National Forest Foundation

Two Ways the NFF’s Conservation Connect Learning Network is Growing Our Impact

Your National Forests Magazine

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Published in Summer/Fall 2019 Issue
By Karen DiBari

Emotions often run high when livelihoods, fish and wildlife habitat, forest health, recreational access and other issues central to public lands management are weighed against each other.

These conflicts play out in newspaper articles, impassioned letters to the editor, tense public hearings, and all too often, the courts. Collaborative conservation seeks to cut through these disagreements by bringing people with different views together. Good facilitation can lead participants to find common ground and craft consensus-based solutions to even the most difficult public lands management issues. Simply put, collaboration is one of the key building blocks to the successful management of our public lands.

The NFF has worked for decades to advance collaborative conservation, largely through our Conservation Connect program. This “learning network for collaboration” serves people working together to overcome conflicts around our National Forests. We’re always looking at how we can improve practices, help people learn from each other’s experiences, and build a network of practitioners to advance this work in the years to come. That’s why we’ve launched two new efforts that invest in the future of collaborative forest management.

Collaborative leaders lend their expertise

To make sure Conservation Connect continues to be responsive to the real needs of people working together to build collaborative agreements for our National Forests, the NFF established a Conservation Connect Advisory Council. Comprised of thought leaders from around the country, the Council is helping the NFF shape our Conservation Connect programs. The Advisory Council includes eleven people active in conservation, wood products, local government, community-based organizations, and the Forest Service.

This group of leaders provides strategic advice about how we can increase our impact when we support natural resource-based collaborative groups, helps us identify strategic partnerships that leverage existing collaborative resources, and shares with other groups working in collaborative settings the role of the NFF and Conservation Connect. Visit our website to find the complete list of Advisory Council members: nationalforests.org/advisorycouncil

At our first in-person meeting in June 2018, the Council discussed organizational needs for collaborative efforts, Forest Service policy changes, and ways to strengthen the NFF’s investment in the next generation of young leaders. Our Conservation Connect Fellows (see right) participated, receiving a full immersion into the practice of collaboration. We are grateful to our Advisory Council members for lending us their time and knowledge and helping us remain a leader in collaborative conservation! The next generation of collaborative leaders

While the Advisory Council improves how we advance collaborative conservation, without a new generation of collaborative leaders, our work won’t have lasting impact. Our new Conservation Connect Fellowship program is investing in this next generation, enabling graduate students to engage directly in collaborative forest stewardship and match the knowledge they are acquiring through academic work with practical, hands-on experience. In 2018, we piloted the program with two Fellows. This year, we quintupled that number, welcoming ten Fellows!

The Fellowships run for one year and include mentoring, training, and a practicum with the NFF or one of our collaborative partner organizations. Our 2019 Fellows hail from Northern Arizona University, Portland State University, University of California Merced, University of Georgia, University of Michigan and the University of Montana. We are thrilled to welcome our second cohort of students and look forward to another great year of mutual learning.

Anna Wearn, a recent Fellow from the University of Montana, shared what made the Fellowship program so valuable to her: “Working for the NFF, I have had the opportunity to facilitate conversations about some of most pressing challenges in land management. These experiences have provided valuable insights into balancing multiple uses of our public lands.”

Even when it works, collaborative conservation is often rife with opportunities for conflict and disagreement. Successful efforts rely on the best in collaborative thinking and on experienced, professional leadership. The NFF’s Advisory Council and Conservation Connect Fellowship program provide both of these—a diversity of expertise honed through decades of collaboration and a cadre of young professionals who can capably lead collaborative efforts for the next several decades.


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