Lessons Learned Report
Each of the Red Lodge Clearinghouse “Collaboration Stories” focuses on a particular project or organization – how it developed, its key players, its successes and challenges. This page looks at how a number of collaborative groups have addressed common issues and draws out some of the “lessons learned” from their experiences. These lessons don’t offer “right” or “wrong” answers. Rather, they show how site – and circumstance – specific conditions shape the nature of a collaborative process. Hopefully they will be useful to new or evolving collaborative groups in finding their own answers.
If you have lessons to share from your own experiences, we would be delighted to hear from you and add your lessons to ours as we continue to expand and update this page.
Sometimes no formal organization is necessary. The Flathead Forestry Project (FFP), for example, came together as an all-volunteer group of individuals that wanted to encourage some specific changes in how the U.S. Forest Service managed national forests. Once that was accomplished, the group felt, its work would be done, and it could disband. Financial needs were expected to be minimal (postage, photocopying, etc.), covered by an occasional “passing of the hat” among the participants. There was no need to have a legal organizational existence, articles, by-laws, or a federal or state tax-exempt status. When FFP later found it would need grant funding to carry out a demonstration project, it found an existing non-profit organization in the community willing to act as its fiscal agent to receive and administer the grant.
Similarly, the Skokomish Watershed Action Team (SWAT) started as a group of individuals and organizations trying to help the Forest Service determine if it would be wise to use stewardship contracting to help pay for the removal of part of a logging road. After that decision was made, the participants decided to stay together as “a diverse, informal partnership of governments, land managers, and others working collaboratively to restore a healthy Skokomish watershed.” SWAT developed a one-page statement of goals and principles, but chose not to have its own board of directors, staff, or project budgets. Instead, when funding is needed for specific planning, implementation, or monitoring activities, individual groups that are members of the coalition submit those funding proposals, with SWAT acting as the funding coordinator and a source of support for its participants’ proposals.
Many collaborative groups, such as Wallowa Resources, incorporate as non-profit organizations and obtain Internal Revenue Service recognition as tax-exempt entities under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code, a major advantage when fundraising and often a precondition for seeking grants from government agencies or private foundations. Some non-profit groups also have for-profit subsidiaries. Wallowa Resources, for instance, has Community Solutions, Inc. (CSI) a company it created to stimulate community development. CSI started a post and pole company that provided additional markets for local forest products and 15 new family-wage jobs. Four years later, CSI sold that business, using the income to help expand its portfolio of other business services and activities.
The Quivira Coalition, another collaborative organized as a non-profit corporation, recognized it would need to reduce its reliance on grant funding. In response, it revised its business plan to include (among other enterprises) the running of a small livestock operation to generate earned income to help support the Coalition’s non-commercial (conservation) activities.
Some groups begin as committees or special projects of other organizations and then are spun-off (sometimes voluntarily, and occasionally not) to stand on their own. The all-volunteer Beatty Habitat Committee (BHC), for instance, was created as a subcommittee of the Beatty, Nevada, Town Advisory Board (TAB), itself appointed by the Nye County Commission. For five years, all went well. Then the election of new county commissioners led to a turnover in TAB membership, which resulted in a shift in local policies regarding development. That altered the relationship between BHC and TAB, and in 2006, TAB revoked BHC’s status as an advisory committee and administratively moved it to the Beatty General Improvement District (BGID). A year later, having received little support from the BGID, the BHC spun itself off as an independent group. Jim Moore of The Nature Conservancy in Nevada, who closely observed the Beatty experience, says one “lesson learned” is that in long-term collaborative processes. “The politics change. The people who hold the purse strings may drop out of the picture, and the people who follow them may not be as supportive.” He suggests seeking a letter of commitment from the parent organization/local government guaranteeing future support for the collaborative effort.
There are a growing number of groups being formed as a result of Congress or another government entity mandating the use of a collaborative process to implement specific public land management programs or activities.. Frequently those groups have no choice in the matter of organizational structure. Title II of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act for instance, gives forest-dependent counties the option of using a portion of the annual payments they receive from the Forest Service and/or Bureau of Land Management to carry out “protection, restoration, and enhancement of fish and wildlife habitat, and other resource objectives.” However, Federal Advisory Committee Act-chartered Resource Advisory Committees (RACs) must review the project proposals that are received, “provide advice and recommendations to the land management agencies” as to which projects should be funded, and monitor and report on approved projects.
In addition, RACs are required “to improve collaborative relationships” by providing “frequent opportunities for citizens, organizations, tribes, land management agencies, and other interested parties to participate openly and meaningfully, beginning at the early stages of the project development process….” The size, membership composition, members’ terms of service, and decision-making processes for RACs are spelled out in the SRS legislation, significantly limiting local flexibility. The RAC model has been adopted with slight modification as an implementing mechanism for a number of federal programs requiring collaboration, most recently the 2009 Forest Landscape Restoration Act.
