Get to Know OWEB Board Member and Restoration Ecologist for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde
In mid-August, COLT staff Kelsey, Anna-Liza, and Karsyn sat down with Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board’s newest At-Large Board Member, Lindsay McClary, for an interview via Zoom to get to know more about her and her work.
In addition to serving on the OWEB board, Lindsay is the Restoration Ecologist for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and has worked with the tribe since 2010. She is from Michigan and is a Tribal Member from the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts from Central Michigan University (CMU) in Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Services (RPL) Administration with a focus on Outdoor and Environmental Recreation and a minor in Natural Resources Management.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
COLT: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us! We’d love to start by asking what inspired you to pursue a career in biology and conservation.
Lindsay: I’m really glad you asked this question. I don’t think a lot of folks realize that you can get paid to work outside—I didn’t! I think that there’s an opportunity to express to kids that there are career pathways for biological sciences and land management.
When I left high school, I thought I was going to become a teacher. I spent my first two years of college going into education before I realized it wasn’t for me. So I switched majors and went into Recreation Parks and Leisure Services with a focus on outdoor recreation, and then my minor in Natural Resources. I got a Bachelor’s Degree in that and then I pursued a Master’s Degree to continue taking more natural resources management classes.
I started working in between those degrees with the Forest Service seasonally doing biological science technician work, like wildlife surveys, fisheries and habitat assessments, environmental assessments and feeling like I was getting paid to hike around and be outside in the woods and take notes. That’s kind of the distilled version of it.
How has your work evolved during your time with Grand Ronde and can you share more about your career path?
I came to the tribe as a Biological Science Technician in 2010, which is just a fancy way of saying Field Tech. It was a lot of field work—Pacific lamprey work, deer and elk management work, and a lot of water quality monitoring and sampling. And I loved field work.
And then in 2018, my current position was created to manage all of the conservation properties the tribe is reacquiring through the Willamette Wildlife Mitigation Program.
I was really excited to manage properties and bring in grants. But one thing that I didn’t see coming was how much I’d enjoy building partnerships and the connections with people. Restoration is a team effort. And so building those partnerships has been a really rewarding experience for me.
Can you talk about why building strong relationships and partnerships is critical to the work that you’re doing?
It takes a village. When you’re working on a project, everyone comes to the table with different life experiences and different project experiences. I think it makes projects more holistic and everyone’s project comes out as successful as it could be.
Some partners can pitch in funds or cover the seed, or they can provide technical assistance, or bring us into another project they’re working on. You can lean on others who have been in the game longer to hear what lessons they’ve learned in the past. That’s been helpful for me. I’m hopefully always going to be learning in my role.
Tell us how you came to be on the OWEB board?
I spend a lot of my time with the tribe writing management plans and then seeking grant funding to implement those management plans. I’ve applied directly to OWEB for funding and received grants, as well as in collaboration with other land management entities or agencies.
So when I saw that there was a Tribal Representative position open for the OWEB Board, I threw my hat in the ring for that. I didn’t end up getting that position—Kelly Coates from Cow Creek did and she’s doing awesome in that role. But then OWEB approached me and said that there was a Public-at-Large position open and asked if I was interested.
They were hopeful that I could, in addition to Kelly Coates, bring a tribal perspective on land management to the board. I think that it’s mutually beneficial for my professional career development and for OWEB to have a seat at the table.
What do you hope to bring to the OWEB board?
As a female land manager from an Indigenous background, I think I bring a whole different voice and perspective.
OWEB is really conscious and forward thinking about DEI, and I think they put in a lot of effort in this area. At OWEB and with other partners, there is a concerted effort to challenge colonialism and decolonize perspectives in Western science.
I’m interested in how we can continue supporting high quality projects in terms of the thoroughness and effectiveness that OWEB brings to Oregon, while looking at different ways to measure success outside of Western science benchmarks. Instead of a certain number of culverts removed, what are other ways we can tell those stories without losing the quality and the quantity?
