In a session held July 31st in Madison, WI organized by mid-continent LCCs and moderated by Gwen White, Science Coordinator for the Eastern Tallgrass Prairie & Big Rivers LCC, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and members of Soil & Water Conservation Districts from across the country were introduced to several successful large-scale conservation collaborations in which LCCs played a collaborative or convening role. A primary purpose was to bridge what appears to be a gap, at times, between federal & state conservation players and the organizations that private landowners tend to rely on for stewardship guidance and assistance.
Examples of landscape-scale conservation planning and implementation processes and tools presented include:
The session generated enthusiasm from the audience to build on momentum in private land conservation in the Southern Great Plains and Coastal Plain. Refining tools and identifying additional needs for research and management of conservation planning across large landscapes rose to the top as priorities. The sessions gave participants a real opportunity to explore areas where decision makers for conservation and agriculture can exchange information and come to a common understanding about where mutually beneficial opportunities intersect for both sectors.
The gap between conservation practitioners and private landowners
A Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks LCC-commissioned study completed in 2017 assessed ecosystem service supply, demand, and values by gathering input from >6,000 private landowners and hundreds of conservation providers in two separate surveys. The study’s network analysis found an interesting mismatch in connectivity between conservation practitioners (including local, state, and national NGOs, private sector organizations and consultants, state agencies, federal agencies, and extension service) and private landowners.
Specifically, landowners generally reported interacting more with industry and extension organizations, while conservation practitioners interacted more with state and federal agencies. Moreover, conservation practitioners tended to overestimate landowner ties to state and federal conservation organizations. Survey results also suggest that landowner preferences may not be fully appreciated by conservation practitioner respondents. Christopher Galik, who led the analysis, noted that “conservation practitioners may be overestimating the frequency that landowners work with government agencies, while underestimating the role of private sector, extension, or industry organizations.”
In addition, a portion of landowners, roughly 50%, rarely interact with conservation agencies or professional organizations. “They are cut off,” said Robert Grala, leader of the landowner survey portion of the study. “Extension works to reach landowners through workshops, everyone has their established methods, but we may need new media to reach out more effectively.”