Too early to review?
With the Legislature still in session, is it too soon for a review of lessons learned this year?
I don’t think so. While many conservation districts engaged early and often with their electeds, some waited until an issue that bothered them came up. They spent some time trying to figure out how to respond and by the time they did, it was often too late to do much good.
The difference is a proactive approach to needs versus reacting to what legislators propose.
We also see this pattern with conservation district resolutions where some are crafted and “worked” early in the process and others seem to emerge at the last minute, surprising everyone else.
A widely accepted informal rule is simple to state but sometimes hard to do: no surprises! The corollary of this is: communicate as early as possible and as often as possible. When you surprise decision makers, they usually say no and that’s not the answer we are looking for, particularly when an urgent situation is present. Thus, this is just as much an effective communication opportunity as it is a “plan ahead” issue.
Can we work on resolutions earlier?
WACD would like to see the resolutions process start earlier so that our members have more time to discuss the proposal before it comes up for a vote at an area association meeting or at the WACD annual meeting. I can almost hear some member voices saying, “Wait a moment, isn’t it far too early to talk about resolutions? The Legislature is still in session!”
I don’t think that it is too soon to start thinking about what you want to see happen next year. If you begin having those conversations now, you’ll be in good shape to meet with your elected officials and agency directors this summer when viewing the problem on the ground is a more pleasant and unhurried experience for everyone. You give them the gift of time as you present them ways to help you advance your conservation goals.
Earlier means more time to build support
And decision makers will remember your approach when it is time for action. They will respect that your issue is not a sudden thing but something that has some history to it. They will appreciate the opportunity to build relationships with you and with affected landowners long before the Legislature convenes again. You stand a much better chance of enlisting their help as an active partner when you work with them early as compared to surprising them late in the game.
This is another potential change in the culture of our conservation district members. Our people have a long history of waiting to see what the Legislature may do and then trying to rally support for our position. That defensive approach is all the more surprising because our thinking is usually much more forward-focused when it comes to natural resources issues and opportunities.
Not everything can be predicted
I can also predict some reactions will go like this: “But not everything can be predicted! Sometimes we have to react because we don’t know what the Legislature will do!”
That is absolutely true but here’s the surprising thing: the more proactive you are, the fewer things will surprise you at the last minute. The other benefit of working early and often with your electeds is a much stronger relationship that will be incredibly helpful for those rare moments where you do have to respond quickly to a surprise. Having that relationship already in place positions you as a respected constituent who understands the incredible difficulties our elected and appointed officials face.
Shall we try this?
I hope that the case I am making is strong enough for you to start talking in your conservation district about what you would like to see from the Legislature (or Congress!) next year. Ideally, you would have a year-round relationship with your electeds so that you could engage with them on your ideas much earlier than the 2021-2022 fall and winter. With sunny days coming soon, what better time is there to invite your decision makers on a field tour in their home district?
Tom Salzer, WACD Executive Director