The Big Hole Watershed Committee (BHWC) tries to have every affected interest represented at the table. An important part of that is making sure that board members do in fact represent the interests they are supposed to, and are respected by the people being represented. If, for instance, BHWC needs a representative of guides’ and outfitters’ interests, the executive director talks to individual outfitters and guides and asks them who they think would be a good representative. If a particular individual is mentioned again and again, that person is likely to be a good potential board member.
BWHC has a steering committee and a governing board. The steering committee – the four officers – meet and deal with the day-to-day affairs of the organization – hiring, budgeting, etc. According to executive director Noorjahan Parwana, “Each of them would feel comfortable asking any one of the others to go to a meeting and represent their views. They have a lot of trust and respect for each other.” BWHC board members as a whole have shown remarkable commitment, probably because they can see their work producing positive results. “We have people who come month in and month out, year after year…I think the motivation [comes] from our…success in developing a drought management plan that does seem to be making a difference in the river. We’re seeing fewer and fewer conflicts among different users….”
The Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council puts a great deal of emphasis on committee work, and uses committees as a way to actively involve both board and non-board members in the substantive work of the organization. Each board member is required to participate on a minimum of two committees and be actively involved in a minimum of two projects. The committees – Riparian and Fisheries, Forestry, Agriculture, and Outreach and Education – meet independently of the board, and ramrod those projects that fall within their committee’s purview. A minimum of two members of each committee must be board members, but other interested individuals are welcome and encouraged to serve. Committees have their own chair, keep their own minutes and records, and report back to the board at its monthly meetings.
The Big Hole Watershed Committee requires consensus on decisions. Noorjahan Parwana, the executive director says, “I have to admit that I still have some confusion on it, except that we do it, and it works. We have ground rules for communication, and consensus is basically when everyone either agrees or says, ‘I don’t like this, but I can live with where you guys are going, so let’s move forward.’ The decisions are made by who’s at the meeting when the decision is made…. It could be someone who just comes to a single meeting. If there’s anyone in the room who can’t agree to let the rest the group move forward, then we don’t. If there are concerns, we have a conversation about it…. ‘How can we help resolve your concerns?’ That’s what we try to do. I’ve never seen the group get totally stuck. I’m amazed with this group. I don’t take any credit for it. They know how to address the concerns of others.”
The Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council’s decisionmaking process has evolved with the organization. According to Jack Shipley, a founding member, “When we first started [in the early 1990’s] and for our first 8-10 years, decisions required a full consensus.” Not all board members were comfortable working with each other. Indeed, some had previously faced each other from opposite sides of a courtroom and were considered “sworn enemies.” In time, however, a level of trust was built among the directors, enabling the group to move to a “super majority” decision making system. If only one board member dissents, a project can be moved forward. If two directors are opposed, however, the proposed action has to be further discussed and reconsidered. Says Shipley, “Going to a super majority has allowed us to move forward a little more expeditiously on projects, but still left room for strong dissent on a project.”
The Mattole Restoration Council also strives for consensus, but uses a super majority approach when it appears that some members are not in agreement. In that case, a 75% majority vote is needed for passage. As a non-profit membership organization, the Council is also required to solicit the opinion of the membership when a pending decision would affect the membership directly. A mailing is sent to all members soliciting their opinions, and a simple majority vote of the membership is sufficient to pass or defeat a measure.
The Altar Valley Conservation Alliance prides itself on including anyone who wishes to participate in the Alliance. “There are times when there are tensions,” says co-president Pat King, “but if we can keep our focus on the issue, we can work together on that issue in spite of our tension. That’s what we try to keep before us so that we can remain active in what we want to get accomplished.” Ultimately the board of directors is responsible for making any final decision, which requires a simple majority vote.
The Skokomish Watershed Action Team (SWAT) doesn’t have a board of directors, but holds together as a coalition because it recognizes and honors the independence and varying viewpoints of its many participants. Votes aren’t taken. Instead the group tries to operate within areas of broad agreement. Providing mutual support for and coordinating the funding of restoration programs in the watershed is something that everyone sees as a need. Not everyone always agrees on the specifics of individual projects, however, so SWAT uses a “sign on” process that enables those participants who support a project to collectively endorse it, while giving other groups and individuals the ability to opt out. Instead of saying that SWAT itself supports a project, the endorsement letter (on SWAT letterhead) typically begins, “As participants in the Skokomish Watershed Action Team, we respectfully urge you to support…” and ends with the signatures of each of the individuals or groups in favor of it, usually 15 or more.
The Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council deals with many difficult problems, but always keeps its focus on solutions. “We want to be seen as a solution oriented group that wants to find a middle ground,” explains Jack Shipley. “We will address the sticky issues, and we may not have the best solution – but we will have a solution.” In dealing with projects on private lands, “We can’t be in the role of enforcers because we’re trying to…encourage them to do good things on their land. If we were seen as enforcers, there would be very little incentive for those landowners to work with us….”
