Advocating for effective natural resource management at every scale

3/6/19

Coordinated local and statewide advocacy efforts are ensuring that the RCD network is having a greater impact on conversations that are shaping the future of conservation in California.

From tree mortality to agricultural viability to water management and everything in between, local elected officials and state legislators alike look to Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) and the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts (CARCD) as trusted sources of information about today’s most pressing landscape-scale natural resource challenges. CARCD represents and speaks on behalf of the RCD network with a statewide perspective, while individual RCDs can speak with local and regional expertise about the issues that they are most concerned about and are prepared to help address. This two-pronged approach has shown to be an effective strategy for reaching out to legislators and their field offices, as they consider where and how to invest California’s limited financial resources in environmental concerns that affect all Californians.

CARCD was engaged in an especially exciting and active legislative season in 2018, which saw the most sweeping policy changes in fire resilience and forest health that have been witnessed in 30 years or more at the State Capitol. Former Governor Jerry Brown signed new legislation to strengthen wildfire prevention and recovery including six bills that directly support the on-the-ground work of RCDs. At the center of the package is SB 901 (Dodd), the final product of the Wildfire Preparedness and Response Legislative Conference Committee. Of particular importance is the requirement that CAL FIRE create a Wildfire Resilience Program to assist non-industrial timber forest landowners. This program will provide technical assistance on permitting, reforestation, forest health, carbon sequestration, reducing wildfire risk, enhancing habitat vegetation management, and more. Included in the language of the bill is the requirement that “technical assistance shall be provided by staff and entities including Resource Conservation Districts.”

In the past twelve months there have been several other other legislative wins that will have huge implications for RCDs and our partners, including:

  • Assembly Bill 2054: RCD of Greater San Diego County worked closely with California Assemblymember for the 80th district, Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, to propose a bill to bring much needed funding to fight the invasive Shot Hole Borer Beetle which is threatening forests and orchards in Southern California and contributing to the tree mortality crisis.
  • Assembly Bill 2377: The bill establishes a grant program to provide funds to technical assistance providers for the California Department of Agriculture’s Climate Smart Agriculture programs, which will allow RCDs and other technical assistance providers to help producers get money for investing in their soils, irrigation, and manure management.
  • Forest health and healthy soils funding: Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California’s budget would include $415 million for programs to improve the health of forests and fight wildfires, and $18 million to the California Department of Food and Agriculture to expand the Healthy Soils Initiative.

These successes are a step in the right direction and there is much more work to be done for California’s communities and the natural resources that they depend on.

Building Capacity for RCD Advocacy

Even though most RCDs have limited staff capacity to devote to advocacy, many name it as a top priority because they recognize the integral role that legislation plays in funding conservation efforts. As such, our network’s advocacy can be divided into two general efforts: to bring attention to important conservation issues that needs funding, such as fighting the invasive shot hole borer beetle; and to raise the visibility of RCDs as critical tools that the state should be utilizing to address these issues effectively and efficiently.

In March 2018, CARCD hosted an Advocacy Academy in Sacramento to help RCD leadership understand how to engage with local elected officials. The Academy was funded by a grant from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and was facilitated in partnership with Solid Ground Consulting and Conservation Strategy Group.

Designed as a 2-day event (hosted three weeks in a row to allow for differing schedules), the first day featured a training by Solid Ground Consulting on topics including building confidence, understand principles of political influence, acquiring tools to cultivate key relationships, and honing the RCD’s message. On the second day, RCD Managers and/or directors were led by CARCD and Conservation Strategy Group staff on legislative visits at the State Capitol, where the Academy participants were able to practice their messaging and speak with their representatives in person about issues that are affecting their district.

For RCD leadership who had no prior experience with advocacy, the Advocacy Academy provided foundational knowledge and confidence-building experience in speaking with legislators. For RCD leadership who had experience with advocacy, this event was an opportunity to mentor their colleagues and sync their local messaging with CARCD’s statewide perspective.

