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More than a Decade of Collaboration

By Kim Forrest, Wildlife Refuge Manager, San Luis NWR Complex

Kim Forrest has worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service for more than 35 years. She currently oversees the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex – composed of the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, Merced National Wildlife Refuge, the Grasslands Wildlife Management Area, and the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge (SJRNWR). http://www.fws.gov/sanluis/

Kim Forrest saw first-hand River Partners’ expansion to the San Joaquin River, and shares her observation of those early days in this essay. Thanks to Kim’s support, not only has River Partners restored more than 2,700 acres on the SJRNWR, the organization has continued growing, now working on more than 12 watersheds throughout California.

(Above) Kim Forrest speaking at a partner tour at the SJRNWR in 2006.

River Partners actually started working on the Refuge (SJRNWR) in 1999, a few months before I arrived at the San Luis NWR Complex. Dr. Tom Griggs was assessing the restoration potential for the San Joaquin River NWR.

Previously I had worked under Gary Kramer at the Sacramento NWR for 8 years--Gary as the refuge manager and I as the deputy refuge manager. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from Gary was watching how he gauged and ascertained character – whether it was of individuals or of organizations.

Gary’s whole-hearted endorsement of River Partners – and John Carlon – made it a very easy and logical choice for me to start working with the organization early-on in my stint here as the refuge manager. That was the basis of a long and incredibly productive partnership between River Partners and San Luis NWR Complex.

By 2002, we had a multi-million dollar CalFed grant that included the restoration of 800 acres on the San Joaquin NWR by River Partners.

During this first project, River Partners held a Board meeting on SJRNWR. I remember it well – the Board members sitting on bales of hay set under one of our 500-year-old oaks. At that meeting President John Carlon broached the idea of a continued presence in the San Joaquin Valley, opening an office here, and maybe even changing the name from "Sacramento River Partners" to just "River Partners."

I sensed a deep hesitancy by the Board to such a giant expansion. I think they feared getting spread too thin and diluting the organization’s impact. Since the Board members were very familiar with the Sacramento Valley, establishing the organization in the San Joaquin Valley was venturing into unfamiliar territory.

In the end, River Partners’ board agreed to take that leap. I think the Refuge made it easier by allowing River Partners to use one of the houses on the Refuge as an office and bunkhouse for a couple years.

At the time, I really had no idea at the time how important a step that was for the Refuge. For 12 years River Partners has been the backbone of our work on that new refuge, the SJRNWR, helping it to reach its potential. The restoration work has been essential for achieving each and every goal – migratory songbird habitat, endangered species habitat, floodplain restoration, outreach, and public use.

River Partners has essentially acted as an agent for USFWS where we were too short-handed to take on some gigantic projects. River Partners has done everything from soup to nuts: applying for and administering grants, doing the restoration work, reaching out to the communities and other agencies, designing the most ideal and tailored habitats, and implementing an immense amount of work. River Partners has been the most essential, reliable, trust-worthy, multi-talented, professional partner I have ever experienced in my 35-year career.

The above article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of the River Partners Journal.