2014 Executive Director’s Report— from BR Newsletter Vol II, Issue 1
Looking Back at 2014 and Ahead to 2015
Greetings Restoration Community Members,
This report offers highlights from 2014 and a prospectus for 2015, all of which has been pulled together for those who support and are curious about our collective work. The support we receive comes in myriad forms, ranging from volunteering at the greenhouses, seed lab, and in the field; to donating materials that fill critical infrastructural needs. Support even includes offerings of encouraging words and the asking of challenging questions that help keep us on track. We deeply appreciate and welcome all of this, and often remind one another that, “It takes a village to raise a watershed.” In the face of multiple environmental and social stressors in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands region today, we know that it takes a village to maintain a watershed, too. Because of this need, we encourage you to continue to check the Borderlands Restoration website and Facebook page for updates on our projects. Please watch for ever-emerging opportunities for employment and grant writing opportunities, and collaboration and restoration work on landscapes ranging from yards and gardens to vast tracts of public and private land.
In early 2014 we continued to experience many of the challenges common to small start-up organizations, and we took effective steps to meet them. We hired a part-time administrative assistant to help with the development of bookkeeping, human resources, and outreach as we grow, and we’ve begun to benefit from the expertise of a local engineer and information technology specialist for our data management needs. Another part-time employee was added to the Horticulture Team to accommodate an increasing demand for plant materials, and we formed a novel partnership with the University of Arizona’s Climate Assessment for the Southwest [CLIMAS] group, who will donate staff time to our pollinators and climate change research and grant writing efforts.
While our office at the corner of McKeown and 3rd Avenue threatens to burst at the seams with the buzzing of more than a dozen employees and many other collaborators, the addition of a small space next door has relieved some stress with a large map table and room for more. Dedicated staff members continue to develop business, workshop, and other educational opportunities at The Borderlands Trading Post in the pollinator garden out back. This is a space that we have opened up to local artists and other practitioners, including Revitalist Botanicals, a small start-up that promises to strengthen the bonds between people, restoration potentials, and the healing powers of plants and tinctures made from them. Look for much more activity in the garden this spring.
Farther afield, our relationship with Native Seeds/SEARCH in Patagonia was strengthened through a formal Collaborative Agreement through which we lease greenhouse space and acreage for native plant grow-outs. We are currently working toward an Integrated Habitat Management Plan that would serve the needs of both organizations, by coordinating food system and native plant research and production on the same site, which will also serve as a demonstration and education zone. Like Native Seeds, The Nature Conservancy continues to support our shared work, and we’ve begun to develop a large-scale restoration plan for their adjacent property in need of riparian restoration work. This too will become a major education node for multiple groups, and we continue to receive monitoring, planting, and outreach support from Hummingbird Monitoring Network, Friends of Sonoita Creek, and the Patagonia Tree and Park Committee, including the Town of Patagonia itself.
Other ground-breaking formal agreements with the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service indicate increasing momentum around collaborative restoration planning and action, and we remain optimistic that we can leverage these initial efforts toward large-scale work on public lands that serves the interests of the agencies and the public alike.
Through the support of Hummingbird Monitoring Network and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we completed a major restoration project on a piece of private land along Harshaw Creek in the Patagonia Mountains. Volunteers and staff planted over 1,000 native plants vital to local and migratory pollinator species, and carefully installed erosion-control structures that successfully withstood major flood events over the summer. The US Forest Service now wants to replicate our work on neighboring forests in the watershed.
The second year of the Borderlands Earth Care Youth Institute—designed to hire high school interns in order to train and engage them in all facets of our restoration work—expanded to 12 students and included the previous year’s students as mentors for the first time. It is difficult to underestimate the ways in which the positive effects of this group’s formation have rippled throughout the restoration community in the region—the Forest Service will soon contract with us to replicate the Institute in Douglas, AZ, and several Service officials are excited to help us plan effective educational opportunities for the students in summer 2015 and beyond.
Finally, in December we successfully concluded a complex two-year effort to facilitate the purchase and protection of one of the most important wildlife corridors in the western U.S.—just two miles north of Patagonia—linking formerly disconnected mountain ranges and two Forest Service Districts [see website for more details]. We were proud to celebrate the accomplishment through a recent public Listening Session, during which we solicited comments and concerns from the Patagonia community and formed an initial Friends of the Corridor group to help guide the public use and management of the corridor, and adjacent public use and restoration zones that we will begin to develop in 2015.
For more information on these and other collaborative efforts and partners, please find our recently formed Sky Island Restoration Cooperative group’s major new publication and detailed project descriptions on our website.
The coming year promises to offer more rich and important opportunities for us and for our partners’ collective capacities to grow. We received a formal invitation from the AZ State Forestry Department to help guide restoration work in Sierra Vista and the Huachuca Mountains. We hope this partnership will
lead to increased funding opportunities to scale-up our collective restoration work. In an important related project, we have secured a small grant to plan a major tree planning and planting effort in Patagonia’s Town Park. This grant will be leveraged to secure funds to complete the plantings with local workers in subsequent years, and we’ve already begun discussions toward a large-scale restoration planning effort for the entire Sonoita Creek watershed.
2015 will also see us enter into our first Collaborative Agreement with Sky Island Alliance, as a contractor responsible for spring restoration, protection, and fire effects mitigation. This work is funded from a grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society. The two-year project will likely lead to further opportunities for us to maintain the extensive restoration networks that so many of our partners have helped us build. These include vital core support from the Bureau of Land Management, who continue to support staff working hard at plant research and production through our Madrean Archipelago Plant Propagation center and Seed Lab. We have also made significant headway in our emerging data management and restoration best practices collaboration with Gila Watershed Partnership in Safford, AZ, also supported by the Bureau.
Foundation—repeat endangered bird surveys, restoration support planning, and spring and erosion control work—continue ahead of schedule and have resulted in extensive training for our Restoration Crew and dozens of other volunteers and paid contractors, who are also being trained in “reading the landscape” and restoration best practices. Because we use these successful projects as outreach and demos for ranchers, agency representatives, and other land managers and the general public, they continue to attract positive attention and generate new opportunities for learning and employment.
Restoring functional physical landscape processes, growing and planting native plants, and supportingsprings and pollinators are just some of the vital activities in our work, but they remain incomplete without a third essential step—forging and maintaining bonds between people and the natural world, and providing opportunities for each to flourish in tandem. We are convinced that habitat restoration is not sustainable unless local citizens understand the benefits received from the work, and actively participate in restoring ecosystems and ecosystem services in their own communities. Through this approach, we continue to demonstrate that a “restoration economy”—a cultivated network of relationships whereby people gain skills and the capacity to make their livings by caring for place—is both feasible and, today, necessary if we are collectively to overcome persistent geographic and social divides, and the shared threats to the ecosystems on which we depend.
We remain proud and grateful for the opportunity to put our collective shoulders to the wheel of such challenges, and we encourage you to join us in any capacity. Thank you, and we look forward to seeing you in town and out on the landscape.
David Seibert, Ph.D.