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Local RC&D brings home three national awards

 

Olga Walter (left), National Association of RC&D Councils President, with award winners Amanda Zito, Becki Koon and, picking up the award for Montana DNRC, Sue Sutherland, Bitter Root RC&D Council and Western RC&D Association President.

The Bitter Root RC&D brought home three awards from the National Association of RC&D Councils Conference in Madison, Wisconsin.

On June 10-13, representatives from three Montana Resource Conservation & Development Areas (RC&Ds) and Western RC&D Association Officers from Montana attended the National Association of RC&D Councils Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. This conference was geared toward topics that offered ideas about how to help RC&D Councils across the country survive the federal funding cuts that took place just over one year ago. It was also an opportunity to celebrate with those councils that have survived and are finding new ways of continuing the important work that they do for their local communities.

The Bitter Root RC&D has been helping the counties of Mineral, Missoula and Ravalli since November of 1965 when it was established, the first in Montana and the twelfth in the nation. This year the RC&D Program is celebrating 50 years of service, since it was established with the Agriculture Act of 1962. Responsibility for the administration of the RC&D Program was placed within the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  Successive Farm Bills provided for the further development of the program, including deepening the partnership between RC&D Councils, NRCS and other agencies, but all RC&D Councils are standalone 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporations.  The fact that RC&Ds are not government organizations but private nonprofit corporations has been a little confusing due to the federal partnership that existed.

As of April, 2011, RC&Ds no longer receive federal support but maintain their congressional status which makes RC&D a unique organization in its capacity to work across all political boundaries: federal, state, local and private.  So while the RC&D Program has taken a “financial hit,” many are finding the means to stabilize.

The Bitter Root RC&D is no exception to the financial “hit” but is looking to keep its doors open by exploring a variety of measures to mitigate that shortfall. And, despite the current challenges, the Bitter Root RC&D continues to be nationally recognized for innovation and expertise in foundational community project support, in the past receiving the national “2010 Council of the Year” award. The RC&D has supported over 1800 community projects during its tenure, and many of those projects have gone on to be standalone 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporations in their own right. This would not be possible without the exceptional staff and solid partnerships that have been developed through long-standing success.

National award winners were announced and the Bitter Root RC&D brought three awards back to Montana.

Becki Koon, Bitter Root RC&D Executive Director, received the “2011 Outstanding Performance by a Program Assistant” award.  Becki has been with the Bitter Root RC&D since March of 2001 and is known for her passion about what RC&D does for the community. The Bitter Root RC&D jumped right in after the Fires of 2000 and mobilized community-wide rehabilitation efforts with Becki leading that volunteer program. She never left RC&D, and after working many years as Special Projects Coordinator has taken the helm at the Bitter Root RC&D during this time of change.

Amanda Zito received the “2011 Outstanding Youth Involvement Award.” Amanda, daughter of RC&D bookkeeper Angela Zito, was recognized for her efforts in producing a YouTube video that went out as a call for help to get 5000 signatures on a petition to keep RC&Ds at the national federal funding table. While the effort did not succeed, Amanda’s dedication to helping the organization that she grew up around won her a national RC&D fan club. She was honored for the foresight and care that she voluntarily gave to helping the national RC&D community survive the challenge of funding loss.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) was recognized as “2011 Outstanding Supporting Organization” for the strong agency partner that they have been to Montana RC&Ds across the state. Programs such as the Western States Hazardous Fuels Reduction Cost-Share Grants and statewide education related to fire, forest health and beetle infestations are just some of the activities that bring DNRC and RC&D together.

The Bitter Root RC&D is proud to showcase the Mineral, Missoula and Ravalli County area to a national audience, providing expertise and guidance to other RC&D councils across the country with their award-winning team. The Bitter Root RC&D hopes that, through the strength of 47 years of relationship-building that has occurred, they will find new and exciting ways to continue to provide the support that our communities have come to rely on.

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