At the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts’ 85th Annual Meeting, Farm Director, KC Sheperd, had the chance to visit with NRCS State Conservationist, Stacy Riley, talking about the locally-led conservation process and why it matters for communities throughout the state.
Locally led conservation consists of a series of phases that involve community stakeholders in natural resource planning, implementation of solutions, and evaluation of results. Locally led conservation begins with the community itself, working through the local conservation district. It is based on the principle that community stakeholders are best suited to deal with local resource problems.
“The locally-led process is a process that our conservation districts and our NRCS employees use to help engage public involvement with what we need in our counties,” Riley said. “Specifically for us, as a conservation agency, we are looking for what the conservation needs are- what the resource concerns are out there, what are the problems going on in the communities so that we can find solutions to help make things better in that conservation district.”
Trying to find people to come to NRCS meetings to give local input has become a challenge, Riley said, so the conservation districts are always working to find more ways to increase attendance to gather information to address the needs of these individuals.
“We have got to know what the local needs are so that we can figure out a solution- a plan,” Riley said. “So, we gather all the information from our local constituents, hopefully, though a locally led process of either in a public meeting, or a lot of our districts will have surveys they hand out when they are at different functions, or even when people just walk in to local offices’ doors.”
The conservation districts were designed to be the local voice, Riley said, so they should know what their neighbors need and want, but at the same time, they don’t know everyone, which is why public involvement is critical.
“We gather as much information as we can, and then we have what are called the ‘local workgroup meetings,’ that are more of the local community leaders,” Riley said. “They are federal, they are state, they are tribal, government officials, but they are also the grassroots organizations, your cattlemen’s associations, wheat growers associations, farmers markets associations. Those leaders, because they have a different customer base, so they can bring in additional information.”
After the information is gathered, Riley said the action plan is designed to make a difference with those resources.
“If you get enough good minds in a room, you can always come up with a solution,” Riley said.
Solutions to issues in conservation districts can vary from financial solutions to educational solutions, Riley said, depending on the best interest of the community’s land and resources.
“Locally led is not giving out free money,” Riley said. “It is not identifying something that we cannot do anything about. Locally led is very important to help drive what we need in our communities.”