Engaging the Next Generation

I would like to thank everyone who donated to the National Conservation Foundation (NCF)’s Next Generation Leadership Campaign this past Giving Tuesday. I am encouraged by the success this campaign received, and I continue to challenge my fellow conservationists, friends and colleagues to support NCF and NACD in their efforts to grow an endowment fund, with matching contributions up to $100,000, by the year’s end.

As a rancher, conservation has always been a huge part of my life, and it has been a privilege to continue advocating for voluntary conservation as the executive director for the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts (NMACD). Personally, conservation has been the lifeline to keeping our ranch in the family. Our ranch has been in the family for over 100 years, and my son and grandchildren have been able to continue the family tradition largely due to conservation practices that helped us during some horrible drought conditions. While I am thankful my story turned out for the best, there are hundreds of other producers’ stories who were not as fortunate.
That’s why we must continue to recruit the next generation and engage them so they feel empowered to share their voice. In New Mexico, we discovered around 10 percent of our producers are under the age of 50. If we don’t change and improve that, our district boards are going to fade away. That’s why we developed the New Mexico Conservation District Elected Officials Leadership Training Program. We currently have five women and five men enrolled, and to date, they have attended board meetings, the NMACD annual meeting, the Soil & Water Conservation District day at the state legislature, meetings with public officials and NACD’s 2018 Annual Meeting. We are working toward getting more women and young people from different backgrounds involved on our district boards by directly introducing them to the conservation network. In order for us to be successful, we have to adapt and learn how to relate with the next generation by utilizing new technology and different ways of thinking. Young people are so crucial to the future of conservation districts—they have the drive and energy, but we have to make them feel like they are making a difference. Otherwise, they will go find another organization where they can feel empowered.

This leadership campaign can help bridge the age gap throughout NACD and NCF’s leadership, and I look forward to the leadership program’s launch in San Antonio during NACD’s Annual Meeting. It is so crucial that we engage that next generation, now more than ever, to provide us with the energy and stamina to advance the conservation legacy now and in the future.

Again, as the year comes to a close, please donate to the Next Generation Leadership Campaign to have your donation matched dollar for dollar and support the future of conservation.


Debbie Hughes
Executive Director
New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts

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