Partners in Restoration
Partners in Restoration (PIR) is a collaboration between Sustainable Conservation, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), local Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs), and local, state, and federal regulatory agencies. Environmental regulations, designed to protect natural resources, are so complex that they have become an unlikely obstacle to landowners doing important work to enhance and restore the environment. The goal of PIR is to simplify this cumbersome regulatory review process, making it easier for landowners to implement conservation projects on their property.
In order for farmers to protect an eroding streambank and enhance the riparian habitat, they must go through five to eight separate local, state, and federal regulatory review processes. This can cost thousands of dollars in fees, take days to complete the paperwork, and take well over a year to get the approvals. There's a tremendous disincentive for voluntary action as most agriculturalists lack the resources to navigate this process. As a result, important projects fail to start and water quality, wildlife habitat, and quality of life continue to degrade.
Working Together Provides an Elegant Solution
PIR creates a simple and efficient process for growers, ranchers, and other private landowners to obtain the permits necessary to undertake their conservation work. Sustainable Conservation helps the NRCS and RCD select commonly used conservation practices, often known as best management practices, needed to control erosion and improve habitat. These are put together in a "package" for the regulators to review in advance. Working with the regulators, protection measures, procedures, and agreements are negotiated to ensure the projects conform to NRCS standards and environmental regulations. Once PIR has been established, landowners can participate by partnering with the NRCS and RCD, often receiving valuable technical and cost sharing assistance as well. Provided they follow the PIR rules, the landowners don't need to seek individual permits from all the agencies. The project is designed, funded, and put in the ground in less time and with less expense and worry.
Cleaner Water and Improved Agriculture
Sustainable Conservation's pilot PIR project was in Monterey County's Elkhorn Slough. PIR enabled the NRCS, RCD, and the Water Quality Protection Program of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to provide technical and financial assistance to help the agricultural community improve the management of their operations. In PIR's first five years, more than thirty farmers have completed thirty–seven projects under the program. More than 57,000 tons of sediment have been prevented from entering the slough system and more than two miles of stream corridors have been enhanced.
Replicating Our Success
Because of Sustainable Conservation's success in Elkhorn Slough, the increased complexity of environmental regulation, and the growing interest in restoring natural resources, PIR is being implemented in many areas of California. PIR is active in the Elkhorn Slough watershed, the Morro Bay watershed, the Salinas River watershed, the Navarro River watershed and the coastal Marin County watershed. In addition, Sustainable Conservation and partners are developing the PIR program in the following areas: San Luis Rey watershed, the Santa Cruz County watersheds, the Alameda County watersheds, and the Humboldt County watersheds.
Building Capacity in Local Communities
Sustainable Conservation does not have the capacity to assist all the places in California that both need and want PIR. To meet this demand, Sustainable Conservation is developing a PIR training program that trains local RCD watershed coordinators and NRCS staff to develop PIR in their community. The goal is to build local knowledge and skill and reach more areas through this joint effort—15 to 20 areas by 2006.
Helping Government Work Better
The PIR philosophy is "cooperation to improve environmental outcomes." Sustainable Conservation is collaborating with state and federal regulatory agencies to incorporate this ideology into their organizations. Working with the agencies' senior management, Sustainable Conservation hopes to develop formal policies and agreements to encourage and guide local agency personnel to establish PIR programs throughout the state. With these agreements in place, Sustainable Conservation's local partners and regulators can focus their efforts on the technical and biological challenges of their particular area, rather than the challenges of finding a champion or signatory for the program.