FISHTHINK AND THE VALUE OF COLLABORATION IN FISHERY RESTORATION PLANNING…

It takes a number things, most importantly, clean, cool, oxygenated water, to allow fish like this little Hamilton Branch rainbow, to thrive. It also takes the knowledge of many to fully understand what’s happening in a given body of water and though it may not always be apparent at the onset, perhaps what’s most important is that we’re trying, together.

It takes a number things, most importantly, clean, cool, oxygenated water, to allow fish like this little Hamilton Branch rainbow, to thrive. It also takes the knowledge of many to fully understand what’s happening in a given body of water and though it may not always be apparent at the onset, perhaps what’s most important is that we’re trying, together.

The Upper Feather River Basin is a place that all at once contains incredible resource values but is also severely impaired. These two things seem to be readily affirmed by those that live and work here and especially by those that work closely with or live for the enjoyment of these valuable resources, including the Basin’s fisheries. While there is often a consensus on the type and severity of issues surrounding natural resource management issues or deficits, it is often rare that consensus will transition to meaningful collaboration. However, this is precisely the goal of my Fellowship.

As of late, I’ve been scrambling to match the calendar and catch the ears and minds of agency staff working on issues related to fishery health in the Upper Feather River Basin. The field season has begun (for myself included! Hooray!) which makes it ever more of a challenge to coordinate the more than 20 “fish folks” who attended and contributed at the first Technical Advisory Team meeting in April.

The idea for the formation of a Technical Advisory Team to help with steering of the UFRBWA has been based on two implicit goals: to 1) harness the experience, expertise and opinions of natural resource professionals working in the Basin to ensure the development of a rigorous analysis of fishery condition; and 2) to build stronger working relationships inside this network of professionals. In short, our goal is to facilitate the development of a broad consensus on fisheries management, and then move into informed fishery protection and restoration actions.

Collaborating with a volunteer Core Group comprised of a representative subset of those original 20 or so professionals, I’ve been at work selecting specific indicators of fishery and habitat condition, and trying to assemble them into a meaningful cumulative assessment of fishery health and the factors that affect it. This assessment will help to reveal what areas of the Basin should be targeted for restoration or protection efforts.

Most of the development of the assessment, including selection of indicators, scale, and data sources, has been based on the input of these experienced and expert contributors. While the resulting synthesis of knowledge will surely be significant, it has also become apparent throughout this process that the true value of this collaboration is greater than even the original intended outcome.

This project is not the first effort to coordinate collaboration over watershed health in the Feather River Basin. Plumas Corporation and the Feather River Coordinated Resource Management group (FRCRM) have been working on watershed restoration and monitoring, particularly focusing on the meadows in the eastern portions of the Basin, since 1985. The efforts of Plumas Corp. and FRCRM have achieved significant collaborative restoration success.

Additionally, the effort is currently underway to rewrite and improve the Feather River Integrated Regional Water Management plan (IRWM). The goal of the IRWM is “…to effectively perpetuate local control and regional collaboration to provide stability and consistency in the planning, management and coordination of resources within the Upper Feather River watershed. To implement an integrated strategy that guides the Upper Feather River region toward protecting, managing and developing reliable and sustainable water resources.”

While the conservation and improvement of fisheries can well be considered to be implied objectives of these two efforts (in fact, the inception for the UFRBWA was partially due to Feather River Trout Unlimited participation in the IRWM planning process!), many resource staff and concerned citizens saw there was still a void for a collaborative effort or group that was fish-centric in its focus. Others felt that beyond that any fish-centric efforts weren’t appropriately large enough in scale.

So, in one sense, the true value of this collaboration is the improved working relationship of folks working with fish in the Basin. This in turn means fishery health is well represented as an explicitly important concern that can be integrated with other collaboration efforts.