The Formation of the Long Tom Watershed Council, 1998
The Long Tom Watershed Council is a community organization which formed in 1997 in response to the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds, which was in part a statewide call and grant offering for people to form local voluntary and non-government watershed councils. These watershed councils would include a diverse cross-section of people in the community – farming, forestry, urban, tribal – and would identify watershed issues, engage in local data collection, and identify and implement solutions at the local level. The goal is to be proactive.
The Upper Long Tom / Coyote Creek Working Group
The prelude to formation of the council that now encompasses the entire Long Tom River watershed was a small group of citizens that met in 1996 to discuss watershed issues. In 1997, two members utilized this momentum to write a grant proposal, which was successful, and a panel of citizens was arranged to search for and hire a Watershed Coordinator.
Long Tom Watershed Council reaches out to create its identity
The Watershed Coordinator assisted the group in reaching out to the whole watershed. Beginning in January of 1998 monthly meetings were held with wide public notice, mostly by posting flyers and personally calling everyone who’s name was referred to us (over 80 names on the first list, which grew to over 300 people in Monroe, Junction City, Veneta, Eugene, and in unincorporated areas). Presentations were given in public meetings that included line item detail of the grant that was gained to start the watershed council, and the grant to begin a Watershed Assessment. By March of 1998, the meeting attendance swelled to as high as 70 people from all backgrounds. It was at this time that an open call was put out, in a meeting of over 70 folks, for a diversity of volunteers to step up for an Interim Steering Committee to plan regular monthly meetings that included business and education topics (see list here), as well volunteers to form a Charter Team, and the writing of the Charter began with secretarial assistance in recording the ideas in the form of a planner from Lane County. Early members were Tom Hunton, Ryan Collay, John Reerslev, Jon Humber, and Stephanie Schulz.
Creating or structure and capturing the spirit…concisely? The Charter
People seem especially proud of the charter because it communicates the spirit of the group. It was desired to create a structure for the council that would keep the positive spirit and enthusiasm free-flowing, and the group inclusive, spontaneous and warm. It was recognized that the group had no formal authority (and didn’t even want to be advisory to the County) so a rigid structure was not the way to go. Hence, council membership is free and fully open to anyone who lives, works, plays or is interested on the Long Tom Watershed and the original document was called a Charter, not by-laws. The spirit of it is still valid today.
Using other councils’ charters as examples, a group of nine volunteers gathered as a Charter Team over a period of five months to hammer out details and move away from the operational, prescriptive way some of the documents had. The going got tough at times and immense thanks are due to this small group for pushing themselves and each other through the process and then sharing that process, and the results, with the general group. If the larger group had tried to write it themselves, they would have been undoubtedly bogged down.
Along the way, members took turns presenting each piece of the forming document to the council for general approval, and it was distributed in the newsletter. At one point, the Charter Team had come to a standstill – they couldn’t decide between consensus versus voting, and between running elections for the Steering Committee versus asking for volunteers. (The Steering Committee would be equivalent to a Board of Directors in a nonprofit, which the Council later became). At the next meeting a professional facilitator was asked for assistance. He recommended breaking into small groups at the next council meeting, with Charter Team members as discussion leaders. From that very active meeting, the Charter Team got enough feedback to make the decision.
Consensus was chosen because it would force us to listen to everyone, to take the time to learn others’ concerns. For tough sticking points a super-majority vote of 70% would be called to decide first whether or not to make the decision by voting, and if it was a “yes” on that, then a supermajority vote of 70% again to make the actual decision about the issue itself. It was also decided to ask Steering Committee members to volunteer, versus electing them, in order to maintain a positive spirit and to avoid people feeling they were formally “representing” particular interests from a political standpoint. So the Charter Team ended up doing the initial “heavy lifting” for the broader group in terms of how to operate. From all perspectives, that group learned to think “outside the box”, to listen to others, and not only to tolerate but go a step further and understand. And of course folks drove each other a little bit crazy too. The charter and the council remain at least non-threatening and usually downright welcoming to newcomers, and that is important.
Recognized formally by both Lane and Benton Counties
An exciting moment came when a monthly meeting of the full watershed council was held in July of 1998, and people were to vote on the Charter that had been sent in the newsletter beforehand. The room was filled to capacity (over 50 people) and the Charter was voted in by full consensus (a unanimous vote). People were cheering at that moment which, when considering the diversity in the room, was more than a little impressive. Farmers, foresters and urban folks presented this Charter and stakeholder information to then achieve formal recognition as the local watershed council by the Lane County Commissioners and the Benton County Commissioners.