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Partnership and collaboration dominate Annual Conference

by Denis B. Hall

Awesome fall beauty partnered up with misty rain and even a little snow as backdrop for the Colorado Riparian Association’s Fifteenth Annual Conference in Steamboat Springs, October 2-4. The wet weather did not dampen enthusiasm, and both the conference and field trips took place without a hitch.

Colorado Riparian Association (CRA) members and participants have come to expect a full slate of interesting and informative presentations, and they were not disappointed by this year’s lineup. Presenters illustrated the theme of the conference, “Riparian Rehabilitation Opportunities in the Private Sector,” and stressed positive aspects of partnership and collaboration to accomplish riparian restoration.

Private consultant and presenter Brenda Mitchell used the Creek Ranch restoration project to show the nuts and bolts of riparian restoration. Data collection and analysis provided an objective assessment of the project; rootwads, logs and rocks, and native vegetation served to stabilize streambanks.

Colorado Watershed Network’s Chris Rowe explained advantages of collaborative watershed groups that coalesce around diverse stakeholders. Chris partners with Colorado Division of Wildlife on the Riverwatch program, and stresses themes like education and awareness, and new partnerships fostering coordinated efforts on riparian restoration projects. Rowe explained that watershed groups can conduct assessments and identify opportunities across the watershed. Once prioritized, opportunities can be addressed by partnerships that can leverage public/private resources and work across jurisdictional boundaries.

Partnering with land trusts is now more frequently living up to its potential. Bettina Ring of Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts (CCLT), and Susan Otis of Yampa Valley Land Trust stressed an “integrated approach,” utilizing collaborative partnerships. More than 718,000 acres of Colorado landscape have been placed into conservation easements. Susan Otis spoke to the importance of having willing landowners working in partnership, and encouraging the community perception that placing land in conservation easement is the right thing to do. “Be creative and innovative,” said Ring. “Work together to get more money, and provide incentives to allow people to hold onto their land. Think outside the box; partner for the right reasons.”

Lisa Langer of Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado and Claire DeLeo of Wildlands Restoration Volunteers explained how volunteer workers enhance riparian restoration. Volunteers for Outdoors Colorado fielded 3000 volunteers during summer 2002; Wildlands Restoration Volunteers benefited from over 12,000 volunteer hours. DeLeo described the importance of fostering public ownership of restoration projects. “Restoration is feel-good work,” she said, stressing the need to be organized. “If you want volunteers, give them a sexy project. Pulling weeds isn’t sexy,” she continued, “so integrate weed pulling with something else that is compelling.”

Riparian wetlands — in fact, any wetlands — are compelling since they comprise only 1-2% of the Colorado landscape. Kathy Carsey of Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP) explained her organization’s new wetland classification, a project begun by current CRA President Gwen Kittel. The CNHP classification used data collected from 4511 plots, and assigned unique plant association names to reflect different environmental and botanical characteristics, and ranked sites from critically imperiled to demonstrably secure. Of 190 total plant associations, 40 new associations are described. The CNHP Colorado Wetlands Classification will soon be available on compact disk or in print as the Field Guide to Colorado Wetlands.

One of the greatest threats to Colorado wetlands and riparian areas is the invasion of non-native tamarisk (Tamarix spp.) or salt cedar. Tim Carlson of the Tamarisk Coalition explained how tamarisk has invaded all of Colorado’s major river systems, and continues to invade tributaries at increasingly higher altitudes. Problems with tamarisk include loss of native plants and biodiversity, and loss of wildlife habitat. Tamarisk allows little or no understory and is a poor host to insects, thereby eliminating bird habitat. Tamarisk also changes stream morphology, increases risk of wildfire, and uses more ground and surface water than native vegetation. Tamarisk uses up to 45 million acre-feet of water annually, water thus unavailable to native species. That is enough water to supply 20 million people. Carlson said emphasizing “non-beneficial use” of water is the best way to get people involved in tamarisk control.

Getting people involved is what presenter Reeves Brown does for a living. Brown is currently Executive Director of Club 20, a coalition of Western Colorado counties. He formerly worked as Director of Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust. Laughing, Brown described his job at Club 20 as, “fighting the evil forces of ignorance on the Eastern Slope.” Brown explained some priorities: riparian areas are important because they host the greatest biodiversity and also sustain the most impacts. Most riparian areas are on private property, a situation that mandates partnership on projects or problems. “The agricultural community is unique,” said Brown, “they can be your best partners or the biggest thorn in your side.”

Brown then described his perception of the basic tenets of resource management. The first tenet is self-interest; ask what goals and actions define common ground and pursue them. “Ask how can I help you reach those goals,” said Brown.

Second: “Respect private property rights.” said Brown. “Private property rights are real. Property rights are to freedom what oxygen is to fire,”

Third, private ownership will almost always demonstrate higher responsibility to stewardship than will public ownership. “If a private landowner fouls his own nest,” Brown said, “he is aware of what he stands to gain by changing his behavior.”

The fourth tenet maintains that forcing behavior by exercise of authority fosters resentment and doesn’t work. “The consensus process takes time and is frustrating,” added Brown, “but it yields better long-term results.”

Lastly, Brown explained our need to be accepted by our peers. The desire to conform is motivation. Create peer group acceptance for good behavior. “Respect the landowners’ opinion,” advised Brown, “and assume he knows more about the resource than you do. Capitalize on that as partners. Start with the end in mind, and then figure out how to get there. Find where we want the same things.”

Brown’s strategy for conflict resolution is to invite everyone to the table who is sincerely interested in a solution. “Some people are only interested in the problem,” he warned. Invite diversity because diverse opinions develop better and more sustainable solutions.

“Take your organizational hat off,” advised Brown, “come as you. Focus on values, not issues. Acknowledge your own shortcomings, and commit to staying the right course for the right reasons.

“Leadership is not supposed to be fun,” Brown concluded, “it’s supposed to be right.”