Reflecting on the Willamette River Initiative Evaluation

The Willamette River Initiative evaluation report and case studies are a deep well of data and insights into what fueled the impact of this decade-long investment by Meyer Memorial Trust and its partners. These resources also tell us where more focus is needed to continue and build upon this momentum. As the co-directors of the Willamette River Network, we're thinking hard about these lessons and what it means for the future of this network. Here are some initial takeaways in our own words. We look forward to continuing this conversation with you!

 

Jesse's Takeaways

 

Jesse Cruz Richards

My big takeaway from the WRI Evaluation Report is this: Meyer Memorial Trust strategically conceived and consciously carried out an effective funding strategy which gave birth to an internationally recognized river restoration movement. The Thiess International Riverprize—equivalent to the Nobel Prize in the river restoration profession—should stand as a signpost to the significant impacts philanthropy, public agencies, policy groups and restoration practitioners can have on a river system when they convene together and take coordinated action. As we work to accelerate ecological and environmental justice across the Willamette Basin, we must continue to collaborate across sectors to advance the important work of implementing the Conservation 2050 vision outlined in the Willamette Basin Planning Atlas. The Atlas was instrumental to the strategies behind the Willamette River Initiative, and the evaluation tells us we have a strong foundation in place to stay on this trajectory. If you’re reading this, you have a role to play in these collective efforts. And right now—in 2021 and beyond—is the strategic time to accelerate and advance this conservation vision. Now is certainly not the time to slow down, equivocate or waffle. We are living in the midst of a moral and environmental crisis. While our planet, our people, our forests and our water remain precariously positioned, we’re also poised to exercise resilience, moral courage and collegiality in our collective efforts to promote environmental justice for all. As the director of development and policy, I ask that you please continue to closely read both the Willamette River Initiative evaluation and the Willamette Basin Planning Atlas. I ask that you consider the evaluation and the basin atlas as social science and environmental science touchstones for how "Team Willamette" will continue to accomplish internationally recognized outcomes. I also ask you to think about the voices and perspectives of communities that have been excluded from the goal setting and decision making in the past. One of the clearest areas of need outlined in the WRI evaluation is the nurturing of relationships and interconnections between white conservation leaders, Indigenous leaders and leaders of color. Together, we can build upon the foundation and learnings of the WRI to bring a healthier Willamette river system within the reach of all Oregonians. Onward!

 

Tana’s Takeaways

 

Tana Atchley Culbertson

The importance and power of the collective.
We believe that we have a greater capacity and can do our work better when we can identify our shared values and beliefs, connect with one another and collaborate for effective change. We commit to providing meaningful interactions among Network Partners. These will take place in the form of quarterly Network Convenings, a quarterly Speaker Series, and an annual conference, Within Our Reach. While we are living in the COVID-era, our programming will be socially distant and virtual. We recognize that many of the communities we serve are disproportionately impacted by the effects of COVID, and we want to do our part to ensure the health and safety of our entire Network.

The importance of creating space for more diverse voices and experiences.
We commit to being community-driven and grounded in diversity, equity, and inclusion from the start. Listening deeply to the needs and experiences of Black, Indigenous and People of Color and providing meaningful ways to shape our work will ensure that conservation and restoration work is inclusive of all communities in the Willamette River Basin.

The importance of connecting knowledge to practice.
We commit to serving as a hub to share research and knowledge, but we recognize that it serves no purpose if we cannot apply it to our work in practice. We will strive to implement and share practical applications of research throughout the Willamette River Basin.