Natural Resources Leadership Institute

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History of the Natural Resources Leadership Institute

The Natural Resources Leadership Institute is an instructional and community service program of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at NC State University. The goal of the Natural Resources Leadership Institute is to improve management and policy decisions affecting North Carolina's communities and natural resources. We are working toward this goal by:

  • Improving leadership in natural resource management and policy development;
  • Convening stakeholders and decision makers in action-oriented forums to identify, negotiate, and resolve issues;
  • Conducting research and providing training in decision-making, negotiation, and facilitation; and
  • Expanding the capacity for collaborative problem-solving in North Carolina.

Leadership Development  

1995 NRLI Session

The project "Developing Natural Resources Leadership" started on June 1, 1994 at NC State University with funding provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of $700,000 for a three year, multi-state project. The overall objective was to improve the management of natural resources in the South and enhance rural economic development while maintaining or improving environmental quality.  Specifically, the first Natural Resources Leadership Institute (NRLI) for natural resource policy leadership development launched in January 1995, in North Carolina.   

Adapted for use and implemented in Arkansas and Kentucky, in 1996, the institutes were intended to bring together natural resource managers from the public and private sectors and representatives of environmental action groups in an atmosphere conducive to the exploration of controversial issues, and the learning of leadership skills required for resolving issues and developing mutually satisfactory management policies.  Extension faculty from five new states participated in the 1996 institutes:  Oklahoma in the Arkansas institute, Indiana and Virginia participated in the Kentucky institute, and Florida and South Carolina in North Carolina institute. 

The project, "Developing Natural Resources Leadership", included three major goals:

1. Develop a cadre of leaders strongly committed to help implement policies that provide for both economic development and environment protection.

2.Establish a dissemination process that facilitates adoption and implementation of the leadership development program across state lines.

3.Increase the ability of extension faculty to facilitate resolution of local, regional and state natural resource management policy conflicts.

North Carolina and Kentucky continued to build their programs, holding institutes annually and conducting associated training to other audiences and in other subject areas.  Arkansas discontinued its program in 1998, folding some of the principles developed through the NRLI into an ongoing rural leadership program, and Kentucky discontinued their program in 2003. By offering training to Extension faculty at other land grant universities, leadership programs were established in Florida, Virginia, and Maryland, with each program receiving seed funding from the W.K. Kellogg grant.  Subsequent NRLIs were launched in Washington and Indiana, while other NRLI spin-offs took root in Alaska, Kansas, and Montana. 

Since 1995, the NRLI at NC State University Extension has held annual institutes, providing leadership development to approximately 25 professionals in state, federal, and local government, business and industry, nonprofit environmental organizations, and higher education.  To date, 400 and some natural resource professionals have participated in the Natural Resources Leadership Institute.  

Smutko_1995The founding Extension faculty of the Natural Resources Leadership Institute included:

Dr. Mike Levi (project leader), with Dr. Leon Danielson, Dr. Ed  Jones, and Dr. Si Garber; and Dr. Steve Smutko was hired as the institute's first director soon after the institute  was funded in1994. Steve, along with the other faculty members launched the first NRLI in the US, in 1995.  Dr. Smutko served as the first Director of the Natural Resources Leadership Institute, from 1995 to 2009, until he was hired to in the position of Spicer Chair in Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming.

To contact Dr. Steve Smutko:
University of Wyoming
School of Environment and Natural Resources
Dept. of Ag & Applied Economics
Office: (307)766-2703; Mobile: (307)314-9267

In 1997, NRLI hired Mary Lou Addor, its first Associate Director, beginning with its third class of NRLI Fellows. Mary Lou (Lou) was a fellow in the 1996 program and currently serves as the current director of the Institute.

Environmental Decision-Making

In 1996, NRLI contracted with the US Forest Service to mediate a dispute among timber interests, environmental organizations, and community members over a proposed timber sale on Bluff Mountain in Madison County, North Carolina.  The Bluff Mountain timber sale was the Institute’s first official environmental conflict resolution case.  As our experience in these processes grew, the Institute took on an increasing number of cases, resulting in an official change in our mission to include a services component, called the Environmental Decision-Making Program, to support collaborative decision-making processes throughout North Carolina.  Since Bluff Mountain, the Institute has convened and facilitated more than 30 collaborative processes in the southeast. 

In 1998,NRLI Fellows from the three previous graduating classes organized a training seminar to rekindle the spirit of fellowship they had created during their time together in NRLI, and to continue building their expertise in collaborative problem solving.  This followed with the formalization of the Natural Resources Leadership Association (NRLA) in 1999.  NRLA has become active in supporting the Institute’s programs, and in furthering the professional development of its NRLI Fellows. 

In addition, NRLI  contracted with the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources to facilitate the development of administrative rules for riparian buffers on the Neuse River.  This was the first of several “reg-negs” that NRLI has facilitated. Others that followed include a riparian buffer rule on the Catawba, and the Central Coastal Plain Capacity Use Area Rule.

Lastly, the National Public Policy Education Committee conferred its “Outstanding Achievement in Public Issues Education” award to the Natural Resources Leadership Institutes of North Carolina and Kentucky.

In 1998-99, NRLI led the stakeholder involvement component of the North Carolina Wood Chip Production Study. The statewide visibility of this issue, and the high degree of contention among stakeholders in this process led to a formal University review of the Institute and its programs in 2000.  After a thorough examination of the Institute’s activities, the review committee composed of leaders in industry, government, and academia, summarized that:

“The need for NRLI’s programs is clear. With a growing population and strong economy, North Carolina is facing increasingly difficult challenges in environmental decision-making. The programs of the Natural Resources Leadership Institute have already made important contributions to good public decision-making. NRLI has the potential to do much more to assist the environmental policy process to move in the direction of sustainable natural resource development.”

