More than a decade ago Malheur National Wildlife Refuge leadership recognized that the success of the southeastern Oregon refuge depended on addressing biological issues and establishing working relationships with, and among, diverse stakeholders.
To establish these relationships, the refuge has spent years encouraging open and honest discussions that have been fundamental to establishing trust.
The refuge and community members realized that, for the relationships to have lasting benefits, innovative engagement processes had to be developed. So, the refuge helped create the High Desert Partnership.
The partnership is a nonprofit organization whose goal is protecting the rural lifestyle and associated natural resources of Southeast Oregon for present and future generations through open communication and cooperation. The partnership fosters collaborative forums, which balance ecological, economic and community needsand allow people to discuss controversial issues and arrive at points of agreement.
Working together enables all parties to recognize that communities, wildlife and the environment thrive when there is balance, says local landowner/rancher Gary Marshall.
Oregon Consensus, a Portland State Universityaffiliated state agency that helps Oregonians reach agreement on environmental, social, cultural and policy issues through conflict assessment and mediation, also was brought in to provide neutral facilitation.
The relationshipbuilding efforts have benefited the comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) for Malheur Refuge, which provides important habitat for migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway. (More than 320 avian species have been documented at the 187,000acre refuge.) The CCP has been under development since summer 2009 and is due to be completed this year. Interested parties and assorted stakeholders have been included in all phases of the CCP process.
While this level of inclusion does take more time and coordinationto make contacts, schedule meetings and review draft productsthe investment has longterm benefits. Once a level of trust has been established and common objectives have been identified, the group works together to figure out how best to achieve those objectives.
For instance, the group bridged significant differences over the refuges haying and grazing program by ensuring that, for the life of the CCP, the community will be able to participate in inventory and monitoring activities and adaptive management discussions pertaining to refuge meadow habitats. The group also agreed to take landscapelevel measures to improve poor aquatic health in the Blitzen River, which had been caused by nonnative carp in the watershed. In general, the CCP collaborators came to understand more fully the refuges mission, focal species and role in the Pacific Flyway.
The beauty of this process was, instead of rigidly staking out positions, all sidesranchers, environmentalists and agenciescame together early in the process to collectively lay their cards on the table and develop solutions that took all sides into account, says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Region planning chief Scott McCarthy. The outcome is a superior product with broad support.
Now, after a 2½year effort by dozens of stakeholders working closely with refuge staff and experts, there is wide agreement on a CCP to restore the refuges aquatic health, enhance wildlife habitat, generate sustainable local and regional economic benefits, and revitalize relationships with the community.
This collaborative effort has been highly successful in developing a CCP that benefits fish and wildlife, instills collaborators support for implementation, relies on inclusive inventory and monitoring activities that enable adaptive management, and provides continued stakeholder engagement and outreach from the refuge.
Creating such trustbased relationships is critical to longterm sustainable and thriving landscape conservation.
Tim Bodeen is project leader at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.