Collaboration: Key Element of a Healthy Watershed
Stream to stream, landowner to landowner, and agency to agency – resources and people are all interconnected, vital to the natural system.
The waters of Pollock Creek empty into Calapooya Creek and flow through the Umpqua to Winchester Bay on the southern Oregon coast. The course runs through an array of forest, pasture, native prairie and savannah lands. Numerous wildlife species use these areas, including coho, steelhead, Chinook, and lamprey, as well as an abundance of birds and mammals including white tail deer. While small, Pollock Creek is an important vein feeding the interdependent processes vital to the health of this complex system.
Just as this little stream is significant to the larger watershed, the farmers and ranchers operating along its banks understand the value of their land stewardship to the area’s overall resources. George Seonbuchner, Mike Horton and Ron Hjort all own and operate land along Pollock Creek. Over the past years, these landowners and others have used financial and technical assistance through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to protect the stream.
In this way, local landowners are partnering with agencies to perform another function of a healthy watershed – collaboration to get conservation on the ground.
George Seonbuchner’s ranch includes about 450 acres on Pollock Creek. George was one of the area’s first ranchers to enroll into CREP. Since then, he has campaigned tirelessly for the program and has held many tours to share his successes and motivate others to do the same. "It is crucial that we improve our streamside areas for fish and wildlife and leave it for future generations," George said.
According to Mike Horton, who owns roughly 280 acres of forest and grazing land, taking care of Pollock Creek was one way to protect the health of the land into the future. "The stabilization and restoration of streamside areas is an important legacy for us all, and these buffers are going to last a long time," he said.
"CREP is a valuable program for myself, for taxpayers and for our kids," Mike said.
Ron Hjort, who operates 1,000 acres for cattle, sheep and hay, saw CREP as a way to protect wildlife while improving his agricultural operation. After planting trees and shrubs along the creek, Ron added fencing to exclude livestock from the riparian area. Since then, he has seen reduced compaction and erosion, as well as the ability to graze his livestock longer and the need to purchase less feed. "The best part, other than benefits to the environment and fish," he said, "is that the fencing has helped create extra pastures for better grazing rotations."
"Also," he added, "I have a passion for fish. The sheep did not need be in the creek and they didn’t use that acreage extensively anyway. So, it balances out."
While these landowners are protecting the creek with the actions they take on their own land, they are also motivating others to do the same. A total of ten landowners along Pollock Creek have used CREP to plant thousands of native trees and shrubs, install livestock crossings, remove invasive weeds and improve conditions along 8.2 miles of the stream covering 16.4 miles of streambank. In all, 53 percent of Pollock Creek is currently enrolled in CREP. Each landowner worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Services Agency (FSA) to plan and fund their projects.
"Word of mouth generated by these successes has brought in new customers and increased conservation activities in the area," said Pam Davis with FSA, whose office manages more than 94 CREP contracts across the county. "It’s a domino effect," she said.
By virtue of being a partnership program, CREP has shown how well different agencies are able to collaborate. "The key is working together and communicating with all of the partners," Davis explained.
The local CREP effort involves a coordinated effort among FSA, NRCS, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, local Watershed Councils, Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and others. The partnership approach helps landowners find the assistance they want while helping them identify additional strategies to get even more conservation on the ground. Through the program process, many CREP participants have learned about and decided to undertake additional stewardship activities, such as participation in the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), or other opportunities.
NRCS District Conservationist David Chain, who provides one-on-one technical assistance to landowners and growers seeking conservation assistance, explains the inter-connectedness of local conservation agencies. "By working together closely as a partnership, our groups are better able to help our clients find the right assistance at the right time," he said.
"And," he continued, "we are very appreciative of the way people are willing to work with our multiple agencies. Local landowners are taking significant actions to protect the area’s natural resources for the years to come."
Just as one small stream is vital to the function of the overall natural system, the people who live along the banks of Pollock Creek are a key factor making conservation programs work for a healthy watershed.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides leadership
in a partnership effort to help people