“It’s our goal to shine a national spotlight on the work you all are doing on the local level,” said National Association of Conservation Districts Secretary-Treasurer Gary Blair during the association’s annual Leadership Luncheon. Two spotlights shone brightly on New England.

The first announced was one of the recipients of a grant. The Friends of NACD District Grants Program supports locally led conservation and advances climate resilience, education and youth development and food security. Now in its fourth round of funding, the program is funded through donations individuals and organizations make to NACD.

This year, eight conservation districts will receive $2,500 to implement community-based projects, including the Oxford County Soil & Water Conservation District in Maine.

“NACD is excited to support innovative projects led by conservation districts across the country,” said District Operations & Member Services Committee Chair Franklin Williams. “Thank you to everyone who has supported this program. We are so pleased with the caliber of these projects and are grateful for the opportunity to fund them.”

The Oxford County Soil & Water Conservation District will be working with local schools and community groups on an educational project at their Tenmile River Demonstration Forest (see oxfordcountyswcd.org/tenmile-river-demonstration-forest). The project will demonstrate ways to improve forest resiliency to climate change by encouraging carbon storage in standing timber and increasing forest diversity with alternative forest products. It also shows how crop plantings can create sources of income and enhance soil health.

The next spotlight was a special one, announced by Brent Van Dyke, chair of the National Conservation Foundation, NACD’s sister organization that supports conservation education efforts globally. He spoke about NCF’s Next Generation Leadership Institute (nationalconservationfoundation.org/ngli), which was officially launched in 2019 and provides conservation district leaders with tools to become national leaders through personal, civic and organizational leadership development. The program was created in response to a high demand for leadership instruction for conservation district leaders facing the challenges of a changing world.

According to the NCF, the NGLI program consists of monthly training and development opportunities for conservation leaders including advocacy and public policy; effective communication; leadership style; media training; conflict management; team building and delegation; and partnerships (through the National Conservation Planning Partnership). It is a year-long program that equips each cohort with the skills needed to build a better tomorrow.

Outstanding New England leaders recognized at Leadership Luncheon

2022 NGLI member Jamie Irving. Photo by Courtney Llewellyn

One member of the 2022 cohort was Jamie Irving of Meredith, NH, representing the Belknap County Conservation District. In addition to the Conservation District, Irving serves on the boards of several other organizations, including the Waukewan Watershed Advisory Committee and the Merrimack Valley Assistance Program. He owns and operates North Wing Design and Permit, a company focusing on environmental permitting within New Hampshire.

“This started over five years ago when my dad invited me to a dinner for an organization called the Belknap County Soil and Water Conservation District. I had no idea what that was. But I went and sat at a table with the chair of local district. By the end of that dinner I was basically a member,” Irving said. “A couple months later I was a full-blown supervisor. About eight months later we lost my dad suddenly … and I know he would be delighted and proud to see so many people fighting the good fight [for conservation].”

Van Dyke told Irving and the rest of his cohort he is looking forward to the amazing things you all will do.

Kim LaFleur of Massachusetts, NACD’s president-elect, added, “I have faith the future of conservation is in good hands with leaders like these.”

by Courtney Llewellyn