Resource Policy Group (RPG) and current NACD Board member, decided it was worth exploring. He conducted an inventory of conservation district personnel throughout the state. “If a conservation district had a landowner in need but did not have someone on staff equipped to help, maybe the district in the next county had that person on staff?” Rushton said.
The effort took months to complete. Responding staff logged their various experience and qualifications, then Rushton compiled the data and shared it throughout the state. In the years since, it has resulted in numerous exchanges of resources and staff sharing.
Conservation districts are often viewed as a source to connect landowners with the resources they need to manage their property. But conservation districts also connect common partners with one another, or act as a fiscal agent to bring parties together for the sake of serving a resource need that may otherwise go unserved.
NACD Forestry RPG Chairman Steve Hedstrom of Montana says districts are great at finding solutions that bring partners together for the sake of doing what’s best for the land. “It’s something conservation districts do well—bring the pieces together,” Hedstrom said. “You hear it all the time, ‘No agency can do it all. We need to work together.”
Landscape-scale initiatives—such as the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership, the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Bix Six and the American Forest Foundation’s place-based conservation initiative—require the support of diverse partners to address resource needs to stretch beyond jurisdictional boundaries. Conservation districts, in many instances, serve as the glue to help bond these partners.
The challenge is only expected to grow in the coming years, as budgetary restraints continue to limit agency spending and hiring. This will further drive the need to be creative in solving land management issues.
Washington districts take a neighborly approach
As service forester for the Grays Harbor and Pacific Conservation Districts in Washington, David Houk works primarily with small forest landowners on a variety of forestry programs. Through cost-sharing and a task order through NRCS, he also is available to assist adjacent and surrounding southwestern conservation districts.
“Not all districts are able to fund a forester position,” Houk said. “To have someone available to meet with landowners and address their resource concerns, develop a forestry management plan, to help them apply for EQIP—to just be there, that’s the biggest benefit.”
Houk took the position five years ago and serves private landowners managing a range of five to 500 forested acres. He writes forest management plans and conducts on-site visits to provide technical assistance. He has assisted with county tax abatement designated land, Tree Farm certifications, firewise projects, and advises landowners on available cost-share programs.
“I’m constantly learning what other conservation districts are doing and enjoy helping meet the forestry needs for that conservation district,” Houk said.
Houk said forestry program education and outreach is also important, especially for new landowners who are purchasing former industry-owned property and more urban parcels that range between five and 10 acres.
“It provides an opportunity to get more conservation on the ground and spread the word on sustainable forestry,” Houk said. “My favorite part of this position is working with a variety of different landowners across the landscape to help them achieve their forestry objectives.”