When asked what lessons she’s learned about collaboration, Robyn King of the Yaak Valley Forest Council said, “At the risk of overstating the obvious – the power of listening genuinely and authentically, and the realization that there will be good days and bad days in coalition building. You have to have the willingness to stick to it and remember what your core organizing principle was – that the old way didn’t work, and all the fighting…didn’t resolve any of the big issues.” It’s not easy, but Robyn says you have to be “relentless” in your willingness to keep coming back to the table – regardless of how difficult that may sometimes be.
The Quivira Coalition contrasts its “eager learner” model of collaboration with the more prevalent watershed or `stakeholder' model. In its 2006 Annual Report, the Coalition lists its ten core tenets:
1) Meet in the field 'beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing' - sometimes called the `radical center' or what we call the New Ranch - a neutral place where people can come together to explore their common interests rather than argue their differences;
2) Avoid litigation or legislation;
3) Start with the grassroots - starting with the grass and the roots - or what we call Land Health;
4) Focus energy on the `eager learners';
5) Emphasize outreach, education and the dissemination of knowledge and innovation;
6) Conduct on-the-ground demonstration projects;
7) Engage in entrepreneurial action both as an organization and as a conservation philosophy - concentrate on strategies that make conservation profitable;
8) Work primarily at the nexus of agriculture and ecology;
9) Manage land, produce food and be resilient, and;
10) Promote networking, collaboration and strong relationships - we believe saving relationships, not places, is the key to the future of conservation.
The eager learner model “emphasizes giving resources to individuals, associations, and organizations who literally raise their hands and ask for help. Instead of negotiating, mediating, or resolving conflicts among various stakeholders, the eager learner model…seeks to encourage progressive change through the dissemination of innovation and the encouragement of relationship-building.”
Noorjahan Parwana of the Big Hole Watershed Committee stresses the importance of listening to and being responsive to the community when making plans. “Don’t try to force the issues. [Your issues] don’t necessarily match what the community cares about, and you have to let that go.” Citing some land use planning concerns the BHWC addressed, she says, “It wasn’t the planners or the county commissioners who said it needed to be done; it was the community who went to the policymakers and asked them to make it happen. Decision making and direction has to come from the grassroots.”
As far as Michael Jackson of the Quincy Library Group is concerned, when crafting a plan, “bigger is better than smaller, because the small things take an equal, infinite amount of time, so…it should be big enough to make the effort worthwhile.” QLG’s demonstration project is watershed-based, and as a result covers two national forests and one-quarter of a third. That’s a much larger area than most collaborative groups tackle, but because a subsequently adopted Forest Service plan laid a conflicting set of management standards over the entire 11-forest Sierra Nevada, QLG and its affected counties have spent years trying to administratively or judicially resolve the differences.
In the same way that he sees tackling a bigger geographic area as better, Jackson advises collaborative groups to be far-thinking and inclusive in addressing the relevant issues in their area. “You need an integrated plan. You have to deal with every single issue within the area, because if you don’t, someone can slow your project down because you didn’t. Don’t take someone else’s problem set. Figure out what your problem set could be in 20-30 years. [In the early 1990s] we didn’t calculate global warming into anything.”
The Mattole Restoration Council learned somewhat similar lessons in its early years, and has now revised and updated its strategic plan accordingly. Jeremy Wheeler, the Council’s executive director says, “It’s important to note the success we have had in viewing our work as a holistic endeavor and viewing it on a landscape scale. Earlier, we [took] a piecemeal approach with a project-to-project focus. Over the last decade we’ve had success moving from that to a landscape-scale approach --- like doing road treatments from the headwaters down to the mouth [of the river]. Funders like to see that, and the impact on the ground is more significant. We don’t just do one type of project, but work in many different areas of restoration. That way we often are able to leverage more significant funding by presenting packages to funders that have all the needed components in them to get the [complete] job done on the ground.”
How difficult issues are framed and addressed can be critical. The Nature Conservancy in Nevada has been strongly supportive of the Beatty Habitat Committee’s work to improve conditions both for people and wildlife (particularly the rare Amargosa toad) in and around that community. Jim Moore leads TNC’s efforts, and witnessed how socio-economic and political issues impacted the BHC’s work. When the town’s main employer closed, the community’s population declined, leading to more business closures. Economic development became the top community priority, and the toad was widely perceived as a liability, with preservation of its habitat considered a potential barrier to new development.
“I can’t imagine this is that different a situation from many other small towns struggling with what they want to be,” says Moore.. “Having to deal with a possible endangered species listing creates lots of potential for conflict, but also for meeting shared goals for the long-term – especially when you fold in tourism and quality of life issues. Here we like to talk about the greenbelt, parkways, and trails [that would be created as part of BHC’s habitat improvement plan], rather than about the toads. We don’t want the toads to be the issue, because then they become the scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in the community. Once you take the focus off them, you can start dealing with the root causes of the problem.”
