Upper Big Blue NRD staff join Nebraska NRDs in Washington D. C. to advocate for conservation funding

Story and photos by Megan Grimes

Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) were represented by nearly 50 directors and staff in Washington, D.C., March 18-20, 2024.

Representing the Upper Big Blue Natural Resource District were staff members Jack Wergin, Chrystal Houston and David Eigenberg.

Nebraska’s NRDs advocate for strengthening tools to preserve and fund natural resources projects, which includes engaging policymakers from the grassroots level with a unified voice.

This grassroots advocacy culminates with a visit to Washington, D.C., allowing NRD staff and directors to meet with congressional leaders and discuss local priorities with national partners on federal legislation and programs.

“Those who work and live among our natural resources are some of our most effective spokespeople,” said Dr. Orval Gigstad, Nebraska Association of Resources Districts past president. “Going to D.C. is an opportunity to advocate for Nebraska by sharing our personal stories, and also hear federal perspectives on issues that could impact us locally.”

While on Capitol Hill, conference attendees spent a day meeting with Nebraska senators and congressmen and participated in a two-day session with federal agencies and conservation partners. NRDs help deliver several federal programs locally, and these partnerships equate into real dollars for Nebraska agriculture and communities. Some of the federal topics and speakers included:

  • Watershed Programs, Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Soil Health Division, and Soil Science and Resource Assessment (SSRA) with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
  • S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Nonpoint Source Branch
  • S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Corps Water Infrastructure Financing Program (CWIFP)
  • Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART Program
  • Farm Bill and Agriculture Innovation with Corteva Agriscience, American Farm Bureau Federation and the Irrigation Association.

“We are grateful to our Nebraska federal delegation for their unwavering support and collaborative spirit in championing the cause of conservation alongside the Natural Resources Districts,” Gigstad said. “Their dedicaation and partnership have been instrumental in securing vital funding and resources that enable us to protect and preserve Nebraska’s precious natural resources for generations to come.”

Gigstad, who has served on the Nemaha NRD board since 1993, also serves as chairman of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) Northern Plains Region on behalf of Nebraska’s NRDs.

NACD provides a unified, national voice for the more than 3,000 conservation districts across the U.S. including Nebraska’s 23 NRDs. NACD’s member-driven board of directors selects conservation policy priorities, which are used to develop and review environmental and natural resources legislation and to secure adequate federal funding for natural resources conservation programs.

“NACD thanks Nebraska’s district leaders for taking the time and effort to advocate for locally led conservation on Capitol Hill,” said Chris Young, NACD director of government affairs. “As the Farm Bill and federal funding legislation are being developed, it’s a critical time for lawmakers to hear district priorities and understand how they can support conservation delivery in Nebraska and across the country.”

Back in Nebraska, advocacy efforts will continue by hosting elected officials in the Natural Resources Districts and engaging in public outreach.

“Locally, NRDs will continue to share our successes and concerns with our elected officials to ensure more informed decision making,” Gigstad said. “It is important that our elected officials know what the needs of locally led conservation are so that NRDs can receive adequate support to continue protecting lives, property and the future.”

Established in 1972, Nebraska’s 23 NRDs are local government units involved in a variety of projects and programs to conserve and protect the state’s natural resources. Today, the unique system of locally controlled, watershed-based conservation is widely admired throughout the nation.

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