Forkey’s Leadership and Strategy Illustrates Conservation Career

2018 IWJV Conservation Partner Award: Alan Forkey, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, Natural Resources Conservation Service

In 1980, Alan Forkey began his 38-year career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). He served as the California NRCS State Wetland Biologist and Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) Manager from 1997 through 2006. During this tenure, he worked to permanently protect and restore 7,934 acres of wetlands and associated uplands in a four-county area of northeast California. These four counties (Shasta, Lassen, Modoc, and Siskiyou) and their associated wetlands contribute greatly to the bioenergetics of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds that move through, rest, and refuel in the Southern Oregon-Northeastern California (SONEC) region—one of the highest priority areas for IWJV conservation.

From left to right: IWJV Chairman Tony Wasley stands with Alan Forkey and Dave Smith, IWJV Coordinator.

Alan's accomplishments as a biologist and WRP program manager are in and of themselves significant, but he continued to contribute to the goals and objectives of the IWJV's 2013 Implementation Plan through his work as the Assistant State Conservationist for Programs in California. Much of the current-day infrastructure of the California NRCS Easement Program is the direct result of his vision for successful easement program delivery in California, including those portions of the IWJV. Through his leadership and commitment to on-the-ground conservation results, the California Easement Team has carried on Alan’s earlier work, and protected and restored an additional 30,974 acres of wetlands and associated uplands in California's SONEC region.

NRCS' WRP and its current day Agricultural Conservation Easement Program-Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE) have been a catalyst for conserving mountain meadows, irrigated pastures, managed seasonal wetlands, riparian habitats, and many other types of unique ecosystems in the IWJV. These programs contribute directly to the goals and objectives of the IWJV’s 2013 Implementation Plan. Further, they benefit many common wildlife such as ducks and geese, as well as those rarer, at-risk species such as the Greater Sage Grouse and Greater Sandhill Crane. In partnership with conservation groups such as the California Waterfowl Association and Ducks Unlimited, the WRP/WRE easement lands have both benefitted from and contributed to the IWJV's conservation efforts, including the Working Wet Meadows Initiative, the Sage Grouse Initiative, and various North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants. Much of this work was accomplished through Alan’s efforts and/or his encouragement of NRCS staff to partner with the IWJV and its member groups.

Alan has always been committed to finding common-sense solutions to deliver conservation results. Under his leadership as Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, he developed teams of "easement specialists" that were focused entirely on the outreach and delivery of conservation easement programs, such as the Wetlands Reserve Program. Through specialized positions (e.g., easement specialists, wetland biologists, and wetland engineers), the California NRCS Easement Team could focus on the delivery of wetland protection/restoration and move the bar forward with private landowners through on-the-ground conservation results. A perfect example of this work includes California NRCS’ early adoption of the 2008 Farm Bill’s WRP Grazing Reserved Rights Pilot. Through Alan’s leadership, California stepped up and quickly identified geographical locations and wetland types where livestock grazing could be used to manage and improve the quality of wetlands and benefit wildlife. Northeastern California - and its wet meadows, irrigated pastures, and seasonal wetlands - was identified as a natural fit for the pilot program. As soon as the pilot program was unveiled, it became clear that this new opportunity would open doors for NRCS and its conservation partners to work with more traditional livestock ranchers that were interested in protecting and restoring wetlands, but who also wanted assurances that they could continue grazing livestock on their "working lands". The result of the pilot program was a dramatic increase in WRP/WRE enrollment in Northeastern California that greatly expanded the number of protected wetlands in the region over the next decade.

Alan has demonstrated exemplary leadership of these collaborative efforts and has played an instrumental role in advancing strategic, landscape-scale habitat conservation through partnerships in the Intermountain West in alignment with the goals, objectives, and priorities of the IWJV. Alan was presented the 2018 IWJV Conservation Partner Award in Susanville, CA, on September 19th as part of the IWJV Management Board’s fall meeting.