Our current natural resource challenges are likely greater than ever in the United States. Perhaps in response, over the last couple of years some of the most consequential federal conservation legislation has been enacted, with even more in the pipeline. From the Great American Outdoors Act, which permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund, to the bipartisan infrastructure law that included huge sums for ecosystem restoration, to the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, still under consideration in the current Congress—financial resources available for conservation work are reaching levels not seen in decades, if ever.

The challenge, however, remains in getting these new or newly enhanced financial resources to the ground, which almost universally requires relationships and partnerships among agencies, organizations, landowners, and other perspectives. At the same time that dollars are increasing, the demographic reality of the Baby Boom generation reaching retirement age is taking a toll on our national partnership-building capacity. With a lack of training in the area of voluntary, partnership-based conservation at the university level, most if not all of the information transfer around the foundational skills required to communicate, build relationships, and work effectively with different perspectives has been left to agency- or organization-specific training, mentoring, and coaching. Much of this training and mentoring depends on more experienced staff transferring lessons learned to new staff, and many of the most experienced staff are moving on to well-earned retirements.

The private landowner community is facing similar demographic challenges where land management decision making is being passed to the next generation. Some lands are also being transferred to new landowners who may not have any history or knowledge of land stewardship but who, in many cases, have great interest in learning how to become good land stewards and are looking for professional assistance. This change in land ownership patterns is also increasing the need for well-prepared voluntary conservation practitioners.

The “Art” of Voluntary Conservation

The need for practitioners in multiple specialties from fish and wildlife to watershed management and everything in between is already large, is increasing every day, and could head off towards the stratosphere if everything that is under consideration becomes a reality. While individuals entering the voluntary conservation workforce may be well trained technically, many may be surprised to learn that their job is as much or more about meeting people, communicating, and building relationships and trust than it is about using their technical skills.

The good news is that the people part of the voluntary conservation business is very similar across partners—agency or organizational policies, procedures, and programs not withstanding. Partnerscapes has learned over the years that the people part, or the “art,” of voluntary conservation is just as foundational to effective voluntary conservation as the technical or “science” part. As you move up in scale, the science gets more complex and so does the art. Becoming an effective part of large-scale efforts involving many partners and many perspectives requires “art” on steroids! Sharing lessons learned, mentoring capacity, and other support between organizations and perspectives can provide critical professional development for individual practitioners while making the partnerships they participate in more effective on the ground.

Partnerscapes hopes to be part of a growing community of practice where conservation professionals, landowners, and other perspectives critical to conservation efforts regardless of scale can support and learn from each other regarding the art of conservation. Everyone involved has something that they can share and we hope you will want to be a part of it too!