SSU scientists to try to help keep state parks open
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An anonymous $75,000 donation made this summer will allow two Sonoma State University scientists to launch a research project to help ensure five of Sonoma County's most popular state parks can remain open.

Caroline Christian and Claudia Luke will work with local nonprofit groups and state parks to analyze "best practices" for managing local parks in a new era of reduced public funding in California and nationwide.

In February 2013, the SSU researchers will release a report describing “lessons learned” from the developing alliances between state parks and non-profits, “best practices” from peer-reviewed literature, and new ideas for collaborative, multi-stakeholder management of protected areas.

The report will serve as a resource for parks facing similar challenges of reduced public funding throughout the state.
“Although the disaster of park closure was averted, at least for now,” says Christian, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Planning, “long-term solutions are required to keep parks open and available to the public.

“The last thing we want to see is parks shut down, especially ones that are at the core of our community’s identity and economic and environmental well-being.”

Christian is a conservation scientist and is an expert on the ecology and management of both public and private lands. She says as management responsibility is passed down from the state to different local organizations, greater community involvement will be needed.

Luke is the director of SSU's Field Stations and Nature Preserves and is in charge of managing more than 4,000 acres of land for the university's various academic and community programs.

Throughout her career, she has developed research, education and management collaboratives to address the challenges of managing natural areas.

“State parks are likely to continue to get smaller pieces of California’s General Fund every year and still face drastic budget cuts and the threat of closures,” Christian said.

Besides Christian and Luke, the team includes Sara Moore, project coordinator, and Sonoma State undergraduates Noelle Fletcher, Niki Shmatovich, Megan Foster and Christine Kuehn.

The major work includes a survey of the new park managers – finding what barriers and challenges they face and what models can be developed to manage them effectively.

A workshop will be held in the fall for key park managers and local government representatives to review SSU's findings and discuss collaborative strategies for long-term sustainable management of the parks.

The parks have been threatened with closure by the State of California due to the current budget crisis.

Because of Assembly Bill 42, legislation drafted by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, state parks slated to close in 2011 were allowed to stay open and be operated by local non-profits. In Sonoma County, a coalition of 16 organizations, known as the Parks Alliance of Sonoma County, stepped forward in a grassroots effort to keep five parks accessible by the public, at least temporarily.

The five Sonoma parks amount to approximately 15,000 acres and thousands of people visit them every year from all over the world.

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