Examples of Advocacy from Inland Empire RCD

Mandy Parkes, District Manager of Inland Empire RCD (IERCD), found the Advocacy Academy helpful in raising her confidence to talk to her local legislators. In general, IERCD has found elected officials to be very excited to learn about RCDs because RCDs are implementing conservation practices on a regional level and are tapped into what local landowners are interested in. Their goal with working with legislators is to elevate awareness that RCDs are partners who are working on the ground on conservation issues that are relevant to their communities. If an important bill or issue comes up, there should already be trust between the RCD and legislator to start from.

Inland Empire RCD has spoken to their elected legislators, including Senator of the 23rd District Mike Morrell, about the polyphagous shot hole borer in Southern California. They have also spoken to Raul Rodriguez about continuing funding for NRCS’ Conservation Technical Assistance program and to congresswoman Norma Torres about the value of NRCS high tunnel funding.

Most recently, IERCD has been working with CSDA representative Chris Palmer to plan the future of IERCD’s advocacy. IERCD hopes to do a legislative tour to connect legislators with the work the RCD is doing. To practice this, Mandy hosted a tour of two site visits, including a trout release for their Trout in the Classroom program. Their second stop was at Fat Angel Farms, a 6.5 acre citrus ranch in Mentone which has been working with the RCD and NRCS to implement conservation practices including a cover cropping trial, irrigation efficiency techniques, and soil testing. Mandy would love to do a “Day in the District” event where legislators come out to her, but thinks that for now a legislative tour is the most efficient way to connect with her local elected leaders. She is hoping to set up a bus tour with 20-25 people and show them all the work that the RCD is doing.

Examples of Advocacy from Sonoma RCD

Sonoma RCD has limited staff capacity for advocacy and outreach to legislators, but still recognizes it as a priority. To maximize their effect on legislators, their Executive Director, Valerie Minton, reaches out to local elected officials directly. From there, she tells the story of her RCD and what they work on. By doing this she hopes to build relationships with the legislator and their staff that are tailored to the individual lawmaker. When talking to legislators, Valerie wants them to know: “We’re a valuable partner who serves your constituents, here’s how we can help.” With this approach, she hopes the legislator will see the RCD as a resource and key stakeholder when addressing conservation issues.

Sonoma RCD has been engaging with California Senator Jim Woods on Senate Bill 901 on fire recovery issues, a crucial issue for their district. They have been talking with Senator Woods, learning who to speak with on his team about fire-related concerns, and communicating with their mutual partner CAL FIRE on the bill. It has been interesting for Valerie to be at the table and listen to the Senator to learn more about the statewide dynamic.

Unlike grants and other projects that RCDs work on, advocacy does not always have a critical timeline so it can be easy to forget to prioritize relationship building with legislators. However, with Valerie at the helm, Sonoma RCD aims to stay actively engaged: “People think the action is in Sacramento, but you can have meetings with your legislator in their field office.” The low hanging fruit for her RCD is to pay attention to legislative cycles, build relationships with staff, and continue scheduling meetings with Sonoma RCD’s elected representatives.

The RCD network continues to advocate for California landowners and natural resource protection, including Senate Bill 253 for Technical Assistance introduced by Senator Bill Dodd (D), which would enhance conservation on California’s farms and ranches by offering incentives and technical assistance for adopting practices that help prevent wildlife and improve fish and wildlife habitat. Eligible land would include cropland, range land, pastureland and other farm or ranch lands. The bill is supported by the Nature Conservancy and CARCD.

Learn more about CARCD’s advocacy work by visiting our Advocacy page.

Note: Government Code § 53060.5 and the California Supreme Court decision in Stanson v. Mott (1976) 17 Cal.3d 206, 213 allow the expenditure of public funds to lobby for or against proposed legislation which will affect the public agency expending the funds. This means that RCDs are able to talk to legislators about specific legislation and help inform them of the effects on their district and constituents. They are able to take an official position on legislation. These activities must be related to the work that they do and be supported by a board-approved advocacy policy.