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Making ripples about watershed health

Ask Tricia Sears to describe her duties as the new coordinator for the North Clackamas Urban Watersheds Council, and she will smile. It would be a shorter list to describe what she doesn’t do.

And she only works part-time as the coordinator, along with working part-time for the North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District, while also doing some environmental consulting.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Tricia Sears, coordinator for the North Clackamas Urban Watersheds Council, loves handing out signs to participants in the Streamside Stewards Program.The watersheds council was established in 2009, with a goal to “advocate for and implement improving watershed health,” Sears said, adding that the urban watersheds council works specifically with Rinearson, River Forest, Boardman, Kellogg and Mt. Scott creeks in the North Clackamas watershed.

Her responsibilities as coordinator include working with 20 “very energetic and dedicated” board members, coordinating site visits with a contractor who works with property owners in the Streamside Stewards Program doing the on-site restoration, applying for funding, updating the website, creating handouts, tracking data and doing public outreach.

Sears has a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies, a master’s degree in environmental management, and a post-graduate certificate in the study and management of geological risks. She has extensive experience working with local, state and federal agencies, nonprofits, neighborhood associations, industry, business and other stakeholders.

“Through my professional, educational and volunteer work, I have gained a passion for multidisciplinary relationships and integration of science and policy. I have worked in the Portland metropolitan area for many years, focusing primarily on environmental planning and hazard management,” she said.

Streamside Stewards Program

Sears is pushing hard to get more public awareness of the Streamside Stewards Program, which provides eligible property owners along prioritized reaches of Boardman, Rinearson and River Forest Creeks with free weed control and tree planting.

“I do an initial site visit, along with Chris Runyard, our restoration expert, and we see what is going on with the site. We check for beaver activity, invasive plants and erosion,” Sears said, adding that she also works with the concerns of the homeowners, who might want to keep their view of the water intact.

A major goal in the program is educating homeowners “to raise awareness of what they have, so they can make changes as they can to improve watershed health,” she said.

Sears emphasized the fact that homeowners who join the program incur no expense, even to the point that they are given native plants and trees at no cost. NCUWC is able to offer this program as a result of funding sources that include Water Environment Services, Oak Lodge Sanitary District and Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District, she said.

“People get in the program and make lots of progress. We connect them to resources and encourage them to continue in the program. Part of our goal is to help property owners to become self sufficient. We teach them how to care for their plants, so we can move on and help others,” she said.

Everyone lives on the watershed, Sears said, adding that even people who don’t live directly on or near a stream can help make positive changes in the environment.

“Everyone is connected; everyone can make a difference. It is hard to recognize the overall impact when you don’t put toxic chemicals on your yard and when you don’t plant invasive plants. You might not see the changes, but your neighbor might see it,” Sears said.

Community outreach

Sears and a group of volunteers recently identified 300 properties on or near the targeted streams in the Oak Lodge Sanitary District, and went door-to-door in an effort to recruit people for the stewards program.

“While we didn’t get to everyone, I’m in the process of tallying up the results and can say that people were very responsive, and the number of people in the program has increased substantially as a result,” she said.

“We provided them with options and opportunities, with things they didn’t know they could do themselves. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing people get excited about something they didn’t know they could do themselves to make a difference,” Sears said.

“The benefits to making the changes to the property are that native trees and shrubs provide habitat for fish and wildlife; erosion is reduced; and increased canopy along the stream provides shade that reduces water temperature of the creek and helps fish thrive,” she said.

“We love working with partners,” Sears said, noting that two recent events, a July 20 tour of the Willamette River and having a table at movie night at Risley Park on July 2, generated lots of positive comments.

“We wanted to be there to engage folks about watershed health. In particular, we shared information about what NCUWC does. We are actively looking for property owners interested in our Streamside Steward Program,” Sears said.

Two board members will have a table at the Clackamas County Fair from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, to educate visitors about the watersheds council and recruit homeowners for the streamside program. Interested homeowners can call or email her or visit the website for information about upcoming events for tree planting and more.

Sears said there are many opportunities for volunteering with NCUWC, even for people who don’t want to do outdoor work. Sears always is looking for people who are interested in writing articles or taking photos for the website or who have graphic-design skills, along with anyone interested in doing data input and updating.

She added, “I am eager to improve and revise some of our processes, documents and website, and to put into play innovative ideas. It’s a challenge to improve our existing situation and to expand in a manner that we can support effectively.”