Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Love Wins - Changing the Conservation Narrative One Yard at a Time

Date of Visit: August 15, 2019
Type of Event: Study tour
Topic: Habitat Restoration and Conservation
Organization: West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District
Location: Portland, Oregon
Hosts: West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District staff - Jim Cathcart/ District Manager, Michael Ahr / Forest Conservationist, Michelle Delepine / Invasive Species Program Coordinator, Ari DeMarco / Seasonal Conservation Technician, Scott Gall / Rural Conservationist, Indi Keith / Field Conservation Intern, Kammy Kern-Korot / Senior Conservationist, Michele Levis / Controller and Budget Officer, Mary Logalbo / Urban Conservationist, Renee Magyar / Outreach and Communications Manager, Sam Mularz / GIS and Field Conservation Intern, Randi Razalenti / Office Manager, Laura Taylor / Conservation Technician
International Fellows: Temitope Dauda (Nigeria), Richard Banda (Malawi), Fen-hui Chen (Taiwan), Zhongyuan Ding (China), Ana Kanoppa (Brazil), Rodolfo Vieto (Costa Rica) Will Maiden (United Kingdom), Romain Matile (France).
WFI Staff: Shadia Duery / International Fellowship Program Manager.

The World Forestry Center received an August visitor indeed as we welcomed the staff of the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District led by a very good friend of the International Fellows, Jim Cathcart. The Fellows were honored with the presence of the “faces behind the scene” of one of the leading conservation agencies in Multnomah County. It was a delight to listen to each member of the agency introduce themselves and their role in moving their conservation agenda forward. It was also exciting to learn about the “Dust Bowl” disaster of the early 1930s which compelled the US Congress to make a decision intended to solve the problem of soil degradation. A model soil conservation law was passed that brought about the creation of conservation districts in every state. Initially, this was targeted for only rural areas (agricultural lands) where the impact of soil degradation is felt the most since they are often the food bank. However, as time progressed, the mandate of this agency expanded to include landscape-scale conservation for soil and water. The overall goal of any Soil and Water Conservation District is to conserve and protect soil and water resources for people, wildlife, and the environment.

WFI International Fellows and WMSWCD staff with Farhat Arhar and her husband Ezra on their property

In Oregon, the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District (WMSWCD) was established in the early 1940s. WMSWCD is charged with the responsibility of helping landowners west of the Willamette River in Multnomah County manage their land. Currently, they have about 14 people on staff. To further advance their work, they partner with other sister organizations on projects that promote conservation and protection of natural resources within them. An example that easily comes to mind is the Backyard Habitat certification program- a conservation program that helps small landowners with usually one acre or smaller to manage their land in a manner that is consistent with both the conservation goals of the agency and the interests of the landowner. This program also promotes social interaction, as participating landowners connect with each other to learn and exchange ideas. The agency works with larger landowners as well to help them plan, design and manage their land according to their interests while also considering the public good. Generally, WMSWCD aims to provide services for the public good on private land, but it is voluntary for landowners to participate. WMSWCD’s conservation agenda is basically to restore habitat for wildlife and native plants, conserve water and soil, manage healthy forest land as well as eradicate invasive species. Canopy weeds program, water quality monitoring, erosion, healthy streams program, stormwater programs, and urban watershed mentors are some of the programs they have. Their work is funded by the government, but they also receive grants from other funding or donor organizations. In most cases, they operate through cost-share initiatives, in which case the organization provides some sort of technical support. They also give grants to qualified landowners.
To give the International Fellows a good view of what they do, we visited three properties where WMSWCD works.

Our first stop was the Forest Heights Natural area, which is a 200-acre property that houses a cedar mill wetland. Here WMSWCD is working on urban riparian and upland restoration, beaver conservation, backyard habitat partnerships, stormwater management and invasive species control. The Japanese beetle is one of the priority invasive species, and the early detection and rapid response program (EDRR) has sets of methodology used to address this disaster. This stop was concluded with a mouthwatering lunch for the Fellows before we proceeded to the property of Farhat Azhar. The landscape of the 5.3-acre property belonging to Farhat Azhar is beginning to witness glorious days with the support of WMSWCD. It is transforming from a previously shrubby land covered with blackberry, a very invasive plant, to gradually improving woodland. The long-term goal of the owner is to restore the land to a healthy forest with native species diversity that will provide habitat for wildlife with little or no invasive species.

The property of Malinowaski was our last stop. The Malinowaski farm is 59.2-acre agroforestry farm. The activity done here was to restore the pond that was overflowing and oak woodland habitat. To achieve this, money made from thinning the oak woodland was used to fund the restoration in a cost-share model with WMSWCD. This is an example of a land that can pay for itself. This property is a conservation hotspot because of the presence of oak woodland that now covers about 8% of the property. The day ended with another social gathering with the staff of WMSWCD.

Lesson Learned 

Conservation at a landscape scale can be achieved in little bits (site-scale) without compromising the overall goal of creating connectivity, resilience and integrity for the landscape. When approaching conservation projects, it is very important that the goals be well-defined and well-established. Another important lesson here is that people are a very important part of any conservation agenda; they are the center of any conservation project. Thus, any successful conservation project is a reflection of a people well managed. Also, it is very important that their goals and ambitions should be reflected in order to be able to achieve this long-term goal. The occurrence of invasive species, although initially harmless and safe, can eventually create a disaster; the case of the Japanese beetle is indeed a take-home lesson. So, exceptional care should be taken when migrating from one region to another so as not to spread invasive species that can eventually lead to huge social and economic disaster.

An International Fellow’s Thoughts and Perspectives 
Temitope Dauda, International Fellow from Nigeria
and Conservation Planner,
thinking about how to change conservation narratives

The work of WMSWCD is, in the long run, part of an effort for the mitigation and adaptation of climate change, the significance of which makes it pertinent for us all to play a role. Their approach to conservation and sustainable management is simplistic yet very potent: promoting the use of native species, resisting invasive species, all in an effort to restore the landscape to its original state of occurrence and thus improve its resilience. WMSWCD is changing the narrative of conservation by restoring and improving habitat to wildlife and plants, connecting landscapes and creating corridors even in the smallest parcels of land and getting people involved by connecting people in a journey of conservation and restoration of landscapes. Their work advances the creation of a peaceful co-existence in perpetuity for all living things. For the love of the people in the present and future, the love of plants and animals and for their continuous existence, the love of supporting systems on which this component relies, this agency is daily pushing the edge for a better world. In the end, all we need is love.

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