Coalition Unites Behind Shared Vision for the West
130 organizations develop bipartisan effort to steer Washington, D.C. officials toward policy
Western Landowners Alliance, Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition and Partners for Conservation recently announced their collaborative effort to express their perspective to federal offices in Washington, D.C., identifying and agreeing upon principles to ensure the western United States can produce natural resources in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Urging the administration and Congress to advance policies that encourage rural economic health and a productive agricultural sector, while simultaneously conserving natural resources and landscapes in which westerners live and work.
We sat down with Lesli Allison, the executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, an organization established to improve the ecological health and economic prosperity of working lands in the American west, to learn more about their efforts:
Q. WHAT IS THIS INITIATIVE ABOUT?
A. This is a joint message from diverse groups throughout the West to political leadership expressing the urgent need to work together, to find common values and shared interests, to focus on what unites us rather than one what divides us.
Through this initiative, more than 130 organizations representing farmers, ranchers, foresters, conservationists, sportsmen and women and businesses have endorsed a set of unifying principles to achieve rural economic health and a productive agricultural sector, to provide for human needs and protect the landscapes in which we live and work.
These principles include the following:
- We believe that ecosystem productivity, social equality and economic well-being go hand-in-hand. Good public policy builds on and reinforces these linkages.
- We know from experience that the cooperative management of private and public lands is good for business, public health and species conservation. It is, therefore, essential that large-scale resource planning be coordinated across boundaries, inclusive of multiple interest, place-based and informed by science.
- We know that voluntary, market- and incentive-based programs provide key economic support enabling landowners to participate in conservation, improve their operations and help keep landscapes intact.
- Above all, we believe that hope for rural America lies in collaboration, common sense and non-partisan solutions that ensure the long-term sustainability of working lands and robust new economies.
Q. WHO ARE THE CORE PARTNERS AND WHY ARE THEY INVOLVED? WHAT DO THE ORGANIZING GROUPS HAVE IN COMMON?
A. The Western Landowners Alliance, Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition, Partners for Conservation and the Family Farm Alliance initially came together to launch this project. These organizations are all community-centered and focused on shared values of land stewardship and rural community well-being. We were then joined by over 130 additional organizations that expressed solidarity with our shared values.
Q. WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THIS INITIATIVE?
A. The organizing groups recognized that we were each working separately on many of the same issues and that our advocacy would be more productive with increased communication and coordination. The first step in that process was to figure out what values we all hold in common. Once we had identified these shared values, we wanted to see if others agreed with us. We sent these shared values out to our networks and got an overwhelming response – over 130 sign-ons in short order, which indicates great enthusiasm for finding common ground and common solutions.
Right now, in this country we're increasingly divided. Too many conversations begin by shouting out all the points on which we disagree. That hasn't worked in the past and it doesn't appear to be working very well for us today. If we want to succeed, we have to start by identifying the things we agree on, the things we want to achieve together. There will always be differences of opinion, but it is our innate ability to work together that enables us to survive, raise families and create prosperous communities. That's how to address the shared challenges we face in the West.
Q. WHY NOW?
A. While this initiative is not tied to any particular piece of legislation, it is particularly relevant right now as Congress and the federal administration take on a number of issues that are important to the West, including the Farm Bill, the Endangered Species Act, federal land management, infrastructure and so many other issues.
Q. WHO DO YOU HOPE TO REACH WITH THIS MESSAGE?
A. Western leaders in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, including those with influential posts on the committees responsible for debating agriculture, natural resources and the budget. We're also hoping our message is received by officials in the departments and agencies that our members work with every day on the ground in western states.
Q. WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH?
A. In terms of joint advocacy, we want to encourage Congress and the Administration to partner with landowners and communities in the stewardship of the Nation's natural resources – that's a great place to start. Land and natural resources are the foundation upon which all else depends, even in a high-tech society such as our own. Every good business re-invests in the people and resources that sustain it. As a nation, we can spark rural prosperity by re-investing in the people, land and natural resources taht deliver our food, fiber, energy, wildlife and recreation.
Q. WHAT'S NEXT?
A. This coalition represents an effort to bring a higher level of organization to the center ground in these issues. At the minimum ongoing conversations will help ensure that we are all aware of one another’s efforts and initiatives and are prepared to bring a strong, diverse voice to the public debates that most affect the West. We will also be exploring joint recommendations and advocacy. At a time when addressing the West’s shared challenges—and seizing new opportunities—will require as much teamwork as possible, we are committed to supporting one another’s work and sharing our resources and networks.This coalition represents an effort to bring a higher level of organization to the center ground in these issues. At the minimum ongoing conversations will help ensure that we are all aware of one another’s efforts and initiatives and are prepared to bring a strong, diverse voice to the public debates that most affect the West. We will also be exploring joint recommendations and advocacy. At a time when addressing the West’s shared challenges—and seizing new opportunities—will require as much teamwork as possible, we are committed to supporting one another’s work and sharing our resources and networks.