RVCC Partners with Forest Stewards Guild for SW Peer Learning Exchange

Written by: Kendal Martel, Southwest Program Coordinator for The Forest Stewards Guild

December 2018

In late October, the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition partnered with The Forest Stewards Guild Southwest chapter and Oregon State University to host an All Lands Peer Learning Exchange in Grants, NM.

RVCC has led the way in convening practitioners engaged in community based natural resource management and restoration across the West. The exchange was part of the All Lands Learning & Innovation Network (ALL-IN), a peer-learning effort that supports successful all lands planning and implementation and improves practice through multiple tools, strategies, and resources. The exchange welcomed participants from Oregon, New Mexico, California, and Alaska.

The goals of the peer learning exchange were to:

  • Expand upon new tools & ideas available to improve the practice of all lands work.

  • Connect to a community of practitioners and forming new peer relationships.

  • Improve the understanding of the strategies, programs and authorities for operationalizing All Lands work.

  • Increase capacity to solve problems.

Broadly, the All Lands* approach is about creating a common vision among differing positions in order to generate innovation, codify policy, and facilitate partnerships. In addition, this approach can leverage resources and local knowledge that people who live, work, and manage on the land need to implement restoration of that land.

RVCC’s All Lands management ALL-IN approach revolves around three key assumptions:

  1. How we manage land on one ownership will ultimately affect management on other ownerships on shared landscapes.

  2. Our management objectives should be addressed at the landscape scale and across boundaries.

  3. We will achieve better ecological and social outcomes if all stakeholders collaborate and work together to achieve common objectives.

Throughout the day, we prioritized several key themes for further discussion. These include leveraging different sources of funding; the role of community-based organizations and other intermediaries; collaboration and cross-boundary planning; and leadership and risk-taking. One commonality across these topics was a reassertion of the importance of partnerships. No single organization has enough funding to implement landscape restoration. Planning together can produce efficiencies of scale, produce new ideas, and build community support. At the same time individuals, such as grants and agreements specialists, are critical to create an enabling environment. Tribes came up as potent but sometimes underappreciated partners. Knowledge about funding sources such as 477 self-sufficiency funding for tribal interns needs to be shared more widely.

“Our shared vision begins with restoration… the threats facing our forests don’t recognize property boundaries. So, in developing a shared vision around forests, we must also be willing to look across property boundaries. In other words, we must operate at a landscape scale by taking an ‘all-lands approach’.” - Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture, 2009

We also spoke about challenges to achieving outcomes, and this commiseration was an important tool as we worked through these challenges. We identified common limiting factors such as the difficulty of filling positions within federal agencies, leading to staff shortages that in turn limit collaboration, and how new, top-down goals, such as timber targets, are discouraging all lands work. In addition, because targets come up so frequently, a show me tour highlighting the multiples values of restoration, and the need for different targets, might be warranted.

By nature, this All Lands approach can be multifaceted if not amorphous. However, Emily Jane Davis, a researcher at Oregon State University, shared the findings from a recent study with RVCC on keys to implementing successful all lands projects.

Many will attest that one of the best activities that a group can do together is to get out in the forest, see the landscape, and have a conversation.

So for the finale, we drove to the heart of the Zuni Mountains Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project. The trip passed through a checkerboard of ownerships where the New Mexico State Land Office, Cottonwood Gulch Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, the Forest Stewards Guild, New Mexico State Forestry, and others have implemented treatments for multiple objectives. One such project is the Bluewater NEPA that was completed in 2003, but not prioritized at that time. This project is an example of NEPA gaps for the landscape and areas that need treatment, most notably, a recent controlled burn. The Forest Stewards Guild and The Nature Conservancy were only able to burn up to a USFS boundary because the NEPA was not completed. This dramatically increased the complexity and cost of burning.

The exchange was attended by USFS staff from the Cibola National Forest who have shown a steadfast commitment to supporting partnerships in the Zuni Mountains. However, if Congress rewrites the CFLR program, there is some risk that a focus on flagship targets would disadvantage landscapes like the Zuni Mountains, which has little valuable timber. This challenge led participants to discuss the importance of building support for the benefit of restoration.

The thing that stood out the most was a shared sense of responsibility among people who had a palpable love for the land and the communities on it. All the planning and workshops in the world would fail if not for the fact that people connect to the land, and through those connections across ownerships, we are connected to each other, whether we yet know how to work together or not.

Through this work, we not only scale up our capacity to implement physical change across the landscape, but we strengthen the connections and relationships among our communities.

Ultimately this work creates tangible change such as sound policy and legislation, a restoration economy, and a social and ecological adaptive process for future generations in the face of global change. It is a reminder that, even across time and space, the land is affected by all of our hands.

*Several management programs have been promoting this “All Lands” approach, including the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program, the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, the Joint Chief’s Landscape Restoration Partnership, the Forest Service’s 2012 Planning Rule, and the Good Neighbor Authority.

