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Working across All Lands:
The "Holy Grail" of Land Management?

Rachel Plawecki

Bob Christensen enjoys a challenge. In his Southeast Alaska home of Icy Strait, severe weather is so common that all plans he makes are “weather permitting.” His morning commute to Hoonah, a small village on an island near Icy Strait, involves taking a boat or small plane.Weather permitting, of course. As Christensen put it, “Pretty much everything you do here involves adapting to Mother Nature.”

Credit: Salmon Valley Stewardship For thousands of years, southeast Alaska has been home to the Tlingit people. Because of this strong native Alaskan presence, as well as the city’s isolated location, the community relies on local land and water for everything from food and commerce to traditional cultural practices.

“I like to think of a cash economy and a wild food economy, both, when I’m thinking about land management projects—especially in the native villages, but really throughout the region,” Christensen said. To this day traditional subsistence practices like hunting, fishing, and berry-picking are thriving in the area. Historically, salmon fishing, timber, and mining production ruled the cash economy, but booms and busts in those markets have opened the door for commercial fisheries, tourism, and non-timber forest products.

Christensen’s latest challenge is to find a sustainable blend of these cash and subsistence economies—to grow the natural resource economy while preserving native traditions. He and his team at the Sustainable Southeast Partnership are in search of what he calls “the Holy Grail of land management.”

Their quest is exemplified in an innovative project called the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership, a science-based, landscape scale, community forest approach to watershed planning and project implementation. The project has brought together a diverse set of partners, including native corporations, government agencies, and conservation groups.

Credit: Ian Johnson The HNFP project area is approximately 150,000 acres covering all complete watersheds within which Regional Native Corporation (Sealaska) and Village Corporation (Huna Totem) lands exist, including almost 90,000 acres of federal lands. Earlier this year, project administrators hired six local residents to complete the area’s first comprehensive and consistent natural resource inventory. The data will inform next year’s pilot projects, which will include forest thinning that blends timber and wildlife habitat values, forest management activities designed to enhance berry production, and road work that improves tourism and access to wild food gathering locations.

In the end the Partnership hopes that by scaling up their pilot projects, they will achieve “a measurable and resilient blend of timber, salmon and deer production, local economic diversification and improved watershed health,” all while supporting the native heritage that makes this place so unique.

1500 miles away Gina Knudson is taking a similar approach in the much drier landscape of Salmon, Idaho. She and her team at the Lemhi Forest Restoration Group (LFRG), a collaborative group coordinated by Salmon Valley Stewardship, face the conundrum of simultaneously addressing community wildfire protection, forest health, and economic growth in a county of over 90 percent public land. Landscape scale stewardship is LFRG’s solution to this integrated set of challenges, and the Hughes Creek project is proof that their approach works.

The Hughes Creek project area consisted of slivers of private land adjacent to the Creek, and the surrounding lands managed by the Salmon-Challis National Forest. The entire area is extremely fire prone, so LFRG’s top priority going into the project was community wildfire protection.

Work crews conduct a deer pellet survey to help understand the relationship between pre-commercial thinning, slash variability, and deer abundance. Credit: Ian Johnson A broad group of community members, elected officials, conservation groups, and business interests looked at the Hughes Creek watershed with an eye toward efficiency and cooperation. Hazardous fuels treatments happened on National Forest and private lands, including a narrow strip of about 600 acres surrounded by public land and owned by an out-of-state mining interest.

“Without treating the private land, the treatments on the surrounding public lands wouldn’t have been effective. The county and other collaborative members worked for months to engage the property owners, and Idaho Department of Lands designed a prescription that mirrored that on the neighboring Forest Service land,” Knudson said.

Credit: Ian Johnson As difficult as it is to fathom, the Chinook salmon and steelhead that are so abundant in the Hoonah landscape are just trying to re-establish a viable population in Central Idaho. The Lemhi collaborative wondered whether the Hughes Creek project could also improve habitat for these threatened and endangered species in addition to reducing wildfire risk to people. Salmon-Challis National Forest fisheries biologists concluded that the lower reach of the creek, partially flowing through private lands, had been seriously altered by placer mining in the early part of the century.

“So one of our collaborative members approached a young ranch family who owned this beautiful pasture with about a one-mile segment of Hughes Creek flowing through it....They agreed to let us put logs in the creek as part of a stream restoration project, and the Forest is now recording Chinook in the watershed in reaches where they haven’t been recorded for decades,” Knudson said. The collaborative sponsored the project, raised all the funds, and had a big volunteer day when draft horses pulled the logs into Hughes Creek.

