Environmental Leaders Gather in Richmond for Leadership Institute

January 09, 2007
Jan. 9, 2007 -- Virginia's environmental leaders are gathering in Richmond for a three-day workshop, Jan. 10-12, for the Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute. Leaders from Virginia's industrial, business, local and state government, and environmental communities will continue their year-long work together with a full agenda covering important skills for conflict resolution, personal leadership and collaborative dialogue.

Workshop participants will hear from Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant about the outcomes of the Governor's Summit on Natural Resources held in September and the governor's priorities for natural resources and land conservation. As this meeting coincides with the opening of the General Assembly, leaders will also gain insight into the commonwealth's legislative processes through panel discussions with distinguished speakers. The three-day workshop will also include expert panels on challenges in local land use and growth management, as well as urban forestry and green infrastrusture.

VNRLI is a partnership with the University of Virginia's Institute for Environmental Negotiation, Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Department of Forestry. The leadership program is funded this year by a special grant 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 2007 program has also received support from the USDA Forest Service's Urban and Community Forestry Grant Program, as well as the Virginia Poultry Federation, the Shenandoah Forum and individual VNRLI alumni.

The Leadership Institute is designed to foster communication and understanding between environmental leaders representing different interests in Virginia's natural resources. The program guides and challenges leaders 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. This year's program began in September in Madison County, and continued in the Northern Neck with a visit to Tangier. Subsequent sessions will take leaders 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.

Heather Schinkel, natural resource management and protection section manager for the Fairfax County Park Authority, said she left last year's program with "renewed optimism and motivation to help my organization use these collaboration and leadership tools."  John Merriner, operations superintendent for Winchester Public Utilities appreciated that "VNRLI gave me the insight and experience to deal with groups with opposing views." Many of the 2006 participants identified networking with other natural resource leaders and viewing firsthand the environmental issues throughout the state as highlights of the program. Others noted that the program helped to dispel stereotypes of different groups - business, government or environmental. Karl Bren, founder of GreenVisions Consulting and a 2004 institute fellow, recommends the program to "anyone who wants to grow in their knowledge and passion for Virginia's natural resources."

According to IEN director Frank Dukes, "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 together people 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 Virginia Department of Forestry is eager to see the institute thrive. "The demands and pressures on our resources are becoming greater every day," said Mike Foreman, deputy director, division of soil and water, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. "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, http://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.