The Yaak Valley Forest Council’s Robyn King says, “The challenge for all of us is to remember that we’re all …in this together. We need to be inclusive and look at all the resource management issues. Being a single issue organization doesn’t address all the needs of the community.”
Having been active for over 15 years, the Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council has confronted many challenges, and has adapted its operations as necessary to deal with them. “When we first started we were meeting a lot – weekly for the first seven years,” recalls Jack Shipley. “After that we [changed] to monthly meetings, and went through a very contentious period of time. Our meetings are public, and people were coming and wanting to verbally beat up the [government] agency people a lot. We were having two meetings a month – one [being] a public forum around public lands issues. It became kind of a lynching place for agencies. We didn’t want to support that – and so we restructured – we stopped [having] the public forums on a regular basis, and now [we just] do them on specific issues when they come up. The agencies still come to the table, and we still meet regularly in a public session once a month, usually…covering our different activities.”
A more recent challenge has been streamlining Applegate’s internal operations. At one time the organization had annual operating expenses in excess of $1 million. Now they’re about half that. Instead of having five or six employees, Applegate has one – their executive director – and other work is contracted out as needed. They’ve gone to a virtual office (a cell phone) – “You could count on one hand the times we [had] walk-in traffic” – and meetings are held at the public library. Field equipment is stored at the BLM nursery and made available when needed to contractors carrying out specific projects. Publication of the widely-read Applegator newspaper has been turned over to an independent non-profit group, and will be run as an independent paper. “We’re trying to get lean and mean,” says Shipley. “It will save us quite a bit of money, [and] we can put that directly into projects.”
Likewise faced with declining revenues and continuing financial uncertainty, the board of directors of the Greater Flagstaff Forest Partnershiprestructured their organization into an all-volunteer entity that targets its limited funding to carrying out specific projects through contracted work. Temporary action teams (rather than the standing work teams that were used previously) now guide activities and specific programs, and organizations or individuals with expertise specific to each task are contracted to accomplish on-the-ground projects.
Funding for collaborative groups and activities is seldom easy to come by, but some organizations have found ways to make their proposals particularly attractive to funders. The Mattole Restoration Council recently completed a new strategic plan, and Jeremy Wheeler reports that “engaging in watershed planning has been well worth the effort in terms of the ability to acquire significant funding. The plan has been proving essential again and again. [Proposed activities are] well thought out and [fit into] a bigger [watershed-shed scale] endeavor that’s [compellingly] describable – so people want to be part of it. State agencies put a lot of value on that. We try to make our plan specific to a lot of the state agencies’ guidelines – so that our plan [fits] the models that each one wants – follows their criteria. That really speaks to them.”
It’s important for a group to widen as much as possible the range of funding types and sources it uses. Michael Jackson says the Quincy Library Group’s projects have “had hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, more than half from state bonding. The benefit of the water that comes off the land dwarfs [the benefits from] recreation and timber, and state people recognize that right away. The agencies that we [community forestry people] deal with – we [usually] think only about the Forest Service, and not about the regional water quality control boards and the Clean Water Act folks and so forth.”
The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board provides annual base funding and some money to the Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council, but “we’re constantly plagued with how to keep the doors open – and in the future we won’t have any doors,” says Jack Shipley, referring to the organization’s new virtual office. Scarce operational funding will pay for the executive director position, and much of that person’s job will be to raise funds, both to sustain her own position and to fund the group’s restoration projects. Since much of Applegate’s work is on private property, finding and cultivating non-government funding sources is critical. Partnering with research institutions has proven helpful in generating resources for pre-management surveying, plot sampling, monitoring, and evaluation of restoration work.
Robyn King not only is executive director of the Yaak Valley Forest Council, but also is involved in at least two other related collaborative efforts. YVFC’s own funding “comes from foundations and generous individuals who support the work that we do, and that includes our coalition building.” TheLincoln County Coalition and the Three Rivers Challenge don’t do fundraising. Instead, the participating individuals or organizations pay their own expenses. At YVFC, “We’re anticipating some fundraising problems but haven’t experienced it yet….Because we’re more than wilderness advocates, because we do community building and economic development, we have some non-traditional funders.” Yaak-area projects have been included in a bill introduced in Congress in July 2009 by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT). If passed, it would (among other things) authorize funding of multi-year landscape-scale forest restoration projects in the Yaak.
The Skokomish Watershed Action Team (SWAT) knows the benefits of having a supportive member of Congress, in their case Representative Norm Dicks, who chairs the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. “The $700,000 from the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Initiative is the single largest financial boost we’ve gotten,” says Mike Anderson of The Wilderness Society and an active participant in SWAT. “We’re kind of ground zero [for the Initiative, which Dicks sponsored], but it’s a national program. [We want] to make sure that on the Skokomish we do things with the money that shows it’s a wise investment of federal funds, and do it in a way that will help other watersheds accomplish successful restoration with these funds, so that we can get Congress – [Representative] Dicks and others – to continue it and expand it.”
