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Welcome to
The Yellow River Initiative:
"A Partnership for Resource Sustainability"
The Yellow River Initiative

The Yellow River Initiative is a partnership for resource sustainability. Its purpose is to promote excellence in natural resource stewardship and ecosystem function at the small watershed scale in balance with the ongoing human needs of The view from the Sixteen Bridge looking upriverthe area. The project offers the public appropriate, understandable information on natural resources within the watershed, together with an internet-based "toolbox" of related technical and programmatic assistance information. In addition, by promoting the establishment of a local watershed coordinator to provide long term guidance and continuity, the Yellow River Initiative hopes to empower people to voluntarily use this information to help them achieve natural resource sustainability and stewardship within the Yellow River watershed.

The goals of the "Yellow River Initiative" are:

  • Rapidly assess natural resources within the Yellow River watershed, based on existing information, and determine their extent, distribution, and condition;
  • Allow a team of federal and local, non-federal partners to summarize assessment results and use them to identify possible options to promote long-term natural resource sustainability within the watershed;
  • Develop an internet-based "toolbox" of technical and programmatic assistance information to help the public to voluntarily implement these sustainable resource stewardship approaches; and
  • Promote the establishment of a local watershed coordinator to provide continuity and to help people and organizations to use this information to help themselves achieve resource sustainability.

In meeting these goals, the Yellow River Initiative hopes to facilitate the creation of voluntary relationships among local residents, landowners, and federal, state and local governments, as well as with non-governmental organizations, to promote excellent stewardship of the watershed's natural resources for sustainability in balance with the needs of the area's ongoing human development.

Through the development of its "toolbox" of technical and programmatic assistance information, the Yellow River Initiative will help watershed residents define how they could, if desired, request technical and/or financial assistance from government and non-governmental sources to promote the implementation of proven approaches for effective resource stewardship and to encourage the development of creative or innovative solutions for locally identified resource problems.

By promoting the establishment of a local watershed coordinator, the Yellow River Initiative hopes to provide the public and all interested organizations with a common point-of-contact within the watershed plus an advocate for the Initiative's approach. The coordinator would also function as a knowledgeable liaison to maintain continuity and to help people work with the internet-based "toolbox" information to get the appropriate help they need to interact effectively and improve overall resource conditions and future opportunities within the watershed.

By accomplishing these objectives, the Yellow River Initiative provides a consistent approach for the rapid evaluation of resource conditions at the small watershed scale in order to promote sustainable natural resource form and function in balance with human needs. Once implemented, this approach is intended to be applied as a template to consecutive neighboring small watersheds until excellence in resource stewardship and sustainable natural resource form and function is achieved at the larger regional watershed scale.

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Potential Benefits from Locally-led Natural Resource Stewardship

The Yellow River Initiative presents citizens and organizations with information and tools to help them to help themselves identify local opportunities to promote natural resource sustainability within the "backyard" of their own local watershed by "investing" in that watershed's resource components, form and function. By investing in the quality of the watershed's resource infrastructure in this way, the Yellow River Initiative has the potential to improve the "environmental services" provided by these resources while generating economic and social benefits. Examples include:

  • Support local leadership by improving public access to resource stewardship information to facilitate the decision-making process;
  • Help citizens and organizations promote resource ethics by providing the information, tools and assistance they need to work toward local natural resource sustainability;
  • Identify critical features, resource relationships, and "conservation opportunity areas," in order to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of conservation assistance;
  • Integrate natural resource program information with sources of technical assistance and direct program participants to appropriate service providers;
  • Help leverage scarce resource management funds;
  • Establish a template for promoting comprehensive natural resource stewardship at both local and regional scales;
  • Improve habitat diversity, hunting, fishing and wildlife observation opportunities, and aesthetic benefits;
  • Provide improved "environmental services," such as: flood reduction, surface and groundwater protection and recharge, and preservation of highly productive agricultural lands;
  • Help reduce soil erosion and sedimentation;
  • Promote opportunities to enhance local cultural and historic preservation to benefit public recreation, education and tourism;
  • Improve resource stewardship coordination among citizens and organizations;
  • Establish a citizen-driven method for achieving resource sustainability;
  • Support for efficient, resource-friendly economic development.

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Origin of the Yellow River Initiative Concept

The concept that became the Yellow River Initiative originated in 2001 within the Midwest Natural Resources Group (MNRG), a partnership of Midwestern Federal resource management agencies, whose mission is to "...bring focus and excellence to federal activities supporting the health, vitality and sustainability of natural resources and the environment..." The United States faces major challenges if it hopes to manage its vast natural The Yellow River near the Ion Exchangeresources on a sustainable basis. Years of scientific research have shown that the majority of this nation's natural resources - its plants, animals, air, soils and water - have experienced significant and sometimes severe degradation from centuries of ongoing human exploitation and expanding development. These resources constitute not only the fundamental life support system for humans - the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, the natural materials we use - but also strongly contribute to defining the quality of human life, including aesthetic, recreational and long-term developmental opportunities. In addition, excellent stewardship of a healthy and sustainable natural resource base holds major implications for, and is a fundamental and critical component of, our nation's social, economic and defensive well-being.

Many sources of information and inspiration exist on the subject of resource sustainability. Here are three examples that present thoughts on creation of a land ethic, resource sustainability, and concerns and opportunities for the people who live on the land:

Recognizing that neither government or citizens alone can hope to adequately address the nation's natural resources needs, a concept was devised whereby natural resource information - based on small watersheds - could be made widely available through an internet website to citizens and organizations alike. Through this information people could learn about the natural resource framework of their local watershed. The website also would make available internet-based links to appropriate natural resource-oriented technical and programmatic assistance across levels of government and conservation organizations so that local citizens and organizations could have the "tools" they need to pursue resource sustainability within their watershed. By this means, natural resource planning and technical assistance information would be "democratized" and made available to all in order to promote the widespread implementation of natural resource sustainability across the nation, one watershed at a time.

