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Adapting Land Management for Uncertain Times

Adapting Land Management for Uncertain Times
New bilingual, physical-distancing sign at Friends' Lyle Cherry Orchard land trust preserve. (photographer: Richard Kolbell)
September 24, 2020

By Land Trust Director Dan Bell and Land Trust Associate Frances Fischer

Adaptation is fundamental to ecosystems. The beautiful wildflower meadows in the Gorge are a product of eons of pollinators and plants interacting. Plants and pollinators typically evolve slowly in adaptation to small changes. Other times, a disturbance occurs and the change is immediate. A wildfire might wipe out a meadow, so species have to adapt quickly in order to survive.

This has been a year of change and adaptation at Friends—and not the slow kind. Volunteer activities and visits to the Gorge’s amazing spring wildflower bloom were shut down by pandemic stay-at-home orders. Nature adapted to the new realities, and in our absence this spring and summer, the bees and the flowers did what they do. Friends must adapt as well.

Closing our public trails and delaying stewardship was only the beginning. Planning to re-start these core programs safely was more challenging. But it also presented a new opportunity, a chance to adapt.

Bilingual, safety-themed signage

At places like the Lyle Cherry Orchard preserve, we had to think about trail use in a whole new way and focus differently on visitor risk. Among other things, we needed new signs explaining how to stay safe and respect others on the trail. New signs presented a new opportunity. For the first time, we developed trail signage in English and Spanish.

This was an initial step in a journey towards making our trails more accessible and welcoming to all visitors. Going forward, all of Friends’ trail signage will be bilingual.

Our stewardship team also had to adapt to our new social environment and develop a different approach for volunteer events. We needed to adapt in a way that put the safety and health of our staff and volunteers above all else.

By late summer, with new safety protocols in place we were able to resume small, physically distanced work parties. We are also pilot testing a program that allows volunteers to complete stewardship work at specific sites on their own schedule.

Together, our new systems for multilingual safety signage and small, physically distanced stewardship efforts are important steps forward to adapt, make our work safer, and create preserves more welcoming to all. We are not sure what the future holds, but we will keep working to ensure everyone has a chance to experience those wildflowers and bees in the years to come.