The newly-minted Pajaro Compass Network (PCN) group had their first official meeting the morning of June 23, after a year of workshopping about the needs of the community surrounding the Pajaro River Watershed. From 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Veterans' Memorial Building in downtown Hollister, the group held a workshop event aimed at bringing together members of the communities that sit on the Pajaro River.
The morning began with a meet-and-greet in the second story lobby of the Veterans' Building, outside a conference room. Attendees were asked to be seated on the floor, arranged by the area of the Pajaro River Watershed that they were lived or worked closest to, or the area that they were most sentimentally attached to.
Miranda Allen, a teacher of Experiential Leadership at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the day’s activities, explained this exercise as “creating a visual map of the Pajaro Watershed, and a way to connect people to the work more personally”. After this, the informational segment of the event began and the audience was walked through a presentation given by PCN members Abigail Ramsden and Carrie Schloss about the need for conservation and protection of the Pajaro River and surrounding areas. Ramsden and Schloss, who both also work for the international nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, described the work the Pajaro Compass had been doing to identify the needs of the watershed. Mainly, the Compass has focused on identifying the most important qualities of the watershed, and analyzing how conservation efforts work in concert with each other.
The Pajaro Compass itself is an informational document, and a website full of interactive map tools. These tools allow users to view data layers that represent the six conservation goals of the Pajaro Compass: water resources, biodiversity, agriculture, carbon and soil health, recreation, and community. In the interactive map, a user may click on a region of the watershed to identify what the needs of the selected area are. The area can be as large as the entire four-county region, or as small as a specific ranch–helpful for the members of the ranching community who may care about the watershed, but who also have the water needs of their own ranch to worry about.
Ultimately,the Pajaro Compass Network is just that–a network of people, all of whom have some interest in protecting the natural land and open agricultural space. The hope of the Pajaro Compass Network is that given such a platform, people from the community will come together to create projects that would serve to benefit the land, the watershed, and the state of agricultural land. The crowd of 50 who were present testified to the strength of the community–audience members included employees of the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz, various water districts, natural resource entities, local and national land trusts, as well as individual ranchers and agricultural workers from San Benito County.
One such rancher, Kathleen Spencer of Peterson Land & Cattle Company, voiced a personal need to the interactive map tool: “Ultimately, what I care about is my ranch,” started Spencer, in the question-asking portion of the presentation. “What I’m going to look for is if there’s a way for this to help me with my specific ranch’s issues. So I would use the Compass Network to see if there are people that might help me fund the ranch so I can improve my water, whatever [the issue] is. That’s my use. Can I zoom in the tool online to only my ranch and see some of the weaknesses there, and if there are places I can go to get funding to improve the weaknesses there?”
The response from the organizers Ramsden and Schloss was resoundingly positive: “Yes! You can definitely zero in on your individual ranch with the Web tools, and see not only what the overlap is of water resources but what the aquatic richness is, how many species live in the area, what the biodiversity is, and you can decide the level at which you’re viewing this data–you can even type in an address and search for an area that way.”
All of the data visualized in the web tools is also available in PDF format, listed by theme and with its original sources, on the Pajaro Compass website. The informational booklet that was passed out to attendees, as well as the website, also includes tables detailing potential sources of funding for projects concerning rehabilitation and protection of wildlife habitat inside the watershed. Tracy Hemmeter, an attendee from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, said “It was really helpful to have it visualized in this way”, referring to a visual table of of funding sources and types of projects funded by each source. “It really made it clear once I saw the tables, and the maps of the area.”
The stated purpose of the Compass Network is to provide this sort of clarity–tools to break down the masses of information provided to the public, but that might be difficult for a layman to interpret independently. While the Network is not responsible for funding projects that individuals might present to the group, they do have the resources to point people in the right direction. These are the resources they are disseminating to the public, in the hope that self-starters will take the knowledge gleaned from the Network’s research and use it to fuel their own ideas for conservation.
Later on in the meeting, the workshop entered a “Project Pitch Trade Show,” in which audience members could meet at different tables to talk about a specific issue and collaborate on ideas for projects that would help alleviate the problem. Presented projects ranged from “Gilroy High Speed Rail Station” to “Pajaro River Agricultural Reserve & Restoration Plan,” in an attempt to cover the difficulties faced not only by the native wildlife in the area, but also the human inhabitants. Participants asked questions, listened, voiced concerns, and swapped insights and offered help where they could; this is the type of collaboration that the Pajaro Compass Network was created for.
The meeting closed with a promise to have the group meet again in October, to recap on how the projects that were pitched today have been progressing. Compass members said they are optimistic about the positive results the projects will have seen a few months from now, and also for the number of new projects that may have been conceived by then. All community members who are interested in joining the next meeting of the Pajaro Compass Network in October are welcome to do so. In the meantime, the Pajaro Compass document and interactive tools can already be viewed at the web addresses linked below, and the Network is actively encouraging interested parties to become more involved in their effort for voluntary conservation.