Conservation Neighbor Tara Davis

When I was mulling over who to honor as a Conservation Neighbor this year, Tara Davis was at the top of my list. Tara’s strengths lie in watershed restoration, development of partnerships, and confidence to work in local and international arenas. I first met Tara back in 2011 when she was the executive director of Calapooia Watershed Council and I coordinated the District’s fledgling Invasive Species Program. Tara’s ability to lead a collaboration was immediately evident as she skillfully navigated a diverse group of stakeholders and advocates of stream health in Albany to develop a multi-faceted stewardship effort. From 2011-2013, this effort, known as the Willamette Stewardship Team-Albany Reach (WSTAR), leveraged over $400,000, held two workshops, created a new volunteer information-sharing model, and performed water quality monitoring in several Albany streams.

An Oregonian by birth and at heart, connection to the outdoors has always been central to Tara Davis’ identity. A childhood of fishing and hiking along the Deschutes and Rogue Rivers led to Tara’s first degree in Environmental Science from Santa Clara University. Her first post-college job as a hydrology technician for the Bureau of Land Management further inspired her love for watershed health and led to her master’s degree in Water Resources Management from the University of New Mexico. College also fueled her passion for international travel. All told, Tara spent two years of her education living abroad in Costa Rica, England, Mexico, and Honduras.

In 2019, Tara continues to contribute in meaningful ways while weaving together her rather unique set of skills and interests. Tara’s dedication to the development of stewardship collaborations, paired with her international experience, made her a natural choice for coordination of the Willamette Laja Twinning Partnership. This Partnership, made possible when Meyer Memorial Trust’s Willamette River Initiative (WRI) received the Thiess International Riverprize in 2012, came with seed money to develop a partnership with an international river basin. In 2015, the Rio Laja, located in the state of Guanajuato in Central Mexico, was formally selected as the Willamette’s “Twin.” The pairing of Willamette and Laja basins makes sense as they both face watershed issues such as sand and gravel extraction, wetland destruction, invasive species encroachment, diminished upland oak habitats, and water quality degradation.

Tara (far right) with Twinning partners, including Mexican university students who visited Oregon for 3 months in 2018.
Tara (far right) with Twinning partners, including Mexican university students who visited Oregon for 3 months in 2018.

The Partnership links three community groups: restorations practitioners, students and educators, and birders. Tara already had a network of restoration partners in the Laja, as she had worked closely with Laja-based conservation groups for her master’s research. This solid foundation of existing relationships helped Tara coordinate multiple peer-to-peer exchanges to foster understanding and strengthen the effectiveness of watershed restoration efforts in both the Laja and Willamette basins. She also led the charge in the development of the bi-national partnership’s original business plan, 2019-2023 strategic plan, memorandum of agreement, and most recently the communications plan.

Tara Davis, at left, describes the Twinning Partnership to 5th grade students at Lincoln Elementary.
Tara Davis, at left, describes the Twinning Partnership to 5th grade students at Lincoln Elementary.

As Benton SWCD’s Twinning representative, it’s been personally and professionally fulfilling to participate on the Twinning Partnership’s steering committee and the exchanges. I have grown through this opportunity, and have seen the students, teachers, and restoration practitioners grow too. I don’t believe this effort could be as strong, successful, and well-developed as it currently is without the leadership Tara Davis provides.

Tara’s coordination of the Willamette Laja Twinning Partnership relies 100% on soft funding. As she says, “I can’t even tell you how rewarding it is to network with folks who do restoration work across the world.” And her work on the Twinning has led her into a challenging new role of formalizing a larger network of all the watershed groups that have received the Riverprize from the International RiverFoundation.

When asked what her secret is for success, Tara confided, “[The] three P’s: Preparedness, Perseverance, and Patience. Be prepared for your meetings, emails, projects; be tenacious and keep fighting, keep calling, even when it might seem like things are not going your way; and keep a good attitude, some projects take years so you have to take years.” As Tara develops this larger international network, I feel confident that the Willamette will continue to benefit from this hardworking Conservation Neighbor.