To support the "Keeping the Woods in the North Woods" partnership that targets peer-to-peer conservation efforts to stop deforestation and protect water quality
What has been most instrumental to your progress?:
One of the most vital components of this project has been the overall coordination and networking with partnering organizations. The past year has strengthened existing partnerships and brought new partners to the table for conversation, the opportunity to learn from each other, and to grow project momentum. Partnerships include fellow non-profit organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy, MN Logger Education Program, and American Forest Foundation; federal, state, and local governments, such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, Minnesota Forest Resources Council, Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources, and county Soil and Water Conservation Districts; and representatives from the private sector, including consulting foresters, and woodland owner groups. Through these partnerships and leveraging technical and financial resources, the project is moving beyond a stand alone project into a more robust program.
Gathering and synthesizing social and economic factors behind woodland ownership proved to be quite a revelation and a bit of a game changer for this project. Going into this project, one of the main assumptions was that woodland owners own their property for income and economic purposes, similar to agricultural landowners. Further research as shown quite the contrary - most woodland ownership is driven by scenic beauty of the landscape, the desire to enjoy recreational activities, to hunt a diversity of wildlife, and to leave a legacy for future generations. Research also shows that even with all the landowner assistance brochures and informational tools developed by partnering organizations over the past several years, only 16% of landowners had received any information regarding the management of their lands in the past five years. Woodland owners may very well be our prime prospects for conservation, they just simply are not getting the information and resources needed to increase their level of conservation.
A weakness of most conservationists is the method in which they package their messages and communicate with landowners. Too many silos and one dimensional thinking gets in the way of reaching landowners where they are at to effectively advocate for conservation. This year we were one of eight locations across the country that was selected to receive a specialized landowner training called Tools for Engaging Landowners Effectively (TELE). The workshop is put together and taught in partnership with the Sustaining Family Forests Initiative and Yale University. At the end of July this year, about 30 forestry resource professionals came together for a the two day workshop to learn about strategic messaging and defining a target audience. This workshop provided insight that will help shape and deliver conservation messages throughout this rest of this project.
Key lessons learned:
We clearly learned that we had incorrect assumptions about the reasons for landowner behavior and reasons for land ownership. It was very encouraging to discover that money doesn't drive everything in this community and we may not be facing as tough of an argument to conservation as we originally thought. This shouldn't be characterized as failure, as it is a critical piece of information that will not only shape the rest of this project, but change how we view the conservation world around us.
Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving:
Inclusive has been the most important, as this seems to be what leads to collaboration and additional resources. Having the multitude of partnerships with key stakeholders to think critically about the issue has been priceless. It takes discussion and listening to truly gain an understanding of the audiences within the community we work. Getting information from people who live and work in the community was originally lacking, resulting in incorrect information about the community. Once the people directly affected were part of the conversation, a better understanding of the issue happened, followed by more collaboration and resources available to address the issue.
Other key elements of Community Innovation:
Leveraging. The concept of leveraging brings together collaboration and resourcefulness. Our project is gaining interest not only in our community, but also nearby communities. Additional funding with partners has been sought and received to do this work in other watersheds, one is located just south of the Kettle River community, in which this project is based. Funding from the Bush Foundation has acted as a stepping stone, a sort of seed money, to grow this project into a more sustained program as solutions arise and begin to meet identified needs.
Understanding the problem:
The overall need for the project remains the same - to increase private forestland protection in the face of a changing world. As of today, the majority of landowners in the Kettle River community do not own their land solely for economic gain, so one may think that agriculture and development may not pose too great of a threat to our forests. However, looking to the future, issues like climate change and unsustainable population growth will have a significant impact on our limited resources. We cannot solve these issues in the Kettle River community alone, but we can work to ensure that we will have some natural forested landscapes remaining in our community for the sake of clean water, quality wildlife habitat, and future generations. It is clear that the time to engage landowners is now, while conservation is still valued among these communities.
If you could do it all over again...:
Do away with any assumptions you may have! I believe I would have saved time and energy if I were to think clearly about what I was assuming to be true and take the time to listen and explore people within the community before I developed solutions. Just because the overall conservation world and the people in it think a certain way, doesn't mean it to be true about a particular community.
One last thought:
So far, this has been an awesome opportunity. The Bush Foundation has given our organization the flexibility to look deeper into an issue, without fear of failure or going in the wrong direction. It is this flexibility and support that will ultimately lead us to the best solution possible and line us up for success. The staff at the Foundation have all been wonderful and helpful as well. Many thanks!!