Welcome to the April edition of The Conservation Compass. This report covers topics about the management and operations of the Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District. The Clackamas SWCD district operations team provides the support needed for the District to effectively serve customers and implement conservation practices.
At this time of year, we see activity increasing on all fronts. As the weather warms people begin spending more time outdoors. They observe new weed patches and notice the effects of rain and runoff on their property. Our specialists begin receiving more calls from landowners seeking help.
It is also budget season. Workload has increased for our department managers and for our operations team. As we are looking toward the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, 2018, we are also projecting income and costs for the next fiscal year and beyond. Some new initiatives make this a particularly exciting and challenging time.
Reports that talk about what we have accomplished are important, but just as important is talking about where we are headed. This newsletter is named the Conservation Compass because the items presented are not just about what has already happened, but also about the direction the Clackamas SWCD is going.
Teamwork is on my mind this month. For us to provide excellent service to our customers requires good communication among staff, sharing of tasks to help level the workload, and respect for each other. Our increasing workload brings with it a sense of increased pressure to perform, and all of us work extra hard to make sure things go smoothly.
Across the region, several soil and water conservation districts also work closely together. This is particularly true in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area where we share similar challenges of dense urban populations pressing against farm and forest land (download The Future of Oregon’s Agricultural Land, 2016).
When the entire metro area of Portland (5 counties in Oregon, and 2 counties in Washington) is tallied, the total is nearly 2.4 million. There are about 4,375 Portlanders per square mile.
These issues are common in the:
- Clark Conservation District,
- East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District,
- West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District,
- Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District, and
- Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District.
Our districts serve a lot of people who use their land in almost every imaginable way. We talk frequently about ways we can improve the delivery of conservation services in our region.
Clackamas SWCD’s portion of the regional population is more than 400,000 people. Of our 16 employees, 12 are staff who provide direct service to our constituents. We could not provide great service without the commitment and teamwork of all of our people, augmented by the support we receive from our sister districts in the region. It takes a good team, and I’m pleased to say that all of the soil and water conservation districts in the region – including Clackamas SWCD – work well in delivering conservation to our constituents.
Tom Salzer, General Manager
As noted above, it is budget season. Oregon’s Local Budget Law applies to the Clackamas SWCD because of a property tax levy approved by voters in 2006. Our Budget Committee met on April 3, 2018 to receive the budget message and the proposed budget for next year (fiscal year 2018-2019 which is July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019).
The second meeting of the Budget Committee will be held on May 1, 2018 in the Clackamas SWCD conference room. Public comment will be accepted at that meeting.
We are engaged in three big projects: the acquisition of industrial forest land, constructing a new building, and pursuing opportunities to restore oak habitats.
Eagle Creek acquisition
Through the Eagle Creek acquisition, Clackamas SWCD seeks to protect and improve important habitat for fish and wildlife. Secondary purposes include providing habitat-friendly recreational opportunities and generating revenue through occasional timber harvests. The 318-acre property connects to Clackamas County’s Eagle Fern Park and is sandwiched between some old growth forests on land owned by Portland General Electric.
Clackamas SWCD is partnering with The Trust for Public Land on this acquisition. On March 30, we held a public hearing on the acquisition of debt to finance the purchase of the property. We expect this purchase to be completed in calendar year 2018.
Conservation Resource Center
A long-held dream of the Clackamas SWCD is to provide a combined office, meeting, and education center on land where we can walk out the door to show conservation practices to customers. We have named that new facility the Conservation Resource Center.
Clackamas SWCD bought the Beavercreek Farm in 2013. Since then, planning has been underway for how to turn the dream into reality. This calendar year, we expect to obtain the funding needed to finish the design of the facility and to begin construction. Our plan is to occupy the Conservation Resource Center by January 2020.
The Oak Conservation Implementation Strategy is a partnership between the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Clackamas SWCD, and West Multnomah SWCD. It is also called the Clackanomah Oak Habitat Strategy.
This CIS will help private landowners restore, enhance and manage existing oak habitat in areas of Clackamas and Multnomah Counties where this declining habitat was historically prominent.
This initiative consumes quite a bit of staff time, in part because the traditional mechanisms available through USDA don’t fit very well with the size and duration of oak restoration actions. Patches of oak can be quite small, but practices are often designed for larger tracts of land. The time it takes until oak trees are free to grow without being overwhelmed by other species is much, much longer than for other commonly planted trees.
These three initiatives come with additional challenges. Workload is one challenge. No matter how much we try to use vendors and contractors to address some of the issues that come with acquiring land, building a facility, and restoring oak habitats, Clackamas SWCD staff will have additional tasks to accomplish.
The other significant challenge is servicing the debt that will come with acquiring land and building the Conservation Resource Center. The good news is that the proposed budget for next year shows that we can handle the loan payments for the acquisition and new building. Our budget gets a bit tighter until 2020 because we will be paying for our leased office space in Oregon City at the same time that we are making loan payments for the new office building.
The most effective soil and water conservation districts operate as a collaboration between the governance and management teams, when appropriate. At Clackamas SWCD, the mutual respect and appreciation for what each group provides helps make us successful.
One of the things we are thinking about is conservation investments, the outcomes from such investments, and the persistence of those outcomes.
Short-term conservation actions
Some of the work that conservation districts do is relatively short-term in nature. Typically, current issues are addressed with specific conservation practices to produce an immediate positive outcome. For example, allowing livestock to have unrestricted access to surface water can harm water quality and wildlife habitat. A livestock exclusion fence and appropriate management of access to the stream can provide immediate improvement of water quality. Over time, streamside vegetation may recover and shade the stream.
A fence has a design life after which it is not expected to remain functional without repair or replacement. Other factors like the management style used to maintain the livestock herd and land ownership may also change. In short, we have little assurance that the time, money, and effort we invest in practices like this will produce positive results beyond the design life of the practice.
That’s not to say that these limited duration conservation practices are a waste of the Clackamas SWCD’s resources. They produce immediate positive gains, so they are worthwhile investments. Often, the conservation planning process serves as a catalyst for changing management of natural resources. Behavioral changes can last far longer than some physical practices, so the work that goes into implementing specific practices can yield significant outcomes for decades to come.
There is a sense of finite life to conservation practices and to changes in the way people manage their natural resources. Practices eventually fail. Landowners eventually pass on their land to someone else. The Clackamas SWCD seeks to balance investments by pursuing actions with both short-term and long-term benefits in mind. The Eagle Creek acquisition is an example of a current investment that should yield habitat benefits and produce revenue for the foreseeable future. Construction of the Conservation Resource Center should improve our ability to serve customers for many decades to come.
Discussion at Clackamas SWCD on short-term vs. long-term actions is centering around how to balance those approaches, and how to prioritize work to achieve short and long-term outcomes. This conversation is ongoing and we’ll report again on it in the future.
We welcome your feedback. You can reach the management team through this contact form.