SWAT’s three-year action plan for work in the watershed has a $17 million estimated price tag, mostly for dealing with the impacts of Forest Service roads in the upper watershed. The agency’s use of stewardship contracting has enabled about $300,000 worth of restoration work. The Salmon Recovery Funding Board has made available almost $2.5 million for a variety of projects, and other support has come from the Environmental Protection Agency and Title II of the “Secure Rural Schools” program. None of the money goes to SWAT itself. “Every member of the coalition sponsors various funding proposals, and we [SWAT] act as a funding coordinator and a source of support.”
Funding coordination also became a necessity for the Big Hole Watershed Committee when conservation organizations in the watershed found out that several of them were individually asking the same foundation for grants to do the same kind of work. “We were tripping over each other,” says Noorjahan Parwana, “and it took us a while to get that straightened out. Now we meet once a month just to touch base and update each other.” The coordination meetings are open to the public, and landowners in the watershed are encouraged to come and learn about what each group is planning.
BHWC constantly works to increase its membership support base, and so far has been meeting its goals. Its on-the-ground watershed improvement and fish management work has been supported largely by federal and state agencies, including congressionally earmarked funding for work with grayling that is channeled to BHWC through the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Funding for BHWC’s own operational expenses has been the hardest to come by. The organization has successfully tapped some foundations, but plans to pursue grants from additional foundations along with its other efforts to expand its financial base.
Like BWHC and many other collaboratives, the Siuslaw Basin Partnership finds funding “the business of conservation,” as Johnny Sundstrom calls it, the primary challenge. “A [project] grant will pay for the phone call, but who pays for the phone, the office, the person to answer the phone, the ongoing needs of the business of restoration? [It’s difficult] convincing the agencies, lawmakers, etc. that just funding the on-the-ground work doesn’t cut it when you have to have all the other aspects of the business – especially with what everyone is going through now with the budget crisis. The funding crisis is not so glaring as it used to be for projects, but keeping the Partnership and its individual entities afloat is critical, and [that’s] hard to communicate to the people with the purse strings. Writing a grant and not getting it – who pays for that?”
The Siuslaw Basin Partnership needs “constant maintenance and communication, or misunderstandings can develop. Sometimes…a reporter or someone will contact one member of the partnership and get quotes and imply (or seem to imply) that they are going to talk to everyone [else]. And then the article comes out saying that the Partnership is doing this or that, but the [other partners] weren’t contacted about it. And then [there’s coordination on] funding – making sure everyone is involved in supporting another entity’s application for funding, contributing to it, commenting on it, working to implement it….Everyone gets a chance to pick at it and share in how it goes forward.”
The Skokomish Watershed Action Team is a volunteer effort, and when participants get busy with their own work, it can be hard to get them to spend more time on SWAT. “We try to kind of minimize the amount of time that’s demanded,” says Mike Anderson. “We try to have one monthly steering committee meeting and then general meetings and field trips. People enjoy the field trips, and we have good participation on them.” SWAT tries to work within people’s existing areas of concern. When putting together its three-year action plan, for instance, SWAT sometimes was able to dovetail its work with work the Forest Service was doing on its own restoration strategy. Still, “we have to be very careful about not over-committing people who are already busy with their own jobs.”
Noorjahan Parwana at the Big Hole Watershed Committee agrees. Consequently she has become skilled in recruiting new volunteers by involving them in short-term projects of particular interest to them. “I go to people that I may never see in a [BHWC] meeting …I’ll call up and say, ‘So-and-so suggested you might be a good person on this – would you come to this meeting, or these couple of meetings?’ And then I stick with that. People know I won’t take too much advantage of them….We have been doing really well on the volunteer front.”
At the Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council, “we finally came to the conclusion that not everyone wants to sit on a board, talk about finances, etc. They just want to do the work.” The technical or heavy equipment work is contracted out, but much of the group’s other work is done by volunteers. “We have an annual tree planting program that’s been going on forever with volunteers,” says Jack Shipley. “We use the BLM’s nursery to grow stock – take cuttings, propagate material, etc. We had one board member who didn’t like doing board work because it was boring, and he now heads up our nursery program that our volunteers keep going.”
Volunteer attrition has been an on-going problem for the all-volunteer Altar Valley Conservation Alliance, but the group seems to be having success with its new strategy of letting members pick areas in which they are particularly interested and would like to work. The Alliance is hoping that giving volunteers more options in choosing projects might get them more involved in the Alliance overall and help distribute responsibilities more equitably among the members. For example, some sporting groups that prize the opportunity to hunt on Altar Valley ranches now come out and do clean-up work on those lands, collecting the tons of trash (some of which can be deadly to livestock and birds) left behind by illegal aliens for whom the sparsely populated Altar Valley has become a major entry point into the United States.
