One reason Wilcox feels the group is successful is that “the pivotal players all had the same vision.” He also cited the group’s reliance on a process of consensus-based collaborative decision-making “every step of the way on every project” as critical for building trust between different people. Wilcox noted that “every project tends to pressure that trust but at the same time, because of the pressure, it tends to strengthen that trust. Every time you are successful in going through the process of building a solution to a given problem through the collaborative, consensus-building process, we just add another brick to the wall of trust that people can build on.” Wilcox noted that their situation is fairly unique and collaboration has been a problem for some CRM groups in California. He said, “A lot of groups have adopted the same consensus process [as the Feather River group], but frequently within that there has been a group that is less willing to compromise and to see the larger picture.”
Another way the group has built trust involved a deliberate effort to recognize individual group members’ concerns and needs. The group’s first report described the “issues, concerns, goals, and objectives that various people brought to the process.” Wilcox noted that because people’s concerns and goals were “laid out right up front, everyone, regardless of their background or agenda, knew what it was they were trying to achieve and had their nightmares and fears laid out so that everyone else understood where they were coming from.” Wilcox emphasized the importance of putting this information in a written document, so that “it’s not just something that floats around out there.” In explicitly laying out their concerns and goals, group members built an understanding of each others’ positions and began to build trust as well. Wilcox believes that it has also enabled the group to focus on achieving its goals in ways that avoid triggering “anybody’s nightmares.”
Using an adaptive-management process is another reason that CRM has made progress over time. Wilcox describes the CRM as, “a learning effort, adapting on the ground. We learned about sedimentation from Big Flat Meadows. One of the things that keeps our detractors or skeptics interested -- or at least involved -- is that we learn. We are not doing the same thing we did in 1990. We’ll be the first ones to point out where the flaws were, what we learned, how come this did not work here. People appreciate that. And one of the things about Plumas County, for all the infighting, people have been open to doing things differently. They are independent thinkers enough to be willing to allow something to go on just to see if it works, even if they are not directly involved in a decision making process. It may be outside the box, but so what.” As described in the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project report:
The ability of a wide range of individuals representing varied (and often historically conflicting) institutions to come together around a common goal has been deemed the most important success of the CRM. A fundamental quality of the Feather River CRM process has been that members have been able to set aside their individual differences to the larger mutual goal of a healthy community in a healthy watershed. By demonstrating the real benefits of cooperation, the CRM has created a local atmosphere of increased trust that catalyzes additional community-building activities. (taken from The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project. The Feather River Coordinated Resource Management Group. http://ceres.ca.gov/snep/pubs/web/v1/ch03/v1_ch03_12.html. Accessed January 19, 2004.)
An additional factor critical to the group’s progress is the presence of a neutral coordinator who is acceptable to all participants. Wilcox noted that, “one of the things that was identified right off as critically important to the success of the CRM here was having a CRM coordinator, whose job it was to keep everyone informed, to write the grants and research various techniques, what’s the state of the art and who was practicing it throughout the region. That kept it going.” The Feather River group coordinator and staff are technically employees of the Plumas Corporation, but they take direction from the CRM steering committee. These staff are working to supplement their funding through grants and paid contract work. In contrast to the Feather River CRM, Wilcox believes that “a lot of CRM groups often try to have a coordinator that’s working with one of the agencies.” This approach can lead to problems because, “that person already has a full time job and somehow has to try to do all this CRM coordination in addition to their regular job, and it’s just not possible.”
Finally, Wilcox has learned over time that the importance of communication “can’t be overstated.” He said it is critically important to “keep members in the loop to a sufficient level that they’ll always feel involved in the decision-making process and comfortable with the decisions that are made.” Wilcox has found that this can be a challenge, particularly as the Feather River CRM has grown in size and scope. However, despite how busy he and his staff get, he said, “We constantly have to remind ourselves, ‘Hey, we’ve got to keep everybody informed,’ and take the time to do that.”
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