Local institutions, regional transitions and the rural policy void in the United States: A case study of Soil Conservation Districts in the Northern Great Plains

Authors: Kelli Roemer*, Montana State University, Julia H Haggerty, Montana State University, Kathleen Epstein, Montana State University
Topics: Rural Geography
Keywords: Rural, resilience, Northern Great Plains, conservation districts
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 4
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Rangelands are increasingly recognized for their social, economic, and ecological benefits, yet they are among the most rapidly changing and imperiled ecosystems worldwide. Parts of the North American Northern Great Plains (NGP) have been identified as one of the world’s last remaining relatively intact native rangelands and a critical area for conservation. Rangeland conservation and management efforts are challenged by the region’s complicated ownership profile, which includes public land agencies and substantial private land ownership and decentralized environmental governance. Despite the overall limited institutional capacity, the local Conservation Districts have endured and continue to play a prominent role in addressing the changing dynamics of the NGP’s social-ecological system. Resilience theorists emphasize the importance of “engaged” local governance as a critical element of community resilience and can influence the adaptive capacity of the social component of the social-ecological system. In this paper, we apply these theories about the importance of local governance to evaluate the role of conservation districts in contributing to regional resilience in the Northern Great Plains. Specifically, we examine the policy history of soil conservation districts as local conservation planning institutions and employ focus group interviews to explore how conservation district actors perceive the role, purpose, and capacity of conservation districts to address the question: how do conservation districts reflect and/are enable regional resilience in the Northern Great Plains?

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