At the end of January, the Forest Stewards Guild helped host the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (RVCC) national meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Guild has long been a member of RVCC because it gives us a stronger voice in national policy and connects us with innovative organizations who share our vision for vibrant human and ecological communities. The Santa Fe meeting brought nearly 100 RVCC participants from across the county for three days. The event started with a field trip to see how the Guild and local partners are making our community more fire adapted by restoring forest structure and fire in the Santa Fe watershed.
The importance of the solution-oriented work RVCC does was underscored by the Southwest Regional Forester, Cal Joyner, speaking to the audience on the first working day after the shutdown. Cal talked about the impact of the shutdown and, more optimistically, the importance of collaboration to getting good work done in the woods. As RVCC highlighted in their newsletter:
“Federal employees are not just service providers for rural communities – they are important community members. Federal jobs are often some of the more stable and well-paying jobs in small towns, and make up a far larger percentage of the rural workforce than in the country overall. For instance, the percentage of the workforce in federal employment in Fergus County, Montana is 12.5%, compared to a national average of less than 2%. In Region 6, over 33% of Forest Service offices are in communities of less than 1,500 people. Federal employees are critical to the social fabric of rural communities, serving as volunteers in community groups and in schools.”
Like the Guild, RVCC focuses on solutions, so the conversation quickly turned to how to elevate examples and ideas for ecologically sustainable rural development. Discussions highlighted opportunities for more collaborative work with federal partners through the Good Neighbor Authority, successful strategies for reducing wildlife risk, recreation as part of rural economic development, Secure Rural Schools funding, supporting sustainable range management, and how to effectively tell the stories to engage the wider public. One of the strengths of RVCC is national policy and experts helped frame discussions in the current political reality and future potential opportunities.
Of course, one of the best parts of the meeting was the connections of old and new friends. New partnerships and projects were hatched in the hallways and participants inspired each other to dive back into the important work we do.