The Partnerscapes Blog by Steve Jester

The federal funding environment for natural resource management has changed drastically over the last several years reaching a level that has been described as “generational” with the passage, first, of what has become known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and then the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The funding made available for natural resource work with the passage of these pieces of legislation is both massive and on a short fuse, especially compared to recent conservation funding streams that landowners, partners, and agencies are accustomed to.

The funding, while not necessarily coming through channels that everyone might have preferred, is here, and now the conversation has changed from “where is the funding” to “how do we implement the work envisioned by the funding?” Some may be surprised to hear that this may actually be the bigger challenge!

Federal agencies and departments charged with delivering the funding are still working on pathways, rules, and processes to be consistent with existing law while meeting the objectives called for in the funding legislation. States, communities, landowners, tribes, and other partners, who will necessarily be primary when it comes to implementation, are trying to figure out where and how to engage and, in some cases, where they will find the capacity to apply and manage any funds secured.

Capacity is a challenge on both the federal and non-federal sides of this equation! Many conservation employers, federal and otherwise, are short of staff coming out of the pandemic and some potential partners, particularly those envisioned participating in funding programs, are both now and historically capacity-constrained when it comes to partnership opportunities. This is a real issue. I’ve personally heard from people all over the country and representing many different perspectives who are struggling to meet the implementation challenges that arise when a project funding tidal wave meets a capacity-parched delivery system.

My best guess is that some places will do great while others will struggle. Partnerships will not only be “nice to have” but rather will be “must haves,” and those places where the key ingredients exist between partners (such as relationships built on trust, credibility, flexibility and a focus on outcomes), will accomplish things that will not be possible for another lifetime.

Places where partnerships have yet to emerge or exist on paper only are likely to struggle. However, it is never too late to start a conversation about landscapes or challenges that diverse perspectives see as important. If that conversation can be approached with the understanding that, while we may not all value a place for the same reason, all who do value a place are important regardless of the reason, then we are likely to find that we have much more in common than we can possibly imagine. That realization can be a basis on which to build trust, relationships, and partnerships, and to finally achieve great things on the landscape.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay, enhanced