To the Editor:
The Natural Resources Leadership Institute is a multi-faceted instructional and community service program of North Carolina Cooperative Extension at North Carolina State University.
North Carolina is facing tremendous growth and development pressures in some of the most environmentally sensitive areas of the state. Resource extraction, urban and industrial development, and agricultural production can result in diminished resource and environmental quality. These increasing pressures place a premium on natural resource management.
Yet, management of our natural resources is plagued with controversy. Increasingly, disputes arise over such issues as endangered species; private property rights; forest, nutrient, and wetland management; industrial recruitment; air and water quality; and recently, floodplain management.
We believe that people involved in these disputes can reach mutually acceptable solutions by communicating in a more meaningful and effective way, opening the dialogue to include all stakeholders, and negotiating to settle disagreements. However, this will involve unprecedented cooperation from a cadre of strongly committed leaders representing many interests. To settle disputes and reach collaborative solutions to tough environmental issues, leaders must be able to access a network of diverse interests, possess the skills to effectively negotiate for mutually beneficial scientific, technical and social solutions, and work to implement those solutions.
Leadership development is the cornerstone in a larger effort to improve environmental decision-making in North Carolina by expanding our capacity to resolve problems effectively and collaboratively. Building on this foundation, we see the need to teach citizens across the state the fundamentals of collaborative problem solving and participatory decision making. In situations where people disagree on how natural resources should be used, conserved, and protected, citizens and communities often need support in the form of third-party intervention to help them reach collaborative solutions.
We also believe that North Carolinians can take a more proactive approach to collaborative problem solving by coming together to discuss important issues before a dispute arises. Local, regional, and statewide problem-solving forums organized around emerging issues can enable people to engage in meaningful discussion and move to collaborative solutions.
Jackson County Extension Director