Yesterday I listened in on Gerry Mich’s webinar about the Wisconsin Woodland Advocate program. The program is built around a simple but compelling idea: organizing active, well informed woodland to help their neighbors connect with trusted local natural resources professionals.
Woodland Advocates’ job is not to deliver forestry advice–that’s the work of professionals–but rather to deliver basic information and recommend trusted professionals. This approach builds on a foundation of trust among peers. Some landowners are more comfortable talking to peers than professionals, at least early on. The model seems to be working: 100% of landowners contacted by an advocate were either happy or very happy with their experience.
The program is also attractive to foresters. By making the initial contact and collecting basic information about the land and landowner’s objectives, the volunteers allow the forester to focus on their strengths and hit the ground running when they start working with the new landowner with whom the volunteer has put them in contact.
Gerry’s done a nice job of streamlining the program and avoiding duplication of effort. Woodland Advocates are recruited from one of Wisconsin’s two excellent woodland owner and leader training programs, Master Woodland Steward and the Woodland Leadership Institute. That leaves the work of volunteer training and confidence-building to Extension, allowing Gerry to focus on community connections.
The downside of a model like this is finding a way to fund it. Gerry’s been quite successful securing grant funding for program development and operations over the past few years, and they’re funded, although only at half of previous levels, through this year. As Gerry noted in his talk yesterday, this is a tough time to find funding, and it can be hard to fund ongoing, as opposed to new, projects.
Gerry’s been resourceful in the past, and I look forward to watching this program evolve. To learn more about Woodland Advocate, drop Gerry a line. His contact info is here.
Gerry’s webinar was organized by the National Network of Forest Practitioners.