The Partnerscapes Blog by Steve Jester

Growing Interest In Supporting Practitioners Delivering Voluntary Conservation

Since its inception, Partnerscapes has worked to support partners that work with private landowners and others in delivering partnership-based voluntary conservation in our national landscapes. For a number of years this work was delivered primarily through the annual Private Lands Partners Day and opportunistically through speaking engagements and meetings across the country. Beginning about 8 years ago, the organization began working with voluntary conservation agencies, such as the USFWS – Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service to host landowner forums bringing together landowners and practitioners to learn from each other and work on improving voluntary conservation programs and approaches. Several years later the organization began offering learning sessions specifically designed to improve basic relationship and partnership development skills critical in delivering voluntary conservation. Partnerscapes has continued this work up to the present, both through our own events and through events we deliver in partnership with other organizations. Reports from all of these events can be found on our Collaboration & Partnership webpage here. We have also established the Partnership Conservation Network Facebook Group (all are welcome,  easy to find).

The hope has been, as we continue to deliver these events and demonstrate a need and interest in this type of work that others will pick up the torch. That finally appears to be emerging in certain places across the country. Organizations, regions, and states are realizing that there are a certain set of interpersonal skills and abilities that are required for this profession and that they are not a part of any undergraduate or graduate degree program from which voluntary conservation practitioners are typically recruited. In other words, in a time when experienced staff are hard to both retain and find, many organizations are looking for ways to transfer these skills and support early career practitioners either internally or in partnership with other agencies and organizations that work in voluntary conservation.

Learning from each other, across organizational lines, makes a lot of sense for skills such as landowner communication, relationship building, and partnership development. No matter which programs practitioners are delivering, these skills are necessary–whether they work for a federal agency, state agency, or a nongovernmental organization. Cross-organizational learning makes even even greater sense at more local scales where the relationships and partnerships between organizations are as critical to getting good work done as relationships with landowners.

Partnerscapes is pleased to see that more and more individuals and organizations are not only recognizing this need but are acting on it. An increasing number of calls are being fielded, from both practitioners and organizational leadership, expressing an interest in providing learning experiences around the interpersonal side of voluntary conservation to their staff or in their landscape. We are taking every opportunity to help others working in this area while also continuing to develop opportunities directly either on our own or with partners. Better preparing our voluntary conservation practitioners to communicate effectively and build relationships and partnerships in the rural areas they serve will not only benefit individuals delivering voluntary conservation but also landowners, human communities, and the natural resources in our working landscapes.