Building partnerships for Oregon’s coastal watershed

In Oregon’s Coos Bay, the natural environment is a source of pride and significant economic activity. But as a result of competing interests and values, the area’s natural resources can also be a source of conflict. This divisiveness often makes it difficult for to objectively assess the long-term effects of economic activity on social, economic, and environmental conditions, particularly given that community members have difficulty agreeing on whose “facts” to trust. In response, the South Slough reserve worked with the Coos Watershed Association to establish and facilitate the Partnership for Coastal Watersheds—a group of local stakeholders that represents diverse interests. The Partnership develops objective  informational tools that serve as a foundation for community and economic development initiatives, including  a much-needed revision of Coos County’s aging land-use planning ordinances, community vision, and climate change vulnerability assessments.

Project Impact

This project has helped build new partnerships, strengthen existing ones, and lay the groundwork for future progress toward the community vision for a healthy Coos Bay and thriving communities. It empowered the Partnership for Coastal Watersheds, a collaborative effort among public-and private-sector citizens, to develop locally-driven approaches to responsible development and to prepare for climate-related changes on Oregon’s southern coast.

Many local decision makers have expressed interest in the project’s watershed assessments. The Coos Estuary Inventory will help the county revise the outdated Coos Bay Estuary Management Plan, facilitate permit applications, and support research projects and businesses. Its data can also support vulnerability assessments, adaptation plans, and community visioning efforts.

By expanding the South Slough reserve’s monitoring capacity to incorporate environmental and socioeconomic factors, this project improved understanding of the impacts of land use decisions and climate change on the natural environment and local communities. Many stakeholders—from scientists to shipping pilots—will use the real-time monitoring data to support their work. Additionally, the project’s hydrodynamic model of the estuary will help address local stakeholders’ questions about management options and impacts.

Project team members received the Oregon Land Board’s Partnership Award in 2013 in recognition of the benefits of this effort. The team’s collaborative process can be a model for other coastal communities seeking to overcome the challenges inherent in bringing together individuals from the private and public sectors to collaborate on complex, natural-resource based issues.

How it worked

This project builds on previous work by the Partnership for Coastal Watersheds, including a community vision for the desired future conditions of the region and an action plan to work toward achieving this vision. The South Slough reserve and its partners used this foundation to engage new stakeholders, develop an indicator-based program for monitoring the impacts of the action plan, and validate a hydrodynamic model for the Coos Estuary.

The South Slough reserve facilitated the project using a collaborative learning framework for engaging community members, a steering committee, and a series of subcommittees focused on different project components. A technical advisory group including environmental scientists, economists, and sociologists supported the monitoring and modeling work. The reserve also engaged local decision makers, community members, and other researchers to help shape the Coos Estuary circulation model developed by the project.

A key focus for stakeholder engagement was the Coos Bay Inventory, a compilation of existing data about a range of the area’s environmental and socioeconomic attributes—from clam populations to unemployment levels. The team worked with the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) to incorporate its new habitat classification data into the inventory. The inventory’s subcommittee engaged additional community members help shape associated communication and outreach to facilitate the inventory’s use.

Resources

This project is producing monitoring data and other resources for the communities of Coos Bay and North Bend to use in decision making, To learn more, visit the team’s website or browse the resources below: