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Remembering Where We Started: The Conservation Blueprint

Chet Work, Santa Barbara Land Trust, and Dustin Pearce, Conservation Biology Institute,
at a project meeting.

Chet Work, Executive Director for the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, remembers the early days of the Conservation Blueprint. He remembers when the interested community members toured each other’s ranches, farms and preserves across the county to build a shared understanding of what is valuable in our county. He remembers being amazed that such a seemingly diverse group of individuals could learn that they have so many similar interests. He remembers being excited that, through this collaboration, they could create something that would shape the future of conservation in the county and benefit the community at large. Now, over two years later, Work’s desire, and the commitment of the rest of the interested community partners, to create a tool that will have lasting impact in Santa Barbara County is becoming a reality with the upcoming launch of the Conservation Blueprint.

“My hope for the Conservation Blueprint is that the community will see its value at the onset and embrace it quickly,” said Work. “The Blueprint can be beneficial to many groups across the county, such as developers, ranchers, farmers, even schools and researchers, because it can help foster understanding and encourage collaboration between these stakeholders when solving issues.”

The Conservation Blueprint is the result of a partnership between the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara Foundation and Cachuma Resource Conservation District (CRCD) that aims to create a common language and platform for publicly available data to support in-depth conversations and informed decisions about the Santa Barbara County landscape. By assessing community values, trends and tension points through interviews, focus groups and public meetings, the project consultants, Ag Innovations and the Conservation Biology Institute (CBI), have been able to coordinate with the Steering Committee to create an online spatial mapping ‘atlas’ that will allow community members to view and analyze information about land use and resources in the county.

“To me, the Conservation Blueprint is a way for everyone in the community to come together to learn about their region and about all the factors needed for sustainability,” said John Gallo, Senior Scientist at CBI. “Collaboration has been essential in creating a tool that can be used among all different types of organizations. For example, by collaborating with CRCD, I personally learned how ranchers view landscapes and issues of sustainability and how we can work together to make the Conservation Blueprint beneficial to them.”

In addition to providing project developers insight into the needs of a variety of constituents, the collaborative nature of the Conservation Blueprint has also provided an opportunity for a number of different groups to brainstorm how to use the tool when it launches. For example, during the public input meetings in April, project partners and consultants listened to community members’ ideas on how to use the tool in ways that they had not even thought about, such as by turning it into a game for educational purposes, and how these ideas inspired others in the room.

“The public input meetings in April provided us with interesting insights into how different groups are looking to use the tool,” said Sharyn Main, Senior Director of Community Investments at the Santa Barbara Foundation. “Watching different community members brainstorm together was exciting and made me realize that my vision for the project to have broad community benefit is becoming a reality and I am grateful to all the partners that have worked to get us to this point.”

Despite the project’s many successes thus far, the process has also provided project partners and consultants with some insight into the challenges that they may face during its launch.

“Some of the challenges we overcame during the collaboration process included learning how to expand our perspective to see the County through the eyes of others, understanding the cultural differences within the county and having the patience to recognize that big, collaborative solutions take time,” said Joseph McIntyre, President & Principal Facilitator of Ag Innovations. “The lessons that we learned will help us be more proactive in addressing some of the challenges we might face during the launch, such as figuring out a way to explain a complex tool to a wide range of audiences.”

Ag Innovations suggested that one way to explain the complexities of the tool to the public is that the partners could share examples about how certain individuals use the tool and demonstrating what kind of impact that it can have in an emotional and human level.

“Humans enjoy storytelling that is filled with heart and emotion because emotion is what motivates us,” said Brooking Gatewood, Senior Facilitator at Ag Innovations. “If we can use more emotional stories around humans’ relationship with their local landscape to demonstrate the importance of the Conservation Blueprint instead of just explaining the science, I think more people will be able to relate to it and support what we are trying to do.”

As the project partners, consultants and Steering Committee continue to gear up for the launch, they are keeping in mind their own motivations for embarking on the Conservation Blueprint and, like Chet Work, remember that it all started simply by learning about each other’s passions out in the field.

“We are all at the table for different reasons, but once we get past the nuances of communication, we often realize that we all have similar hopes and ideals for our county,” said Anna Olsen, Executive Director for CRCD. “The Conservation Blueprint will provide a common language for us to promote our own individual interests and passions, explain these passions to others and work together to understand each other and build a stronger, more resilient and more beautiful Santa Barbara County.”

To learn more about the Conservation Blueprint, please visit the website or contact Sharyn Main, Senior Director of Community Investments, as smain@sbfoundation.org.

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