Contribution Agreements – A New Way to Fight Invasive Plants

About 75 years ago, our nation faced the greatest natural disaster in our history, the “Dust Bowl”. The magnitude and severity of the human and environmental consequences were unprecedented and the national response was massive. In 1937, roughly 17 % of the federal budget was devoted to conservation and the beginnings of our present day conservation partnership was born. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Indiana Division of Soil Conservation and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) today constitute one of the greatest and most successful creations of government in our history and has created a legacy that has radically transformed Indiana’s landscape.

I am convinced that Indiana currently faces another natural disaster in the form of non-native invasive plants. In some respects, it promises to have an even more devastating consequence than the Dust Bowl, particularly in terms of our ecology. Biodiversity is the canary in the coal mine for the health of our planet and invasive plants will have a profoundly negative impact due to the displacement of native plant communities on an unprecedented scale. What is at stake is not only the viability and loss of our forests and wood products industry, but the survival of many rare, endangered and even commonplace species of native flora and fauna. The greatest challenge that we, as concerned environmentalists face, is that the presence of this threat is virtually invisible to the untrained eye and the full consequences will not be obvious until it is too late.

The recently inked contribution agreement between SICIM (Southern Indiana Cooperative Invasive Management) and NRCS represents a watershed event and a tremendous opportunity to meaningfully reverse direction in Indiana for the first time. The leadership of NRCS is to be applauded. What Jane Hardisty and her team realize, is that the conservation delivery system now in place, is the perfect vehicle to effectively begin to address invasive species. It was built on the kind of local leadership, credibility and partnerships that have defined SWCDs and “locally led” incentive-based conservation for generations.

SWCDs can provide the infrastructure and some basic staff support to allow local Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) to function. SICIM, through this agreement, can provide the guidance, expertise and limited funding to help get new CISMAs off the ground. Unfortunately, SWCDs are among the most overburdened and underfunded units of local government and what neither they nor SICIM can furnish are the participants, leaders and dollars to provide education, carry out the work load, raise funds, perform landowner assessments, write management plans, hire local resource specialists and simply keep the effort afloat and thriving for the next 75 years. That is where you, the reader, enters the picture.

Over the next 5 years, there will be CISMAs coming to a county near you. They will be asking for public participation and support. If healthy forests, wetlands and wildlife that are diverse and sustainable are consistent with your vision for Indiana’s natural resources, action will be required.

Natural resource stewardship has always been a source of meaning and value in our culture. It is a reflection of the functionality and depth of a people’s relationship to the world they inhabit. The collective “we” that makes up present day America still has the opportunity to shape our destiny. Our country has always been able to produce men and women like John Muir, Hugh Hammond Bennet, Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson who have communicated their natural resource vision in a way that activated, motivated and inspired a sufficient number of individuals to truly make a difference. It is my hope that that spirit can be rekindled.

There are three ways you can help. First you can become an activist and volunteer through your local CISMA. Secondly, you can start educating elected officials at all levels so that the people of Indiana through state and local government can become financial stakeholders. Third, you can provide financial help to SICIM and/or your local CISMA. To get started contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District and ask them how you can get involved. You can find your local Soil and Water Conservation district at .

The Contribution Agreement that is in place between NRCS and SICIM will provide $900,000 to local CISMAs to establish and promote the control of invasive species with educational events, technical assistance to landowners and promotional and informational publications. These funds will be disbursed over the 5 year life of the agreement. SICIM will need to match the funds provided by NRCS. To our credit, we have thus far received commitments of $300,000 from the Indiana State Soil Conservation Board using Clean Water Indiana funding, and $50,000 from the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The leadership of SICIM, which is currently all volunteer, have many doors to knock on, and we will. If you can open a door for us, it would be appreciated. If you could open your checkbook for us, it would be a game changer. The clock on this agreement is ticking, and it is vital that we get the revenue pump primed as soon as possible to get key positions outlined in the agreement on the job creating results and building momentum. SICIM’s goal is to not leave one dollar of NRCS funding on the table.

This historic agreement was born out of a conviction not only that this was an idea whose time had come, but whose time could not wait any longer. This agreement can be historic in a triumphant way or a tragic way, depending on the response of individuals like yourselves. Hoping that someone else will care is not a viable option. Doing your part is.

Ray Chattin is a SICIM Steering Committee Member.