Written by: Kendal Martel, Southwest Program Coordinator for The Forest Stewards Guild
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:
How we manage land on one ownership will ultimately affect management on other ownerships on shared landscapes.
Our management objectives should be addressed at the landscape scale and across boundaries.
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.