Local Working Groups – The Basics
This month, learn how Local Working Groups influence conservation and programs here in Idaho.
Locally led conservation is based on the principal that community stakeholders are best suited to identify and resolve natural resource problems for their area. Input from local farmers and ranchers, regardless of the size of their operation, conservation partners and other members of the community is key to enabling successful management and protection of our natural resources. Local Working Groups challenge neighbors, both urban and rural, to work together and take responsibility for addressing local resource needs.
There are 17 Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Local Working Groups (LWG) across Idaho. For Conservation Team 8 in Central Idaho, there are two conservation districts who take the lead: the Custer Soil and Water Conservation District and the Lemhi Soil and Water Conservation District. NRCS and the Custer and Lemhi districts have a long-standing conservation partnership. This fosters additional conservation partner relationships to help identify and implement solutions to local resource issues. Team 8’s local working group has 30 members, including landowners, federal land permittees, and 18 other conservation partner stakeholders, such as the Cooperative Weed Management Area, State agencies such as Idaho Department of Fish and Game, non-profits such as the Mule Deer Foundation, local and national Easement entities, Office of Species Conservation, and the University of Idaho Extension. Local working group meetings are also open to the public.
One thing that makes local working groups effective is well-established partnerships. Partnerships help to move the collaborative effort along more efficiently. There are three things that make collaboration effective for local working groups:
- Commit to a common vision
- Establish a “learning network”
- Identify and support pilot projects
Facilitation is key when working with such a diverse group. Many working groups have had the opportunity to hire outside facilitators that help groups better meet their objectives. Having a facilitator who is familiar with the local working group and its processes, but does not have local ties, often works well.
Many local working groups only meet once a year. Some offer follow-up meetings if they are warranted, however because of Team 8’s long-standing partnerships and strong ties to the agricultural community beyond the Local Working Group, we have specific resource or funding-based subcommittees that also serve as follow-up meetings for the LWG, as many of the memberships overlap. So, throughout the year, communication among all local working group members and conservation partners is ongoing and essential.
When the LWG process was revitalized a few years ago, NRCS Idaho started the conversation using well known national goals, understanding that the game plan was for the goals and objectives in local working groups go beyond NRCS needs. Today, resource solutions are community driven. We have many collaborative efforts across our local working groups where we can seize project opportunities, utilize dedicated partner funds, and also leverage partner funds to get great conservation on the ground. These conservation efforts enable groups to implement large landscape and cross-boundary projects, as well as identify and implement targeted resources conservation projects.
As with anything, there is always room for improvement. Many Local Working Groups take pride in continuing to improve their processes and find new ways to be effective. Some items that we continue to improve and recommend for LWGs in other areas:
- Have meetings with intention– have a plan and implement it, don’t just talk about it
- Facilitation is key to ensure inclusive stakeholder involvement
- Meeting preparation and organization – be prepared prior to, during, and after your local working group’s meeting
- Follow-up – this is critical to ensuring active engagement among all members. Developing an action plan for accountability
- Identify the next steps and subsequent meeting dates
- Be willing to be flexible – memberships changes, resource issues change, priorities change, and funding opportunities change and it ok to think outside the box. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got” -Henry Ford
For more information on Local Working Groups, please visit nrcs.usda.gov/id.