Environmental Leaders to Gather in Madison County to Kick Off Leadership Institute

September 07, 2006
Sept. 7, 2006 -- Virginia’s environmental leaders are gathering in Madison County for a three-day workshop, Sept. 13-15, to kick off the seventh year of the Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute. VNRLI is a partnership with the University of Virginia’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation, Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Department of Forestry. Leaders from Virginia’s industry, businesses, local and state government, and the environmental community will begin their yearlong work together with a packed agenda covering important skills for conflict resolution, personal leadership, and collaborative dialogue.  Leaders also will hear from guest speakers about a six-year dialogue between public health advocates and tobacco farmers, on the surface with nothing in common, who were able through dialogue to find common ground and to work together to help tobacco communities and public health.

The leadership program is supported this year by a special grant of $20,000 from the Dominion Foundation to support collaborative decision-making for protecting Virginia’s environment and natural resources. Dominion is one of the nation's largest producers of energy, serving retail energy customers in nine states. The program is also receiving support from the U.S.D.A. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Grant Program, as well as the Virginia Poultry Federation and VNRLI alumni.

The leadership program is designed to foster communication and understanding between environmental leaders representing different interests in Virginia’s natural resources. The program guides leaders and challenges them to grow in their personal leadership and collaborative problem-solving skills. Each session offers interactive exercises that focus on a topic such as conflict resolution, facilitation, consensus building, interest-based negotiation, public involvement, environmental justice and collaborative leadership. In addition, participants gain deeper understanding of key Virginia environmental issues through stakeholder panel discussions and field trips. After the workshop in Madison County, the program will take leaders this coming fall and spring to the Northern Neck to learn about fisheries and issues impacting the Chesapeake Bay, to Richmond to learn about land use and growth management challenges and legislative priorities, to the Shenandoah Valley to learn about sustainable agriculture and impacts of agricultural waste management on water quality, and to Southwest Virginia to learn about coal mining, mountain top reclamation and sustainable forestry.

This year's group of 32 leaders includes 12 people from seven state agencies, three from federal agencies, five from the private sector, six from local and regional governments, and six from nonprofit and community organizations.  Some leaders have applied for the program primarily to learn more about current issues concerning Virginia's natural resources, while others wish to expand their professional communication and facilitation skills. 

IEN Director Frank Dukes said, "Since the program was first offered in 2001, we're seeing concrete results as alumni are using their new skills and relationships to resolve conflicts and build authentic consensus concerning environmental issues around the commonwealth."

Mike Ellerbrock, extension specialist and director of the Virginia Tech Center for Economic Education, one of the program’s co-sponsors, said one goal is to bring people together who normally don't have the opportunity to interact on an informal, friendly basis. “The institute does not try to convince anyone of any particular solution or outcome, but it does aim to help people gain insight into different perspectives about the same issue.”

 “The demands and pressures on our resources are becoming greater every day,” said Mike Foreman, program manager for land conservation, riparian and forest policy at the Virginia Department of Forestry. “We need to develop new, innovative approaches to doing business. One way to do that is to build an understanding of each other and of the issues.”
Applications for VNRLI are available every spring.  For further information, visit the VNRLI Web site, www.virginia.edu/ien/vnrli, or contact program manager Caroline Wilkinson at (434) 924-6569 or e-mail: cwilk@virginia.edu. For more information about Dominion, visit the company's Web site at www.dom.com.