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Extension Leaders Visit NWF Advocacy Center for Conservation Leadership Discussion
On July 13, 2015, 12 participants from the National Extension Leadership Development (NELD) program visited NWF’s National Advocacy Center to hear first-hand from staff about NWF’s experience in initiating and supporting advocacy efforts and in developing future leaders, such as through the leadership development and certification aspects of NWF’s EcoLeaders initiative. The NELD program aims to advance leadership understanding and experience for current and future leaders within the Cooperative Extension System (Extension) in the North Central Region.
The busy yet productive meeting began with brief introductions before launching into NWF’s history and an overview of the EcoLeaders initiative by Julian Keniry, Courtney Cochran, and David Corsar. Julian pointed out that Ding Darling’s iconic cartoon, often used to illustrate NWF’s early roots, contains a reference to the Extension with a group marching under a banner reading “Four H Clubs for Conservation” – 4-H being one of the Extension’s most recognized programs.
The Extension has roots from the 1800s but was authorized in 1914 by the Smith-Lever Act with the goal to inform farmers and the general public about advances in agriculture, economic development, coastal issues, and a range of related subjects such as leadership and governance. Today, over 100 land-grant colleges and universities are dedicated to providing research, information and services to farmers, young people, and whole communities.
While describing the strategies used and lessons learned in NWF’s various advocacy campaigns, Ben Larson, Jan Goldman-Carter, and Naomi Edelson frequently described the strength and experience that NWF has in convening often disparate groups to unite for action. Ben explained, “The effectiveness of coalitions comes down to how well you relate to each other. NWF has experience being a good convener – that big tent for lots of organizations to come together.”
Jan noted that when bringing together a coalition to successfully support the Clean Water Rule, “We didn’t stop at environmentalists and sportsmen but also reached out to faith groups, local community leaders, county commissioners, even brewers – who had a huge interest in preserving clean waters.”
And Naomi, who gave an overview of the work NWF has done to support Monarch butterflies and other pollinators, explained that “You can do policy by writing rules and regulations and have enforcement. But you can also have policy successes just by bringing people together.”
Ben also noted that Extension leaders, like those present, were perfect candidates for getting involved and advocating for ecologically sound policies. He explained that representatives are much more receptive to the input from their constituencies as opposed to just hearing from Washington lobbyists. Extension leaders can more easily reach into geographically dispersed communities, engage people, and bring them from their home districts to DC for direct advocacy with their representatives. Also, through their established networks, Extension leaders have access to a large quantity of relevant and vivid stories to which representatives respond.
Having already been familiar with NWF’s long-running Campus Ecology program, NELD program participant Tom Wojciechowski, with the University of Wisconsin Extension, had reached out to Julian with a request for NWF to host this discussion. Of course, Julian had no trouble finding NWF staff members eager to share their experiences with this dynamic and engaging group.
The meeting ended with a brief question and answer session in which the speakers opened up about their personal motivations and aspirations as well as their biggest lessons learned. Ben noted, “It takes years to do big stuff,” and Jan added, “You can’t take anything for granted. It is a constant education and reeducation process.”
Julian added her hope that with the connections made in this meeting, she would like to see “a collaboration between NWF and Extension, where together we have a huge army of students and young professionals who are engaged and caring and educated and educating others about water and biodiversity and sustainability and clean energy.”