Highlights success stories in four Western states and offers guidance to NGOs looking to adopt a new approach to community engagement
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Heart of the Rockies Initiative today released a report on how conservation and outdoor recreation missions align with supporting the well-being of rural communities across the United States.
The report features projects in four Western states where conservation organizations and outdoor recreation groups engaged with rural communities in ways that recognize mutual values and benefits, as well as the intersection of conservation, recreational opportunities, and community economic development. The case studies featured in the report include Aberdeen, South Dakota; Lincoln, Montana; Montrose, Colorado; and Southeast Alaska.
“Quite simply, rural communities with strong economies are more likely to be in a position to support conservation and recreation, including policies that benefit fish and wildlife habitat,” said Joel Webster, Vice President of Western Conservation with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This report showcases what can be accomplished when conservation organizations and outdoor recreation groups adopt the belief that community well-being is critical to the success of their work.”
The report points out that in recent years, a number of conservation organizations have recognized that “rural community revitalization and economic opportunities are important values; that resource conservation and outdoor access can be aligned with those values; and that hunting and fishing organizations, land trusts, and other recreation and conservation groups can provide meaningful support for community-led development priorities in ways that are consistent with a conservation organization’s core mission.”
In the community of Lincoln, Montana, conservation organizations have worked to augment community capacity and to implement the community’s Envision Lincoln plan, including applying for federal and state grants and bringing together people and resources to support community goals.
“After losing our primary industries–logging and mining–we had to reinvent ourselves. Outdoor recreation offers the opportunity for our businesses to keep their doors open and thrive in an every changing economy,” said Laurie Richards, former President of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Wheel Inn restaurant.
In Southeast Alaska, where local communities were hit hard by the Covid pandemic, the Sitka Conservation Society pivoted capacity and programs to support urgent community needs in ways that helped create genuine and long-term trust-based relationships.
“Sitka Conservation Society’s Community Conservation Corps program gave us experience with how nonprofits can leverage coronavirus relief funding to employ local residents and subcontractors and spread these funds to local businesses, while investing in projects that have benefits for locals as well as our recreation and visitor industry,” said Katie Riley, Policy Director for the Sitka Conservation Society.
“The Heart of the Rockies Rural Development Program was developed on the premise that the success and sustainability of conservation in the Rocky Mountain West is inextricably linked to rural community vitality and economic well-being,” said Gary Burnett, Executive Director of the Heart of the Rockies Initiative. “In highlighting these four case studies, this report illustrates what can be accomplished when stakeholders recognize the alignment between these interconnected priorities.”
Photo: @NickMKE via Flickr