The Skokomish Watershed Action Team finds tribal involvement in its collaborative efforts to be especially interesting and challenging – and very important. The Skokomish Tribe, as a sovereign government, now has ex officio representation in SWAT. “They are involved, Mike Anderson says, but “they’re cautious about having other entities acting on behalf of – or purporting to act on behalf of – the tribe…. We try to be very careful about that in our communications and dealings with policy makers, etc. [Every letter of support we send out is] always a sign-on letter, and every letter goes through the same sign-on opportunity. We recognize the independence of the tribe – and other organizations.”
Michael Jackson of the Quincy Library Group is emphatic: “Don’t ever start one of these [forest restoration] programs without talking to the Native Americans. Whether they want to be involved [in a collaborative group] or not, they are an historical source that provides you with a real place to start, not just [the view] you’re looking at out your window.”
The Big Hole Watershed Committee does a lot of outreach to people who never attend the group’s meetings. Phone calls or personal visits are used to solicit input from community members who potentially would be affected by BHWC activities and/or could be expected to have strong opinions about them. As a result, “people have trust that decisions aren’t being made behind anyone’s back.”
The Upper Joseph Creek Watershed Collaboration uses Wallowa Resources’ website as a document clearinghouse, giving anyone who is interested the ability to easily access information about the watershed and the collaborative restoration activities.
One of the observations drawn from the Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council’s long experience is that who comes to the table often “depends on who’s in office, who likes us (or needs us) a lot. When the Clinton administration was in,” says Jack Shipley, “the timber industry was at every [Applegate] meeting, and the enviros had walked away. Since Bush came into office, the timber industry has walked away and the enviros are back. It depends on whose ox is being gored. …We really want to see management on the federal lands be consistent and constant over time, [so that we’re not] caught in these whiplashes of changes in federal policy every four or eight years. It puts us in crisis periodically, and that’s crazy. We need to find a different way to do that – particularly in these forests that have thousands of years of time, not four- or eight-year windows.”
The Yaak Valley Forest Council has learned that it’s important to ‘be willing to reach out to as many people as you can, even if you know that some of those folks won’t be interested. Just taking that step and reaching your hand out is critically important,” says Robyn King. “It doesn’t mean you will get everyone to the table, but [the fact] that you extended that hand is very important.”
At the Mattole Restoration Council, Jeremy Wheeler says, “One of the biggest challenges has been reaching out to the ranching community. They tend to be very distrustful of government and anyone who is associated with or getting funding from the government.” The ranchers, however, have been in the watershed for a long time and are some of its largest landowners, so their involvement is very important to the Council. “We’ve made good progress over the last 5-10 years. Part of it was making it a priority to do active outreach, and we have gotten a couple of folks from that segment [of the community] onto the board of directors.”
The Council has also learned to focus its message on what services it can provide to landowners, rather than on what things landowners are doing that the Council would like them to stop. Looking at it from the perspective of “‘How can we help people do good stewardship?’ has really resonated with a lot of the ranchers and helped us build trust. We have a project that revolves around doing outreach to that group [ranchers]. Just focusing on [them] makes a difference. We’ve learned that -- cliché or not, a win/win approach works.” The Council has also learned that while some landowners are unwilling to deal directly with the government, they are willing to take part in federal or state cost-share programs to develop defensible space and/or do forest stand improvement if the Council acts as a “middleman” between them and the government. “A lot of people are leery of any type of government involvement, but whatever your feelings, that shouldn’t limit the ability of government to do something good…Because we live here, we can act as that bridge between the community and the government – the two different worlds that use different languages and maybe have two different belief systems.”
“We stick to our goals and follow through on them,” says the Big Hole Watershed Committee’s Noorjahan Parwana. Some of [the non-local groups] are not going in a direction that some of the folks on our watershed committee like to see and approve of, but we just respect that they have their own goals and we’re not going to mess with those. We’re just going to go ahead with ours.” Some of the non-local groups regularly use appeals and litigation to try to achieve their goals. At the BHWC, “We’re going about it in our own way – installing better headgates, doing education, protecting willows, putting in riparian fencing, doing management planning. We don’t have time to spin our wheels by trying to ask others to change their goals. In the end, what we’re doing is achieving their goals – just in a different way…. We think of everyone as a partner as much as possible.”
For the Mattole Restoration Council, “factoring in the outside groups is part of our mission – to build links. The Nature Conservancy has had some involvement in our planning for Mattole [watershed] conservation, as has the Save the Redwoods League,” says Jeremy Wheeler. “We do interface with them, and we have partnered with Save the Redwoods on a project in the middle Mattole, on a wildlife corridor. [Working with outside groups, however,] is a relatively minor component of what we do.”
The Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council is revamping its website to enhance its outreach and education efforts and keep local and non-local stakeholders alike well informed about what’s happening. “We’re going to make it really useable....We’re going to try to go back and pull in all of our archived material – a ton stuff we’ve done… We’re hoping to put a wealth of information on our website.”
