Phil Archibald likes to be near and in water, particularly the streams of the Entiat Valley, the place he calls home.
His love of clean water and desire to conserve it prompted him to leave a graphic arts career in Seattle to earn a degree in fisheries biology in 1990 from the University of Washington. Two years later, he was hired by the Wenatchee National Forest where he worked as the fisheries biologist for the 268,000-acre Entiat Ranger District until he retired in 2010.
I talked with Phil last month about his experiences living and working in the Entiat, particularly those related to the Entiat Watershed Plan, an example of effective community collaboration he regards as a hallmark of his career. Excerpts from the full interview transcribed by AmeriCorps volunteer Pearl Quigley follow.
It was the 1990 Wenatchee National Forest Plan that called for restoring species and habitats, especially fish and aquatic habitats that guided Phil’s work when he first arrived in Entiat. He was eager then, as he is today, to get his hip boots in the water, noting that “you can’t restore something if you don’t know what condition it’s in.”
So he and others set out to do a series of stream surveys to learn more about the plants and animals, as well as the pools, riffles and other habitat features that support them.
He also “set out to knock on doors and talk to people,” to gather local knowledge of the river. Phil remembered the summer of 1992 when an agency enforcement officer cited a local landowner for clearing brush along the river next to his orchard. This incident “polarized the community,” Phil said, and fostered distrust of government and its representatives among the private landowners. The sentiment of his Entiat Valley neighbors, according to Phil, boiled down to this: “We don’t need you government types telling us what to do.”
Later, Phil began to work with an informal group of local landowners to share what he was learning about the river and to expand his agency’s view of the watershed. “The Forest Service had to get involved with the local community,” he said, “because all the most important stuff happening in terms of water quality and water use is downstream from the forest boundaries.”
By 1998, the state had passed the Watershed Planning Act providing support for communities to work together to protect water and habitat for a growing list of endangered fish species. “It came on at just the right time,” Phil remembered, noting that by then “we had established a good working relationship and we could deal with really tough issues that involved compromise,” such as setting flows needed to support fish and irrigation.
Years of building trust and also compiling information about the river from a variety of sources enabled the Entiat Watershed Planning Unit to develop a plan it has been implementing for the past few years. “It was the first and most complete watershed plan produced under the Watershed Planning Act,” Phil said. “We had all the right people at the right time at the right place.”
So what does “right” mean? What does it take to fuel successful community collaboration? For Phil, it means making a personal commitment. “You need to belong to your community,” he said. “People are more prone to trust you if you become part of the community.”
It also means being willing to share your knowledge with newcomers, he explained. He told Catherine Willard, the fisheries biologist who replaced him in the Entiat Ranger District when he retired, “I know where everything is kept. I know where to go to look for bull trout spawning and all that stuff. I am not going away so I will volunteer to help as much as I can to make a good transition.”