By Steve Jester, Partnerscapes

Partnerships with private landowners are the bedrock of natural resource and wildlife conservation in the United States. Over the last several decades, a diverse group of organizations, agencies, corporations, and partnerships of groups have developed programs that formally recognize and celebrate the contributions of landowners to conservation at the state, regional, and national levels. One statewide recognition effort that continues to grow is the Natural State Landowner Conservation Awards in Arkansas.

This award traces its roots back to 2010. Arkansas has long had an active partnership among local, state, federal, nonprofit, and other organizations and agencies that share a conservation mission and that actively work voluntarily with landowners to improve land and water health, including wildlife habitat. In 2010, this partnership of organizations began meeting formally every other year to build relationships and discuss shared issues related to delivering voluntary conservation in the state. As a part of that biennial gathering, the group began to recognize landowners who were doing an exemplary job, including inviting the recognized landowners to the meeting to receive the award in person and interact with the gathered private lands staff. In 2019 and 2020, the award moved to a presentation at a Commissioner’s meeting of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. In 2021, awards were not presented due to the Covid pandemic. In May of 2022, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, with the support of the state’s voluntary conservation partners, held their inaugural Natural State Landowner Conservation Awards banquet.

On May 18th, 2022 in Little Rock 165 people attended the inaugural banquet. including private lands practitioners and leadership from multiple organizations working with landowners, the award winners and their families, as well as past winners of the award and other conservation leaders from around the state. Seven private landowners or groups of landowners were recognized (award videos here) as well as two conservation practitioners who partner with landowners. It was obvious during the video presentations and picture session afterwards that there were deep bonds between the partners and landowners and families who were recognized. Landowners recognized also offered deep appreciation for their partners in their remarks. For another perspective on the banquet and the program see this Arkansas Democrat article.

Do not underestimate the importance and overall impact of recognizing and appreciating private landowners when it comes to growing voluntary conservation on our national landscapes. I was very lucky to be able to attend this inaugural event, and it was clear to me that there are strong relationships and resulting partnerships among and between landowners and conservation organizations in Arkansas. These relationships are where the good things start and from which the great things grow. The partnerships among all the voluntary conservation organizations in Arkansas, and the great relationships they have in turn with landowners, is a primary reason that Private Lands Partners Day 2022 is coming to northwest Arkansas this October. Registration for the event is now open and we hope to see you there!