Engaging local communities increases success of ecosystem restoration projects
Long term protection of restored watersheds is enhanced through the voluntary actions of those who have access to the restored areas. A CALFED-funded riparian restoration project on a stretch of Putah Creek adjacent to an economically disadvantaged community presented an opportunity for fostering environmental stewardship and a sense of place.
We developed a community stewardship program to accompany the restoration led by the Lower Putah Creek Coordinating Committee. Graduate students, participating in an innovative UC Davis Environmental Leaders Program, engaged community members in activities directly relevant to restoration goals and in roles consistent with participant availability, age, and interests. Strategies included adult participation in initial riparian restoration design; multi-aged groups in seasonal plantings and cleanups; weekly nature club for youth; occasional teen field trips; multi-aged educational talks, demonstrations, and hands-on activities (water quality monitoring). Activities were conducted in English and Spanish.
Findings, gathered from a summative analysis, indicated marked changes in community awareness and attitudes towards the creek, increased interest and participation in restoration activities, and increased knowledge of local plants and animals. Additional liaison-led activities with indirect relevance to riparian restoration (helping design a butterfly garden, planting trees in the playground) contributed to maintaining relationships with community members. Partnerships with local agencies, nonprofits, and university programs also contributed to success with partners applying knowledge gained to nearby community sites.
We conclude that ongoing, culturally appropriate, and responsive interaction with local communities adjacent to or with preferential access to targeted environmental resources is critical to the development of stewardship that leads to long term success of ecosystem restoration projects. The university-based environmental leaders program offers a model for effective low cost accompaniment to scientific investigation and ecosystem restoration. Resource managers need take such findings into account in planning for citizen-based resource protection, particularly with populations with historically low participation.
Directing a small portion of agency funding for ecosystem restoration to tightly linked, culturally appropriate, liaison-led community participation is an effective way to develop enduring citizen-based resource protection, particularly if built into initial project design. The sustained nurturing of youth involvement also provides a foundation for long term environmental stewardship.
Presentation Abstract for 2008 CALFED Conference