The Flathead Forestry Project maintained a large mailing list that included everyone who had ever attended an FFP meeting or indicated any interest in what FFP was doing – as well as anyone FFP was aware of and thought ought to be interested, whether they were local or non-local. Each person on the list received meeting notices, copies of the highly detailed minutes of FFP meetings, and other informational material. Sometimes the interest generated by the minutes brought new participants to the table. At other times it resulted in phone calls or emails from people who had questions or concerns but were unable or unwilling to attend meetings. Over time FFP found the meeting minutes to be its most effective outreach and communications tool.
The Mattole Restoration Council is part of a collaborative effort with two other non-profits, one of which is the Mattole Salmon Group. For some years the Group has wanted to do a fish rescue program. The mouth of the Mattole River closes (dries up) in the summer, trapping fish in the river, which is very stressful to the juvenile salmon. Sometimes tens of thousands of endangered salmon are lost to predators. Rescuing the fish would involve trapping and relocating them. The state Fish and Game Department says the fish can’t be touched because they are endangered. The collaborative group wants to touch them in order to save them – because they are endangered. To date no resolution has been achieved.
Relationships with the Forest Service got “very tenuous” for a while for the Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council. “Part of the problem,” according to Jack Shipley, “is that [the local Forest Service district was] without a ranger for almost two years. We’d get these interim rangers, and we weren’t getting any traction or leadership. Agency morale was deteriorating, and they weren’t getting any funding. They weren’t getting projects done on the ground. That seems to be turning around. The regional forestry staff came down here last summer, and we spent a day in the field with them, and tried to find common ground to move forward. I think we are.”
“We in the Siuslaw have pushed stewardship contracting toward its full potential,” says Johnny Sundstrom of the Siuslaw Basin Partnership. “The [stewardship] authority is like the leash, and we’re the puppy. We’re not going to break the leash, but we’re sure going to find the end of it.” Generally the Siuslaw National Forest has been willing to push the envelope to pursue collaboratively developed projects with the community, probably because local land managers and the community have been working well together for at least 20 years. “It’s fundamental and taken for granted that you’re not going to move ahead without consulting the partners. It’s become habitual. We’re very fortunate.”
Asked how such a long-term relationship between agency and community has survived multiple changes in agency management, Sundstom explains, “We have a kind of ‘welcome wagon’ syndrome. It’s, ‘Welcome aboard! We’re here to help you. We’ll show you around, help you understand how this partnership will help you get your work done.’ We don’t ask permission to continue the partnership with the agency. We welcome them into it, and let them know it’s probably the best thing they could ever have happen to them. We immediately dispel the idea that people have to function in isolation from one another.”
Changes in the environment being documented through the Quincy Library Group’s research and monitoring are unveiling new challenges, some of which were not on anyone’s radar screen when QLG first convened. According to Michael Jackson, area forest stands had far fewer trees per acre 16 years ago than they do now. Increasing stand density has resulted in a significant lessening of the pine component of the stands. There’s also been a “songbird crash,” because of denser stands and less available food. And then there’s the problem of water. “We figure we’ve lost about 20 percent of the water flow, because the overstocked stands are transpiring into the air….While we’re still litigating and haggling over the past, there are significant changes we’ll have to make in the future to keep trees in the interior part of California.”
The Valles Caldera National Preserve and Trust collaborates with universities, agencies and non-profit organizations on research related to climate change; forest, range, and fire management; forest restoration; hydrological cycles; infectious diseases; carbon cycling; fire history; elk and cattle interactions; coyote and predator studies; and cattle behavior. These efforts result in over $1.5 million of research work on the Preserve each year.
According to a 2007 National Forest Foundation/WestCan study, a key factor in the success of the Upper Joseph Creek Watershed Collaborative project is the use of “field-verified information” to provide a strong foundation for both the discussion of the issues and the development of an action strategy. “The data helped focus attention on the facts and common interests for watershed protection, rather than positions.”
The Skokomish Watershed Action Team has a monitoring effort (focused primarily on invasive species) that is conducted by volunteers, and the Washington Native Plant Society performs weekend plant surveys (also done by volunteers) on decommissioned roads in the watershed. Funds for a more comprehensive, professionally staffed monitoring program are being sought from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, which funds 10-year monitoring and adaptive management projects in the Northwest.
The Lakeview Stewardship Group (LSG) monitoring program is impressive. Its Chewaucan Biophysical Monitoring Project (CBMP), which has operated continuously since 2002, was designed to answer questions the LSG had about current conditions and effects of management on that watershed. One of the goals of the monitoring plan was to create a link with local schools, and that has been accomplished by recruiting and training each year a monitoring field staff composed of high school and college students either currently or previously enrolled in Lake County schools. In the first four years, hundreds of permanent transects were established, to be used as controls in future studies and as indicators of change.