All-Lands Partnerships in Southern-Central Oregon: Reporting Out From a Peer Learning Exchange

All-lands projects, which involve planning and implementation across landownership boundaries with multiple partners and landowners, are increasingly common. On May 1st, 2018, a peer learning exchange was held in Klamath Falls to bring together all-lands partners in Lake, Klamath, Jackson, and Josephine Counties. Over 60 participants representing a range of landowner, nonprofit organization, state and federal agency, private sector, and other perspectives attended. The purpose of the workshop was to:

·        Share specific activities, experiences, and lessons learned

·        Explore tools and ideas that improve the practice of all-lands management

·        Connect to a community of area practitioners and form new peer relationships

Meeting presentations and breakout sessions were provided on the following topics:

  • An overview of all-lands management: who, what, and why?
  • North Warners and Chiloquin Community Forest and Fire projects
  • Ashland Forest Resiliency project
  • Inventory and mapping methods
  • Neighborhood and smaller-scale efforts
  • Private landowner outreach including My Southern Oregon Woodland
  • Tools, funding, and mechanisms

Presenters, facilitators, and attendees were asked to discuss how they were accomplishing all-lands work and key lessons they were learning. Some of the theme, questions, and ideas shared included:

  • Strategic prioritization and landowner engagement: How do we balance prioritization (e.g., around ecological or fuels goals) with landowner involvement? What if the willing landowners are not in the priority landscapes? NRCS has some approaches in this vein including their Strategic Approach to Conservation, Long Range Plans, and Conservation Implementation Strategies. May also try using neighbors and social networks to try to branch into the priority areas.
  • Climate change: How can all-lands projects incorporate planning for probable climate futures, and frame forest resiliency and health in that context?
  • NEPA readiness: Choosing to do all-lands work in areas adjacent to federal planning areas where the environmental analysis process is done or nearly done can help ensure that projects are ripe, rather than subjecting partners and landowners to years of planning. Conversely, there could be opportunities for collaboration and co-development of priority landscapes and purposes if partnership begins earlier in or before the NEPA process.
  • Role of nonprofits: Nonprofit organizations such as watershed councils or community-based organizations can write, administer, and manage multiple grants with flexibility that other partners may not have. They may also be able to bring capacity for various aspects of planning and implementation that agencies can lack.
  • Workforce development aspects: All-lands projects should have an effort to train and develop local workforces. The economic and social aspects of doing so are important. Having multiple projects/locations to share the workforce helps sustain it and ensure its capacity is available.
  • The eight-step pathway: Parties in the Klamath-Lake Forest Health Partnership suggest an eight-step approach to designing and implementing all-lands projects. This is being published in an OSU Extension document in the fall of 2018.
  • Mixing and matching: Different sources of funding can be obtained and used strategically to match the personality of involved landowners.
  • Landowner outreach: All-lands projects appear to be fostering innovation in landowner outreach, including new efforts at segmentation, using social networks and media, approaches to mailings, and use of template binders and map books to delve into project opportunities and increase knowledge of the landscape. Examples include the My Southern Oregon Woodland effort.
  • Leadership: The importance of individual leaders or “champions” remains key to all-lands work. It is not institutionalized and is not given a particular job title. Bottlenecks may exist in middle levels of agencies that inhibit more of these efforts.

This meeting was planned and implemented by: Oregon State University Forestry and Natural Resources Extension, Oregon Department of Forestry, Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition, Oregon Forest Resources Institute, Fremont-Winema National Forest, and Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center.

Meeting materials will be available shortly. These include powerpoints that were given, results from a lessons learned exercise, and a list of attendees.

Western Week in Washington

RVCC’s annual fly-in to the nation’s capital – was a great success! Ten RVCC partners spent last week meeting with Congressional staff, public lands agency administrators, and national partners. The trip allowed us to share our priorities for the Farm Bill and appropriations process, as well as to listen and get a better understanding of the state of play in Washington. We shared the value of innovative, targeted programs like the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and the Joint Fire Science Program, raising awareness and garnering support for both. We also advocated for working lands conservation and rural development programs in the Farm Bill, telling the story of how such programs roll out on the ground for communities.

Our conversations with agency staff were also valuable, providing insights into evolving policies within the Forest Service, BLM, and NRCS. These meetings offered an opportunity for RVCC to share thoughts on how such policies affect rural communities, conservation projects on the ground, and local economies. It was great to hear how receptive agency administrators are to working with partners like RVCC and local collaboratives.  

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Western Week was an opportunity to listen to and spend time with RVCC partners from around the West and in Washington. Often the conversations between or after official meetings were just as valuable as the formal meetings. It’s encouraging to hear about the good work being done, and to celebrate our recent successes like the fire funding fix. Just as at the local level, building real human connections is the only way that we can work to find durable, inclusive solutions to the complex problems facing rural communities and the land.

In a time when our national political discourse can feel ugly and divisive, I’m reminded all the more of the deep value of our collaborative efforts. Communities and diverse parties coming together to do the hard work of developing mutual respect and finding common ground based on a shared understanding of problems is the essence of the democratic process. Let’s make sure we continue to model that process for our lawmakers in Washington.