To explore the practicality of this concept, a demonstration project involving a small watershed was required. The selected watershed needed to be small enough to be practical, yet large enough to be meaningful. It also needed to possess a relatively diverse landscape of resource types together with a network of human communities. Finally, with the project's development to be spearheaded by the Federal agency partners of the MNRG, it was deemed advantageous to find a small watershed in which Federal interests were already active.

After applying these criteria in a general survey of the entire MNRG region, the approximately 154,500-acre Yellow River watershed in northeastern Iowa was selected as the demonstration area. This watershed was selected due to its manageable size, its diverse landscape components, and because six Federal MNRG-member agencies have either a physical presence within the watershed or an active professional interest in the area. The "Yellow River Initiative" concept was then born to promote natural resource stewardship and ecosystem function at the small watershed scale in balance with the ongoing human needs of the area.

The MNRG designated the National Park Service as the lead agency for a two-year demonstration project of the Yellow River Initiative concept, with the agency contributing staff from its Midwest Regional Office and local Effigy Mounds National Monument to provide project coordination with over thirty interested local partners during the Initiative's development. This team was voluntarily joined by a watershed biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The interagency group then partnered with St. Mary's University of Minnesota (Winona) office of Geospatial Services, which had already been contributing support for this project through its website, for further website development. Conference calls with partners and public meetings were held within the watershed during the project to share project information and solicit comments.

Once development of the Yellow River Initiative is completed, the project will be turned over to a local non-profit Resource Conservation and Development Area (RC&D) to administer and help with implementation. The RC&D would staff the project with a local watershed coordinator to provide individuals, landowners, and all interested organizations with continuity and a common point-of-contact within the watershed. This person would also function as a knowledgeable liaison to promote the Initiative's holistic resource concept and to provide guidance with the Initiative's internet-based "toolbox" information. Through this coordinator, people and organizations would be able to get the appropriate help they need so they can interact effectively to improve overall resource stewardship and future opportunities within the watershed.

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Yellow River Project History
Project Name: Yellow River Watershed Assessment
Summary: The Midwest Natural Resource Group (MNRG), a collaborative of Federal agencies, obtained help from several state, local and private partners and Geospatial Services at St. Mary's University to collect geo-referenced information on natural and cultural resources and make it available to local decision-makers through the Internet using the Upper Mississippi Basin Stakeholders Network (UMBSN) (www.umbsn.org).
The Challenge: Participants in this pilot project recognized the difficulties that many watershed partners face in obtaining and using relevant resource information - especially maps and modeling or monitoring data that is critical to the success of any planning effort. The partners also recognized that "grassroots-level" public involvement in planning can accelerate implementation of soil, water and wildlife conservation programs.
The Solution:

Because there was no pre-existing partnership, and few data sets specific to the Yellow River watershed were readily available, parallel efforts were made to bring together potentially interested parties to discuss shared concerns while assembling and presenting information into a simple, practical and understandable format for public use.

The MNRG authorized the National Park Service (NPS) to lead an interagency "rapid resource assessment" (later to become the "Yellow River Initiative") for the Yellow River late in 2002. By the end of 2004, data sets or links were established through the UMBSN web site, and a local watershed coordinator for northeast Iowa and the Yellow River had been selected by the RC&D to promote sustainable resource stewardship.

June, 2002 MNRG Meeting in Madison, Wisconsin
Landscape architect and ecologist John Sowl of the NPS developed and presented a proposal for a Yellow River rapid resource assessment project to MNRG senior executives (i.e., Regional Directors). Upon their approval of the project, the NPS was designated lead agency, with support from the Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Geological Survey.

November, 2002 Working Landscapes Conference in Delevan, Wisconsin
Driftless Area Initiative (DAI) was proposed and stakeholder contacts were established. DAI and other local agencies and organizations were invited to participate in a series of conference calls to plan watershed meetings.

March, 2003 Technical Meeting, Public Open House and Yellow River Watershed Workshop
Hosted by the NPS and local partners in Waukon, Iowa - display maps, informal issues survey, PowerPoint presentation and break-out group discussions set the stage for action and development of the "Yellow River Initiative."

November, 2003 MNRG Annual Meeting
John Sowl presented a progress report on the pilot project. During 2003 and 2004, Effigy Mounds National Monument staff made contacts, established photo stations in the field, identified data sources, and either obtained data or verified and cataloged data availability. Finally, files and links were transferred to the web server at St. Mary's University (www.umbsn.org). Actual time logged: about four months.

July, 2004 MNRG Meeting of Senior Executives
Tour of Mississippi River restoration projects near Winona and the GeoSpatial Services facilities at St. Mary's University, where the servers for the UMBSN were being prepared to store Yellow River data.

November, 2004 MNRG Annual Meeting
"Yellow River Initiative" development progress was shared through presentations by John Sowl and St. Mary's University - GeoSpatial Services Director Barry Drazkowski at the MNRG's Annual Meeting in Chicago, using the interactive web-based mapping available to watershed partnerships through the UMBSN and new resource-based planning methodology developed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

July, 2005 Future Watershed Assessment Applications
With the establishment of local watershed coordination through the Northeast Iowa RC&D, and by working together with the Driftless Area Initiative, the Yellow River partners can begin using newly accessible information and "tools" to promote sustainable resource stewardship practices within the watershed. Over time, these new "tools" and techniques for resource stewardship can be introduced to neighboring watersheds throughout the critical drainages bordering the Upper Mississippi River.

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