How do you talk about issues like ocean acidification and habitat preservation and changing land use patterns? Where do you even start? Having now coordinated two such meetings, I can answer that question: Start with a working coffee machine. At the first of these meetings, the snazzy built-in coffee machine provided by the meeting place malfunctioned and flooded so we had to abandon the idea of making a pot of coffee– and the look on people’s faces as they tried to get coffee out of an empty pot can only be described as “crestfallen.” But eventually we got it working, and the meeting took off from there. That first day our topic was water quality issues. During the second meeting, we tackled the larger and somewhat more amorphous category of “habitat” issues.
Why were we meeting at all? As an Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resources Policy Fellow placed at the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership for a year, it is my job to coordinate the revision of the organization’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, or CCMP. The original CCMP came out in 1999, and devotes a chapter each to habitat, water quality, erosion and sedimentation, flooding, citizen involvement, and monitoring. These early meetings are a way to meet with many of the agencies we partner with and get a sense of the issues they feel are most pressing; what they feel has changed since the original CCMP was written; and how these evolving policies can best be implemented.
It’s very satisfying to get twenty people in a room—a feat in itself because of so many busy schedules—and talking about these big issues and the long-term plans for addressing them. For me, this experience has really driven home how important it is to, well, talk to people. Reading and solo research is important, but nothing can quite substitute for the understanding that comes from conversing with the players who have been involved with the issue at hand for two, five, ten years. In fact, some of the meeting participants were involved in the drafting of the original plan back in the mid-90’s. Because they were starting from scratch, that process was much more intense. The people involved met every week for five years.
For the revision, we’re condensing that time frame. We’ll be holding another couple of meetings in February to narrow down and clarify the brainstorming list produced by the first meetings, and then we’ll be holding public information sessions in March to present a rough draft of the management plan and ask for input from the community. In early May, my time at TEP ends. I may not leave with the plan finalized, but I do think I’ll be able to produce a solid rough draft or outline at the very least before I leave TEP. Certainly I’ll leave with a better understanding of the process of planning an organization’s future and a knack for jury-rigging reluctant coffee machines.