Credit: Salmon Valley Stewardship“Under the old way of doing business, that project would not have happened.When we started thinking about what the watershed needed, instead of where the boundary markers were located, we were able to achieve better outcomes.”

There is a new name for this approach to collaborative land management emerging across the West: “All Lands, All Hands.” Natural resource management across All Lands involves multiple parties who rely on neighboring land parcels for economic, social, and ecological values. The parties identify common interests that cut across ownership boundaries and pool their resources to conduct collaborative restoration and stewardship activities.

So, why All Lands? Natural processes like fire, insect and disease outbreaks, and wildlife movement, operate without regard for the private and public land boundaries drawn on maps. Likewise, human relationships and economic markets operate across all lands. This approach to collaborative stewardship recognizes the interdependence that exists regardless of property and management boundaries.

The crux of the All Lands approach is this: we can accomplish more together than we can alone. By pooling our resources and working at broader scales, we can achieve more durable outcomes on the ground and create jobs at a scale that is meaningful for long-term workforce development. These things are critical if we aim to use stewardship to increase both natural resource and community well-being.

Credit: Salmon Valley Stewardship While an All Lands approach to land management may not be the cure-all for the rural West’s macroeconomic challenges, it does empower rural communities to plan holistically for their future and strengthens the social fiber within and across communities. As more collaborative efforts graduate to the All Lands approach, they are setting a new standard for achieving long-term ecological and economic solutions backed by social agreement and joint investment.

By working across multiple land ownerships, an All Lands approach allows land managers to address ecological issues at the scales on which they operate. Not only can managers do more work on more land, but they can also coordinate across boundaries to make sure work is done strategically.

“In Hoonah,” Christensen said, “we did what no one else had before.We did a comprehensive inventory of forest structure, and now all the landowners have the same data to work with.We did it with a single crew, a single pot of money, and in a single summer. This was much more efficient than if Village Corporation did one, then the Forest Service did one, and so on.”

Credit: Salmon Valley Stewardship This approach naturally appeals to a wide range of partners, leading to pooled and leveraged investment and more work done on the ground. HNFP was initially funded by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which paved the way for further investment from other partners, including the Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and Huna Totem. “This gets people’s attention at all levels,” noted Christensen.

Knudson points out that more work on the ground can mean higher community benefit. That was the case in the Hughes Creek project. Thanks to a stewardship agreement the Salmon- Challis entered into with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a local hunting outfitter cross-trained his wilderness crew into a hard-working hazardous fuels reduction crew.

“I think Bighorn Outfitters only ended up doing about 100 acres of thinning and piling on Hughes Creek. But that kept a seasonal work crew of about seven people working during the typically slower summer months. So you have workers who are sticking around for the majority of the year, renting houses and keeping their kids in a school that faces declining numbers, and the Forest Service is getting the benefit of the outfitters’ free and heartfelt publicity.”

In both Hoonah and Salmon, there is a history of conflict around natural resource issues.The partnerships described in both cases probably would not have happened just a few decades ago. But working across ownerships and sectors develops relationships based on mutual trust, respect, and understanding. “My hope is that through the [HNFP] project, we’ll be able to heal some of those old wounds,” Christensen said.

These relationships are critical for collaboration to produce the returns on investment that rural communities need. The momentum, optimism, and relationships built through projects like these will translate into more effective management of our public and private lands.

For this approach to work at scale, the conservation community will need to connect and learn from the Hoonah’s and Salmon’s of the world—the innovators who have been experimenting and finding success for over a decade. Building capacity for replication in the rural West will continue to be essential for realizing success with the All Lands, All Hands strategy.What is more, it will be vital that these lessons and stories make their way to Capitol Hill to inform and encourage policies that enable good work on the ground.

Knudson and Christensen are working on that front too. They are both on the Leadership Team of the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (RVCC), a unique network of local, regional, and national groups tackling the tough ecological and economic challenges facing isolated rural communities across the West. For the last 15 years RVCC has brought the voices of these communities to Washington, DC and has served as a network for practitioners.

“Soon after finding my realm of community forestry,” Christensen said, “I found my way to RVCC and immediately benefited greatly from learning about projects happening all across the West. It’s helped me see a bigger vision for what I’ve stumbled into and given me courage to do what looked like a daunting task.”

Over the next year, RVCC will be formalizing the learning exchanges within their network, and taking a more intentional look at leadership development in rural communities. They will be encouraging the use of the All Lands approach by building relationships across landscapes and relaying lessons learned to policy makers. Stories like Christensen’s and Knudson’s will certainly be told again.

Rachel Plawecki is a legislative aide to Michigan State Representative Darrin Carmilleri. She previously worked for Wallowa Resources and Sustainable Northwest in Oregon.
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