Local Partnerships Planning for the Long Term
Local partnerships are laying the groundwork for large-scale, long-term investments to conserve oak and prairie habitats across Oregon with strategic action plans funded by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.
It’s a whole new approach for most of these groups’ partners. And if it’s successful, it could dramatically change the trajectory of oak and prairie conservation in the Pacific Northwest.
Until recently, most oak and prairie conservation efforts in Oregon focused on individual projects with no over-arching conservation strategy. With the exception of the Klamath Siskiyou Oak Network in southern Oregon, no formal oak and prairie-focused partnerships were in place to coordinate efforts by conservation organizations, government agencies, tribes, and private landowners.
OWEB Funding is Making a Difference
Things started to change a few years ago, when the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the state’s principal source of conservation funding, adopted oak and prairie habitats as a priority for its Focused Investment Partnerships (FIP) program. Unlike OWEB’s regular grants, the FIP program offers multi-year funding to established partnerships with well developed strategic action plans that lay out a programmatic approach to large-scale conservation challenges. OWEB also offers smaller FIP “development” grants to help groups solidify their partnerships and develop strategic action plans that could provide the basis for future FIP requests and investments by other funders. FIP implementation grants can total as much as $12 million over six years.
In 2017, OWEB awarded FIP development grants totaling more than $300,000 to three Oregon oak and prairie partnerships to help them develop strategic action plans.
- The Willamette Valley Oak Prairie Cooperative covers the Willamette Valley south of the Portland metro area. Sponsored by the Greenbelt Land Trust, the group’s steering committee is working with consultants and a technical advisory group of more than 50 people to develop its strategic action plan.
- The East Cascades Oak Partnership encompasses oak habitats in Hood River and Wasco counties in Oregon and Washington’s Skamania and Klickitat counties. The Columbia Land Trust took the lead in organizing the group, whose bi-monthly meetings typically attract more than 50 active participants.
- The Klamath Siskiyou Oak Network is a long-standing partnership with an impressive track record of on-the-ground conservation work. The group is coordinated by the Klamath Bird Observatory and includes a half-dozen core partners focusing on oak habitats in Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, and Siskiyou (California) counties.
A fourth group in the Portland metro area, the Intertwine Alliance’s Oak Prairie Work Group, received OWEB funding in 2018 to refine its existing strategic action plan, which covers portions of Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Columbia, and Clark (Washington) counties.
Together the four oak FIPs cover virtually all of the range of oak and prairie habitats across Oregon, with one exception: the Umpqua Valley in Douglas County, home to some of the most extensive oak woodlands in the Pacific Northwest. In 2018, a new Umpqua Oak Partnership came together in Roseburg and has been meeting regularly ever since.
Each of these groups has its own unique character, just as the oak woodlands at the edge of the desert east of the Columbia Gorge are very different from those surrounded by the rainforests of western Oregon. But as the four partnerships move forward with their planning processes, consistent themes are beginning to emerge, and many of their strategies look similar, albeit often with a local twist.
From a regional perspective, the emergence of these new partnerships represents a major step toward a shared vision and path forward for oak and prairie conservation in the Pacific Northwest. The regional conservation business plan released in 2017, Prairie, Oaks and People, provided an over-arching framework to guide the work of partners working within the geography of an expanded Cascadia Prairie-Oak Partnership. But turning that ambitious vision into on-the-ground conservation action will require a lot of partners and investment on a scale never before seen in oak and prairie country.
Getting partners across the region organized at the level they’re comfortable working, and collectively doing the hard thinking needed to develop detailed roadmaps to implementation, are the essential next steps to larger scale funding. In Oregon, that process is well under way.