In 2001, the Institute began its work on the Nantahala and Tuckasegee hydro-relicensing, a project initiated as a practicum of three 2001 NRLI Fellows.  From 2001 through 2003, NRLI convened two stakeholder groups that participated in an innovative hydro-negotiation process and resulted in a comprehensive settlement agreement that Duke submitted to FERC as their application for new licenses for their dams on the Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers. Attending monthly meetings, anglers, local outfitters and county decision-makers, Duke Power, state and federal agencies, citizens, and others participated throughout the process. Among the major achievements was the comprehensive settlement agreement designed to meet the ecological needs of the river while at the same time, meeting the interests of agencies, county governments, citizens, Duke Power, anglers, and paddlers.

Dillsboro DamThe comprehensive agreement called for the removal of Dillsboro Dam, which formed the foundation of the settlement agreement.  In fact, many aspects of the comprehensive agreement connected to the removal of the Dillsboro Dam. Following the signing of the agreement, the Dillsboro Dam became a controversial issue when Jackson County legally challenged the removal.  In January 2010, all legal challenges were removed,  allowing Duke Energy to move forward in conjunction with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the Dillsboro Dam on the Tuckasegee River.

In 2002-2003, with a grant from the Ford Foundation, the Institute created Leadership for Environmental Justice.  The goal of this program was to empower minority, low-income, and underserved populations to participate more effectively in environmental policy decisions that affect them and their communities.  The project was undertaken through a partnership between the Institute, the Environmental Science and Political Science departments at North Carolina Central University, and the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. The program graduated one class in 2003.  However, with the untimely passing of its Program Coordinator, Nan Freeland, the Institute suspended the program, hoping to reestablish it in the future.

In 2003- 2004, NRLI went south.  In partnership with Resolve and the US Institute for Environmental Negotiation, NRLI worked with the Bankhead National Forest in Alabama to facilitate the development of their Forest Health and Restoration Initiative.  This project was one of the first such initiatives in the nation, and successfully adopted without appeal.

Iron Bridge on the Chattooga RiverIn 2005 -2006, NRLI worked with the USDA Forest Service in three states to conduct a situation assessment of the Chattooga River Recreational Use area. The USDA Forest Service initiated a visitor use capacity analysis in response to an appeal of the Sumter National Forest’s Revised Land and Resource Management Plan by advocates of whitewater boating. The capacity analysis provided data for evaluating the management decision and adjusting or amending the Forest Plan as appropriate. Since 1976, the upper portion of the Chattooga River, from the headwaters to State Highway 28 bridge, has been closed to whitewater boating as a recreational use. The Forest Service requested assistance to determine how collaboration among stakeholders could best occur throughout the remaining stages of reassessing the current management decision on boating in the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River.

The Natural Resources Leadership Institute's role in this project was twofold. First, we conducted an issue assessment to determine how a broadly represented subset of river users perceived the use of collaborative approaches for developing decisions for managing recreational use on the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River. In the second phase, the Institute assisted the Forest Service to design and conduct two citizen forumsfor identifying and evaluating potential management actions that reflect the desired resource and social conditions for the upper Chattooga River.

In 2008, the NRLI worked with the City of Raleigh to conduct an evaluation of the City of Raleigh's Park Master Planning Process. A Park Master Plan is a conceptual design document that generally describes and guides the future Forest Ridge Park Final Planmanagement and development of a park property. Its preparation is intended to be a public process to ensure that the needs of the public are met while preserving the ecological function and environmental quality of the site. The City of Raleigh contracted with the Natural Resources Leadership Institute to conduct a study of the City's park master planning processes to determine how, to what degree, and to what end citizens participate in decisions regarding the scope and character of future park sites.

In 2009, the NRLI worked with the Ecosystem Enhancement Program to help EEP transitEEP Mitigation Siteion from its nutrient offset payment program to an actual cost pricing method. Session Law 2007-438 mandated that the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) develop and implement a plan to transition the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program (EEP) Nutrient Offset Program from a fee-based system to a program based on the actual costs of providing nutrient credits. EEP, in collaboration with the NC Division of Water Quality, convened a group of key stakeholders to discuss the basic approach to setting actual-cost rates for its nutrient offset program.

The Natural Resources Leadership Institute facilitated the stakeholder's deliberations to provide a forum for EEP, DWQ and non-agency stakeholders to:

1. Share information and arrive at a common understanding of Ecosystem Enhancement Program planning and operations
2. Share information on the actual cost method proposed by EEP
3. Identify unknowns and uncertainties reflected in the proposed actual cost method
4. Strive toward an agreement on specific components of the actual cost method to be adopted by

Wildlife Habitat Zone Advisory Team_Horseshoe Farm ParkIn 2009, the City of Raleigh Parks and Recreation contracted with the NRLI to develop a public participation policy for the Raleigh Department of Parks and Recreation. Based upon the earlier report, Involving the Public in Park Planning, An Evaluation of the City of Raleigh's Park Master Planning Process. The following recommendation was made in the report:

The Parks and Recreation Department should augment its current documentation of master planning process (Resolution (2003)-735) with a comprehensive public involvement policy (see for example:

The policy is expected to define the roles and responsibilities of staff positions implementing all the Department’s public participation processes, expand and then define the purposes and circumstances for which public involvement will be used, and outline and define the procedures to be followed. The policy document will also contain a glossary of terms used in park master planning and public involvement generally, and provide consistency of language from process to process. In addition, sufficient flexibility in procedure should be incorporated into the policy so that various and appropriate forums for engagement can be applied to fit the circumstances.