Stressing leadership with local action, Rudy Rice, president of the National Association of Conservation Districts, addressed the delegates and attendees at the association's 54th annual meeting, in Colorado Springs, CO.

Rice, from DuQuoin, IL, challenged the national organization of conservation leaders to find solutions to conservation issues at the local level.

Rice went on to discuss the success of the past year. During 1999, NACD has been successful in building effective working relationships with key members of Congress and senior Administration officials at the Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Management and Budget, Department of the Interior and others. These relationships ensure that conservation district interests are properly addressed, especially within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Rice said NACD was successful in preventing the loss of more than 1,000 Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel, who provide direct technical assistance to the nation's agricultural producers. "NACD has had a positive impact on the nation's conservation agenda, and more importantly, on the landscape," Rice continued.

Rice challenged the membership to strengthen the core partnership and participate in coalitions. By joining together, NACD and other allied organizations are able to maximize the impact of individual efforts. He reminded everyone that state and local governments contribute more than $1 billion annually to address conservation on private lands. That amount now nearly equals USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service's discretionary spending on conservation. He asked the delegates to reinforce the foundation of locally-led conservation. This emphasis would put decision-making back in the hands of those who are closest to the land.

Rice asked for an increase in the national investment in private lands conservation. The delivery system is present, but lacks sufficient funding to adequately address important conservation issues.

Rice concluded by seeking commitment to voluntary, incentive-based programs. Historically, "from-the-top-down" programs tend to be less effective than the locally-led, "from-the-bottom-up" approach. The top-down approach tends to harden and polarize the land users it is depending on to implement conservation practices on the land. Conservation districts are a major component to achieving delivery of conservation programs through a voluntary approach to solving problems.

Rice stated, "Grassroots is the key to past success, and will be the key to future success. I thank everyone for their support of conservation and the wise use of our nation's natural resources."

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