In 2017, six regional stewardship networks, among them One Tam, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network, and Redwoods Rising, together launched the California Landscape Stewardship Network, a groundbreaking effort that brings together disparate landscape stewardship efforts, each one representing its own local network, throughout the nation’s third-largest state. Equal parts professional development group, think tank, and opportunity to learn from one another, this “network of networks” pools resources, shares information and data, and presents a collective voice to agencies and lawmakers in Sacramento. It’s not easy—conservation organizations have not historically been set up to facilitate regionwide collaboration—but participants see the effort as invaluable.
“The conversations are so rich and interesting,” says Darcie Goodman Collins, CEO of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “It’s nice to be in a room with practitioners who can share their successes and challenges, because we often get siloed.”
Since the statewide-network’s launch, the number of participants has increased to include representation from 29 stewardship networks. Participants meet twice yearly, each time in a different location, to discuss problems they face and possible solutions. If someone has a challenge, he or she can present the issue and ask some version of Has anyone else solved this? If so, how? And Do you know anyone who could help?
Early on, participants agreed that gaining the necessary restoration permits to carry out large-scale stewardship efforts—like prescribed burns and stream restoration—is at times challenging. To address that, participants have begun working with state agencies and other stakeholders to seek solutions.
“We have a really robust set of environmental regulations in California,” says Jay Chamberlin, chief of California State Parks’ Natural Resources Division, who collaborates with many of the networks. “It provides powerful and important tools to reduce environmental impacts.” And yet it can also limit restoration of ecosystem health at the pace and scale needed in the face of climate change.
The CLSN also convenes roundtables with state agencies to discuss long-term funding that supports regional collaboration and the ongoing costs of stewarding land. And it’s developing a curriculum to train people to be leaders—to do the difficult work of facilitating precisely these kinds of collaborative efforts elsewhere.
Many of the ideas underlying the network appear frequently in the pages of the Harvard Business Review and other publications focused on efficiency and innovation. Each node in the network serves as a kind of idea incubator. And the connections between nodes accelerate the diffusion and adoption of successful innovations.
In all this, the network is as much an exercise in human psychology as it is a workshop in the science of conservation. “We’re not talking about ecological restoration techniques,” Chamberlin says. “We’re talking mostly about the social science on how you get this done.”