Transformational partnerships make large-scale, sustainable restoration possible

In Oregon’s Tualatin Watershed, fifteen years of hard work has resulted in more than 140 river miles planted with native vegetation and 30,000-plus acres managed for watershed health by TFA partners. According to a 2017 report by Portland State University’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions, “Restoration would have taken much longer to accomplish without partnerships or would have covered much smaller areas. In some instances, without partnerships, it is likely that restoration would not have occurred at all.” 

THE PARTNERSHIP CONTINUUM — adapted from Austin (2003)

THE PARTNERSHIP CONTINUUMadapted from Austin (2003)

Across the basin, the results of more than 700 Tree for All projects are impossible to miss. 

Floodplains are functioning as nature intended, providing vital storage for rivers and creeks in severe weather, protecting cities and development downstream. Fish, birds, and wildlife can once again move around the landscape much as they did centuries ago. And perhaps most exciting for the future: a generation is growing up with hands-on stewardship experience. 

Core activities vary from project to project, but all include a restoration component—and none are executed by one organization, working in isolation. 

“Out of the gate, we invested our time working on those relationships,” explains Bruce Roll of Clean Water Services, a keystone partner. “It wasn’t an agency coming in and telling Tree for All, ‘Here are your goals,’” he points out. “It’s what evolved out of collaboration that brought Tree for All to where it is today.”

When Tree for All started, instead of trying to plot a strategy for the entire basin, the early collaborators asked, “What can we act on now? What can we do on the ground together? What is the outcome we expect? What are the water quality outcomes we want?” Success on the ground led to a Regional Conservation Strategy.

The achievement happens one project at a time, but real meaning occurs with many projects stacked on top of each other
— Jonathan Soll, Metro

Tree for All’s funding mechanism also evolved over time, as partnerships coalesced and new resources came online. No one group on its own—public, private, or nonprofit—could deliver adequate resources to power the scale that is needed for a healthy and resilient watershed. And in terms of those resources, financial capital is only the start. 

Metro, a regional government that acquires bond supported natural areas, has provided access to large tracts of land. Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District brings working relationships with farmers. Friends of Trees manages stewardship outreach through volunteer planting events. Tualatin Riverkeepers connects the local community to local waterways. And so on.  

“You seek out commonalities with people,” says Esther Lev (The Wetlands Conservancy). “We're always asking, ‘Who else might be involved? The things that we care about, who else might care about it? Or who else might not like it?’ And we begin conversations.”

“What I find intriguing,” Roll notes, “is that once the partners act, they want to act more. And they want to amplify what they've accomplished. Each time we completed another project, the trust grew, the collaboration grew, the resources came piling in, and we were able to act more, and again and again and again.”

That growth is critical because working at scale is key to the creation of resilient and healthy watersheds  This means finding ways to work across working lands and urban landscapes by piecing together, 50, 100, even 700 (and counting) restoration projects.  “Working across an entire region, and across decades of time, honestly, is important,” Metro’s Jonathan Soll explains, “because the achievement happens one project at a time, but real meaning occurs with many projects stacked on top of each other.”

In the Tualatin Valley, cities, farmers, nonprofits, county, state and federal agencies are working together, sharing resources and achieving transformation results. Collectively, they’re making a difference at a scale that would be impossible in isolation.

Today, the Tree for All program is shored up by agreements reaching twenty or more years into the future. Those kinds of long-term commitments help create a healthy and resilient watershed today, and for future generations.