What next? Thoughts from MWCC Board President, Ethan Kunard, on the Annual Meeting
Last month’s annual meeting brought watershed groups, conservation professionals, agency personnel (and directors), Big Sky Watershed Corps members, and private individuals together for a day of learning, networking, and discussion. We were fortunate to be joined by Mark Haggerty of Headwaters Economics, and we had the unique opportunity to hear from our state agency panelists. With the room nearly filled to capacity with some of the brightest minds in Montana’s conservation field, there was opportunity for great discussion and networking throughout the day. These information sharing opportunities are at the core of MWCC’s work, and are a central part of our mission as we work to unite Montana’s watershed communities.
Another integral part of this mission is to support Montana’s watershed communities. As the list of conservation challenges and concerns continues to stack up around the state, we want to ensure the services we provide are the ones most essential to advancing the work of our partners and local watershed groups. As MWCC comes out of a multi-year planning process, we’ve identified strategies and approaches to guide our efforts using feedback from our partner network. From this feedback, we heard several common themes from a diverse collection of organizations about the needs most important to groups around the state. The needs from this assessment come with little surprise, as funding, technical resources, story-telling, and networking connections, were all at the top of the list. Our task now, as an organization, is to formulate ways to turn these needs into tangible products and services that help communities advance natural resource stewardship around Montana.
Addressing these complex challenges requires innovative solutions. As we see large swings in funding and assistance from our agency partners, we must find ways of adapting that enhance the sustainability of our local conservation and watershed groups. One adaptation strategy, which we discussed at the annual meeting, is formalizing a more widespread recognition of these local community organizations. By nature, Montana’s watershed groups are locally-based, locally-led, and locally-driven. Undoubtedly, those key elements will remain in place. There are some shared principles, however, that many groups in our network have in common that make this “watershed approach” unique. Coalescing around these principles and recognizing the successful approach of Montana’s watershed groups has the potential to provide another level of legitimacy that elevates all of our efforts.
After listening to feedback from the afternoon discussions at our annual meeting, it seems evident that people in the watershed community see a benefit to developing and promoting the model in which we work (i.e., the “watershed approach”). Many organizations and individuals see a value in exploring methods through which watershed groups can gain more capacity and support for their role in natural resource stewardship. At this time, however, there remains uncertainty in the value of creating specific legislation articulating the principles of this model.
We recognize there are some fundamental questions that need to be addressed before we begin laying the groundwork for any further discussions on this topic. Therefore, over the coming months, MWCC will apply the leadership and expertise within our Board of Directors to work closely with the watershed community as we answer these questions and explore new opportunities to support local conservation efforts. Additionally, the staff and board at MWCC will continue working on several new initiatives we’ve developed to promote and assist the work of watershed groups around the state.
We are truly grateful to have such a supportive and diverse network of dedicated organizations and individuals in regions around the state. As MWCC continues developing new strategies to meet the challenges facing watershed groups, we will continue to listen and adapt as we fulfill our vision of strengthening Montana’s watershed communities.
Contact: Email our Executive Director, Erin Farris-Olsen (firstname.lastname@example.org), to learn about opportunities to participate in future discussions, and visit mtwatersheds.org to learn more about our upcoming work.