Beginning in 2006, the area being monitored was expanded, with emphasis being placed on matched paired studies, using the initial sites for comparison. Some study topics include: the effects of juniper treatments on soil, water availability, plant communities, and erosion; the effects of prescribed burning on soil chemistry and vegetation response; the impact of conifer removal in aspen stand enhancement; factors affecting mountain pine beetle infestations; the effects of culvert replacements on stream characteristics and fish migration; and a comparison of the recovery of roads decommissioned by sub-soiling, scarification, and blockage. Monitoring work from LSG informs public and private research and planning activities at the local, state, and regional levels. For instance, an LSG-initiated carbon analysis of prescribed fire treatments is being used by the West Coast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership in assessing regional options for reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.
At the Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council Jack Shipley says, “We’re doing all kinds of monitoring stuff. [It’s been] ongoing for better than a decade. There’s a wealth of information there. The federal agencies rely on us -- the USFWS, NOAA, EPA, etc.” Over 30 monitoring stations are maintained in the valley, and research institutions around the country have partnered with the Applegate. “We’ve been doing a lot of work through MOUs [memorandums of understanding] with universities – Southern Oregon University, University of Washington, Yale, Northern Arizona University. In fact, one of our recent major grant projects came through NA U.”
The Applegate has a position for university representation on its board, and a retired chemist put together the group’s monitoring program. Starting off as a summer project using university students, it has evolved into a year-round, very extensive water quality monitoring program with both paid and volunteer monitors. Among them are area property owners who have been trained to maintain monitoring stations. Although government agencies were reticent at first to use data gathered through the program – preferring to gather their own – they now regularly use the Applegate’s.
At the Mattole Restoration Council, “Monitoring is an essential component of everything we do….One of the things we’ve done in the last two years that was a real positive step…was to hire a monitoring coordinator. Community/volunteer monitoring is great, but you do need some consistency. We use volunteer monitors where we can – but we do find that it’s important enough that you don’t want to only leave it to volunteers,” explains Jeremy Wheeler. “We’re making it a priority in terms of funding. It’s difficult to get funding for monitoring, but we’ve had some success in bolstering our monitoring funding in recent years. A lot of people on the funders’ side are realizing how important it really is.”
A valuable “lesson learned” by the Flathead Forestry Project during its first major monitoring effort is that when designing a monitoring program – especially one that is to be conducted by volunteers – it is critical to draw a distinction between what it is essential to learn from the monitoring effort and what it merely would be nice to know. Trying to monitor too many aspects of its Cedar Flats demonstration project strained the group’s volunteer resources and, although all of the data gathered was interesting, a good deal of it was peripheral to the key hypotheses being tested.
A second lesson learned was the importance of visual documentation. Before-and-after photographs were particularly valuable in communicating the immediate and longer-term effects of on-the-ground work to audiences not made up of scientists and/or natural resources professionals. Pictures also sparked more questions and comments from viewers than did charts, graphs, and narrative explanations.
Finally, FFP found that evaluating the social and economic effects of restoration/stand-improvement treatments was a challenge. Outside of product volume and value and employment numbers and wages, the socio-economic data that could be gathered was often incomplete or unreliable, and drawing meaningful conclusions from it was problematic at best.
Johnny Sundstrom of the Siuslaw Basin Partnership sees time as one of the resources most important to a successful collaborative effort. Faced with ever-increasing workloads and a host of competing demands for their time, participants have to consider the value of time spent in collaboration. “It’s hard to justify and measure going to meetings where there is no tangible benefit. How do you measure and how do you justify the mileage, time, and energy it takes to engage in collaboration? Probably not in miles of streams, etc. But if your [public forest land management] is active and you don’t have litigation, it shows there must be some collaboration and communication going on. If you’re a public lands community, look at the employment. Are local people being employed or are outside contractors being used? Are your schools failing or disappearing? Talk to people on the private side just as much as you talk to the public entities about how things are going. It’s not just the agencies who have to decide if collaboration is worth the time. That’s a measurement – the willingness of the partners to dedicate time and energy when its [being used well]. It’s rather intangible, but those are the key measurements in the longer term.”
“I think the major lesson learned is the old lesson that it will take twice as much money and three times as much time as you thought,” says Michael Jackson of the Quincy Library Group.
Robyn King of the Lincoln County Coalition agrees. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought it would have taken this long, building and maintaining the relationships and trust that allow you to move into the phase where you can create the solutions.”
Jack Shipley of the Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council observes ruefully, ”When we first started, we had a sunset clause in our bylaws, that we would have all this stuff done and be finished in seven years. Little did we know, it’s a multi-lifetime project.”
Jeremy Wheeler says, “At the Mattole Restoration Council, we view our endeavor as a multigenerational enterprise. It’s a big project to actually get things viable – to have a healthy, self-sustaining, reconstructed watershed. We don’t expect it to happen in one lifetime. At twenty-five years, we’re doing our first ‘quarterly report’. [Our work] is going to take a while. The Native Americans knew what they were talking about when they started looking at seven generations. That should never daunt us. It gives us all the more reason to get more buckled down – to not be discouraged by it, but inspired by it. It’s good to be working on something that’s going to last beyond your lifetime.”