1993 Proceedings of the Midwest Oak Savanna Conferences
MAKING CONSERVATION PARTNERSHIPS WORK
The environmental realities of our time challenge conservationists to restore and protect the functional integrity of whole, dynamic ecosystems. In the process we are embracing a wide range of issues rooted in ecology but enmeshed in sociological and economic concerns.
We can meet these challenges only by orchestrating partnerships. The Cache River Wetlands Project in southern Illinois is attracting an ever-widening circle of partners while staying focused on the major threats to the ecosystem. Each partner has specific and complementary objectives to meet within the larger context of the project. Thus each organization is applying its singular strengths to the challenges it is best equipped to meet, and coordination becomes a natural process built on information exchange.
Practical ideas emerging from the Cache River and similar projects will provide a framework for discussing how to build and manage effective conservation partnerships.
CASE STUDY: CACHE RIVER WETLANDS, ILLINOIS
The Cache River project began in the late 1960s with acquisition of Heron Pond (1,158 acres) by the Illinois Department of Conservation. The Nature Conservancy became involved in the early 1970s, acquiring lands for transfer to the Department. The project is now a joint venture expected to encompass a 60,000 acre core area and will include efforts to improve land and water management practices throughout the 473,000 acre watershed.
The project developed in stages as the ecological value of other areas became evident and links between the health of the wetlands and land use in the surrounding watershed were better understood. A critical stage in the development of the project began in 1984, when a report commissioned by The Nature Conservancy recognized the importance of three intensively farmed tributary watersheds to the hydrology and water quality of wetlands along the Lower Cache River.
Chronically short of capital funding, the Department of Conservation was ill-equipped to acquire large blocks of buffer land like this and had difficulty acquiring even the high quality natural areas. We needed another land acquisition partner that 1) had better funding, 2) would recognize and respond to the wetland restoration opportunities in the buffer areas, and 3) could be trusted to at least improve water quality through its managementpractices.
The North American Waterfowl Management Plan (1986) established priorities for wetlands habitat protection and restoration that included the southern tip of Illinois. We matched two appropriate partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Ducks Unlimited, with a specific job that fell within their missions, priorities, and strengths. Good people and an approach likely to be successful were recommended to me by Tom Massengale, then of our Southeast Regional Office, Frank Bellrose, a noted waterfowl expert, and T. Miller, a Department of Conservation employee that serves as team leader for one of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan joint venture areas.
We developed an expanded plan for the Cache River that included the three tributary watersheds and presented it to Service and Ducks Unlimited staff attending a joint venture implementation team meeting in Memphis in 1988. A lot of the discussion took place between sessions and in the evenings. We presented the plan as an opportunity to protect and restore waterfowl habitat while simultaneously helping to protect a unique natural area and National Natural Landmark. We had planned the new partners into the project in a way that allowed them great latitude in their own management programs, since any kind of habitat restoration was bound to improve the situation in the intensively farmed buffer areas.
The Service sent an ascertainment team to the Cache in the fall of that year, and we gave them a tour with Department personnel along. Miller and I had drafted a Preliminary Project Proposal (Fish and Wildlife Service paperwork) on my laptop computer. The Service team leader and I polished the draft while we waited in the St. Louis airport, and the document was ready to submit the next day. Joint planning sessions followed.
While the Service developed its environmental assessment, we began working on appropriations. (Nat Williams and Carol Baudler were invaluable.) The result was $3 million in appropriations in place before the refuge was fully authorized. This demonstration of political support, coupled with good ecological work by the ascertainment team, encouraged the Service to develop a much larger plan for the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge and led to a joint venture plan that forms the core area of the new bioreserve.