National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
Partnership header Making music at the Ashville festival, Blue Ridge Parkway
Rio Grande River Planning

Description: In 1978, a portion of the Rio Grande was designated a Wild & Scenic River and placed under management of the National Park Service. However, attempts to develop a long-term general management plan for this section of the river were unsuccessful. Landowner groups, concerned over federal use of condemnation authority and designation over proposed management authorities, opposed the plan.

In May 2000, Big Bend National Park initiated a planning effort for the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River to address unresolved issues from the previous general management plan effort. A final river boundary was never approved. A "gradient boundary" alternative was deemed to be legally insufficient and the National Park Service was instructed not to implement the plan.

A Rio Grande Partnership Team formed to: oversee the planning and public comment process; provide information and ideas on river management for the general plan, and; serve as liaison with the constituents and special interest groups each member represents.

The Team represents a wide range of river stakeholders, including representatives from the World Wildlife Fund, Terrell County, Brewster County, Texas Rivers Protection Association, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Rio Grande Landowners Association, National Park Service - Denver Service Center, Big Bend National Park, and Commercial Outfitters.

The National Park Service's Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program staff was requested by the park to develop a public involvement and outreach program for the project, facilitate the Rio Grande Partnership Team meetings and public workshops, and guide the team through the community-based planning process.

In the initial public meetings that followed, de-authorization of the river was pushed by landowner groups. However, careful relationship building by a key Partnership Team member representing landowners shifted the dynamic and led to a calmer environment in which a framework for landowner agreements was negotiated. Since May 2003, six landowner agreements have been signed and one is pending.

The Partnership Team concept was an outcome of the initial public meetings. Meeting participants endorsed the idea of having key river stakeholders engaged in regular dialog with the NPS RTCA or planning team. The NPS determined who the key stakeholders were and Partnership Team members were selected by their peers, e.g., river outfitters agreed on who would represent them.

The Partnership Team dealt with de-authorization of the wild & scenic river, boundary extensions, trespassing, government authority on private land, river access points, visitor numbers, condemnation of private land, resource protection and recreational use. A consensus-based approach was used to resolve these issues and develop the range of alternatives for broader public consideration.

The landowner agreements are the cornerstone of the Rio Grande General Management Plan. A model agreement was developed over the course of 18 months. As the NPS and each landowner negotiated the conditions and terms of their agreement, the Partnership Team had opportunities to comment and provide input. This open communication allowed other landowners to observe the process and eventually sign individual agreements, which are currently awaiting a record of decision.

In exchange for allowing limited public use, each agreement details NPS responsibilities along that stretch of the river, including managing all public use and protecting the values for which the river was originally designated wild & scenic. Those values include recreational uses, such as; floating, camping, fishing and hiking, as well as monitoring and protecting archeological sites; working to reduce or eliminate exotic species, such as tamarisk and nutria; and working to improve water quality and quantity.

Following the record of decision, the Partnership Team will reconvene to develop implementation strategies for the General Management Plan. River management partners are expected to take leadership on some tasks while the NPS continues its overall river management authority.

Geographic area covered: The Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River is a nearly 200-mile stretch of river that begins in Big Bend National Park and ends at the Terrall/Val Verde County line downriver in Southwest Texas. Approximately 69 miles of the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River designation lies within Big Bend National Park, and an additional 118 miles is downstream of the Park, all of which is considered private property.

List partners and relationships: The Rio Grande Partnership Team consists of representatives from the World Wildlife Fund, Terrell County, Brewster County, Texas Rivers Protection Association, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Rio Grande Landowners Association, National Park Service - Denver Service Center, Big Bend National Park, and Commercial Outfitters.

Accomplishments to date:

  1. Six landowners signed general agreements with the NPS for cooperative management of the Rio Grande corridor. These six agreements protect almost 80% of the private land corridor in the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River.
  2. Rio Grande Partnership Team has held three day-long meetings to establish a work plan, discuss river issues and develop standards and criteria for resources assessment.
  3. Completion of Landowners Workshop that clarified NPS authorities within a wild & scenic river boundary on private land.
  4. Mutual "Boundary Starting Point Agreement" reached among Partnership Team members.
  5. For their efforts in fostering an atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration, the RGPT received a Shoulder-to-Shoulder Award from Intermountain Regional Director Karen Wade in 2003.

Key success factors:

  1. Openness on behalf of the NPS and ability to see the common ground between the NPS and the landowners for desired conditions along the river.
  2. Allowing stakeholder groups to select their own representative to the Team.

Frustrations: Team members were frustrated with the length of time it takes to complete a general management plan and with the NPS planning process. Team members do not feel NPS planning guidelines are conducive to effective partnerships.

Most important lessons learned to date:

  1. Start involving the public as early as possible in the process.
  2. Be flexible with planning process while seeking outcomes.
  3. If you're working toward a certain project future, you must understand and acknowledge the past.
  4. "Bring in thine enemies." Seek ways to bring in key stakeholders who question NPS motives, help them see what everyone is working toward. Keep the process transparent and above board. Keep everyone working through the process. This takes constant communication.
  5. Develop personal relationships with individual players.
  6. Look for someone well connected to local interests who is willing to champion the cause. The NPS can promote the value of partnership efforts, but until community representatives and other partners see the benefits, progress will be very limited.
  7. Partnership efforts help level the playing field. If the land management agency comes to the table as an equal, there will be a better chance for success. "Don't come in on a power trip."
  8. Seek areas of common ground and work from there. With the Rio Grande Rio, everyone wanted to retain the wild nature of the river and the canyons - the Outstandingly Remarkable Values.
  9. Open, neutral decision-making is important; use the same neutral facilitator throughout the process.
  10. Understand the perspectives and stakes of each player. Be clear on what are the most important aspects of your project and what is most important for the local interests, then stay flexible in seeking agreement.
  11. Flexibility in working with private landowners is essential, including within the planning process. Problems are guaranteed in management if the administrative land manager cannot let go of citing federal regulations.
  12. Flexibility at levels on up the NPS chain of command is critical, as is the ability to work in the gray areas.
  13. Recognize that building relationships takes tremendous amounts of time, and that effective partnership planning rarely happens along bureaucratic timelines.

What would you do differently next time: Have a broader team with more local environmental representation.

Suggested resource materials(related to the case study):

For more information:

Name: Attila Bality
Affiliation: NPS Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance
Phone/Fax: 505-988-6092/505-988-6097
Email/website: attila_bality@nps.gov

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising __; Capital Improvements __; Facility Management __; Trails __; Design __; Program Delivery __; Visitor Services __; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration _X_; Cultural Resources _X_; Education/Interpretation __; Arts __; Information Services __; Transportation __; Mutual Aid __; Fire Management __; Planning _X_; Tourism __; Community Relations __;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: Matthew Safford, Outdoor Recreation Planner, NPS Denver Service Center and Attila Bality, Outdoor Recreation Planner, Santa Fe, Mexico
Date posted: 1/24/05
Email matthew_safford@nps.gov Phone: 303-969-2898

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