Living and Thriving in the Age of Partnership

By: Arielle Halpern, Ph.D.

In this day and age, and with our current environmental and political situation, partnerships play a vital role in the accomplishment of much needed environmental restoration and community enhancement. The last decade has seen the emergence of a suite of landscape scale partnerships in California including the Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership in Humboldt and western Siskiyou Counties. These partnerships are collaborations between state and federal agencies, Native American tribes, local watershed groups and businesses, and community organizations. Their goals, broadly speaking, are to create fire-safe communities, healthy forests and watersheds, sustainable local economies, and incorporate the diverse suite of management information and practices, including traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), that each stakeholder organization brings to the table.

These collaborations were borne out of a long-acknowledged need to address landscape restoration beyond jurisdictional, ownership, and cultural boundaries. When a fire burns, it doesn’t stop at the national-private boundary. Rivers meander through towns, parks, and states, careless of who administers the land on which they run. Our forests and watersheds predate the advent of jurisdictional boundaries. So, why should we approach land management in a way that acknowledges the boundaries but not the landscape? We shouldn’t, and, thanks to these and other growing collaborations that developed in the wake of the US Forest Service 2011 All-Lands Planning Rule, we don’t have to. The All-Lands Planning Rule acknowledged that management and threat mitigation activities need to be undertaken in a way that recognizes that our watersheds, wildlife corridors, water resources, and wild lands exist beyond boundaries of ownership or jurisdiction. It effectively paved the way for the development of these landscape scale collaborations.

Here in southern Siskiyou, we watched from afar as the Thomas and North Bay Fires devastated communities in Ventura, Santa Barbara, Napa, and Sonoma Counties. We remember the 2014 Boles Fire which burned 479 acres and destroyed 165 structures in the city of Weed. Rather than throw up our hands in frustration at the seemly impossible task of creating safe, defensible spaces, stewarding fire-adapted landscapes around our community, or mourning the all but inevitable emergence of a large-scale wildfire in our immediate area, let us consider the possibility of developing partnerships that bring together our community’s diverse skillsets to tackle these concerns and questions.

I am deeply heartened and excited by our new partnership with the Siskiyou Land Trust and students in the Cooperative Work Extension Program at College of the Siskiyous developing a monitoring and restoration program examining the enormous diversity housed in our bioregion. Our first project is the initiation of a long-term monitoring program at Sisson Meadow. This is a great opportunity for students from College of the Siskiyous and area schools to come engage in research projects at this charismatic Land Trust property and learn about the diversity supported by wet meadow habitats in Siskiyou County. In addition to educational opportunities, wet meadows provide valuable ecosystem services such as water filtration, flood attenuation, and water storage. They are highly sensitive to climate-driven changes including shifts from snow to rain, reduced snowpack, earlier snow melting times. This partnership is an important first step in developing a picture of 1) how the Sisson Meadow is standing up to climate induced and anthropogenic stressors and 2) what the state of Sisson Meadow, as a sensitive indicator habitat, says about how profoundly climate change is affecting our local ecosystems.

It is my hope that this partnership will grow large and strong and that other landscape scale partnerships like those on the Klamath River and in the Sierra Nevada Mountains will take root and grow here. Our community has so many brilliant minds and strong hearts and is housed in such a unique landscape; I hope there are folks who are up to the challenge, I know I am.