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Feather River Coordinated Resource Management Group


Northern California



What challenges were faced and how were they overcome?

One challenge the group has faced is maintaining funding for the coordinator role played by the Plumas Corporation. Although having a full-time staff to coordinate and implement CRM projects has been integral to the group’s success, it has been difficult to raise funds for general coordinating work, such as preparing agendas and minutes for meetings, working on outreach to landowners and agency staff, and identifying new funding opportunities. Foundations and agencies tend to provide grants targeted to specific on-the-ground projects, not the kinds of coordination and process functions provided by the Plumas Corporation. Wilcox explains that, “although there’s a lot more funding available for watershed programs in general than five years ago in California, [CRM] is still on this treadmill that everything we do is grant funded, whether it’s coordination dollars, education, monitoring. Every last activity has to have a grant written for it. We still have not acquired what we always longed for or felt the program needed which is some sustainable, reliable base of funding for program development and program coordination.”

Another key challenge is maintaining trust and consensus as the group does its work. According to Wilcox, “There’s always the concern about losing trust. In every project, you have the potential to have that happen and one of our roles as staff is to make sure that does not happen. If we see something beginning to happen that way, that’s the time to step back and just say ‘okay, wait a minute, this project isn’t important enough to threaten the program’. The trust factor is a constant. It’s like a marriage; you can’t break the trust and just snap your fingers and its all back; it’s something that has to be there all the time. You make a promise, a commitment, to follow through on it, I don’t care what it takes, if you don’t then there’s a partner who feels betrayed. Once they have that sense of betrayal, even if it’s a minor thing, it’s something that can grow or potentially feed off other perceived actions. And that’s why communication is so important and making sure you are as inclusive as possible in everything you do. That way if somebody disagrees with you, at least they know they were involved, they were heard, they had their opportunities, they know what the process was, and it was totally open. They don’t have to feel betrayed because maybe they didn’t agree with a certain approach or decision but at least they know it wasn’t made behind their back. Most of what we’ve had to deal with has been on trust issues.”

Managing growth and transitions is often a challenge for collaborative groups. Wilcox noted that it has been difficult at times to maintain high levels of communication and trust as the group has grown. When the Feather River group undertook a self-evaluation process in 2002, it found “some members of the CRM who felt distant. The program had grown so quickly and so encompassing that there were people who didn’t know what was going on.” To address this problem, the group established the management committee to facilitate communication between group members and the Plumas Corporation staff and to provide the group with more input into the day-to-day decision-making of staff. According to Wilcox, “We had to restructure so that we could get that communication line back in good working order relative to our increased workload.”

One potential challenge in maintaining a consensus-based group over more than a decade involves member-turnover and how to incorporate new members into the process. Wilcox said this has not been a problem for the Feather River group for several reasons. First, new members that have joined the group typically have been involved with the group for some time before becoming official participants. Thus, new members are already familiar with how the group operates and people in the group know them before they officially join. Second, Wilcox said he assumes that group members that have left organizations represented on the group have briefed their replacements and said, “Hey this is a good deal, you need to work with these people, you can trust them.” As a result, he said turnovers have been “virtually painless. New participants come in with a good feeling; no sense of fear or mistrust.” Finally, given the long time period the group has been meeting, Wilcox said there has been “surprisingly little” turnover in group membership.

The CRM’s focus on monitoring also creates challenges for the group. As Wilcox explains, “The big picture challenge is always being able to monitor the most effectively, over the longest period of time. It can be frustrating for us as the most intimately involved (staff and committed CRM members) because we can’t monitor everything we want to monitor on every project, and in an ideal world we would.” The CRM struggles with ensuring that all projects have an equal level of interest from agencies and other partners. According to Wilcox, “Some projects have intense interest by the agencies, so they will continue to participate and fund, which allows us to continue to monitor for an extended period. We have a lot of other projects that need to be monitored and they can tell us just as much, but nobody’s interested in funding the same monitoring on five different projects, they’d rather identify one project where they think it’s going to be a major benefit or response they want to know about, then they’ll put in the bucks or the people.” Additionally, there are the challenges of reporting the results of monitoring with only a small staff. Wilcox notes, “Every time we build a project, we have to submit a final report to whoever funded it, so whatever results we have to date on that particular project goes into that report.”

The longevity of the Feather River CRM and its reputation as a well-functioning watershed partnership has added a new challenge in requests for assistance from other groups that are just starting out or facing specific challenges. As Wilcox explains, “right now as a group, we are starting to get a whole other level of interest and people wanting us to help, beyond what we are capable of doing with the resources we have and we are making that known and the CRM understands it. People are calling us from all over. I never want to tell somebody ‘sorry I can’t help you.’ I want to be able to go out and discuss what their concerns are. Sometimes their problems are solvable like more efficient, smaller initiatives like NRCS challenge cost-share or CDF challenge cost share programs. They may have other resources than going through the CRM. We try to be a resource for them, even if we are not going to help them.”

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