I totally get that there are requirements to make sure state funding is being stewarded and responsibly spent. But we’ve also heard from underrepresented communities that they don’t have the time or the resources to convince funders that they’re going to do good work in the terms that the funders want to see it.
How does your identity as an Indigenous woman shape your work and as an OWEB board member?
I think that just having more tribal voices at the table is really important. And I bring my background and my career not only to the tribal lands that I manage, but also OWEB and other partnerships that we have.
Another thing I like to bring up is that I think it’s easy to think about native cultures as relics of the past or museum pieces that you kind of walk by and learn about. But our cultural practices are still alive today and thriving. And it just looks different in the modern society that we’re living in.
And I think there’s that sort of disconnect, too, is that tribes used to do this, but we still do prescribed fire on and off tribal lands. You know, there’s still that connection. It’s just in a limited capacity because there are other state regulations limiting the amount of cultural burning that we can do.
What are your key priorities in your work with the tribe?
Stretching restoration dollars is one of my key priorities. The tribe’s been involved in the Willamette Wildlife Mitigation Program — an agreement between the Bonneville Power Administration in the state of Oregon to mitigate wildlife impacts to hydro systems. So right now we’ve got just under 2500 acres and we have a whole natural resources department with lots of different programs. The tribe has participated in many levels, but is a project sponsor.
And so that’s how we’ve reacquired those lands. And I say reacquired because the tribe was always here. We have historic connections to place in a lot of different bands and tribes with connections to different areas throughout the Willamette Valley. So we’re kind of full steam ahead with acquisitions until 2025.
For us, it’s a lot of floodplain and habitat. And so we have right now just about 900 acres in two separate locations along the North Santiam River. And that river has been historically impacted by Detroit Dam and Big Cliff Dam that were built in the 1950s. It’s our priority to restore those historic floodplain side channels, back channel, and off channel habitats. Prairie, Oaks Savanna and Oak Woodland are also very high priorities for us.
Another priority for me is shifting the social interpretation of fire. Our prescribed burn needs are increasing exponentially as we continue restoration efforts.
We have our own fire crew, but it’s mostly focused on suppression. I think there’s a lot of conversation, certainly in Oregon and in the Willamette Valley, around changing that conversation and realizing that fire is good, and fire needs to be applied to the ground.
The wildfires we’ve experienced are not low burning, fuel consuming, prescribed and cultural fire. But if we could take some of the wildfire suppression money and plug it into proactive burning, reintroducing burning to the landscape across the historic footprint of that, I think in the long run we’d all be better off.
Thank you for sharing that. What do you see as the most urgent work of conservationists in Oregon?
Climate change. And I’m hopeful that we’re doing enough or thinking enough about what climate change means. But no one has a crystal ball. We have some anticipated impacts, and we’re already seeing those with the heat dome and the ice storms and atmospheric rivers and all types of crazy stuff happening in our lifetime. And it’s scary to think that what we’re experiencing now is just going to be magnified into the future.
For me, I believe in what I’m doing and that I’m doing things in a good way. I think we have to prepare these lands as well as we can into the future. That’s the tribal way—to leave things for future generations and to be able to utilize the resource now, but manage it and cultivate it in a good way so that it’s usable for many, many generations.
So I’m hoping that we can create landscapes that are more resilient to climate change and its impacts.
What overlaps do you see in the priorities of OWEB, land trusts, and tribes like Grand Ronde? How do you think these three could strengthen this partnership?
To strengthen partnerships—collaborating on acquisition, communicating more, and fostering and facilitating connections. That’s doing things in a tribal way—building that relationship so that when there are things that come around, it’s like, “Oh yeah, I’d love to help you do that.”
In terms of landscape practicality, there’s always interest in tribal membership regaining access to historic landscapes, connections to place, and utilization of plant materials.
In terms of overlap, I think OWEB wants to make Oregon the best place it can be for Oregonians and for all people. And those causes are similar in that they want to protect landscapes into perpetuity and restore these habitats for the benefit of fish and wildlife, but also for people.
The way I think about it is that people have always been part of the landscape. Some people think of land management as protecting wilderness areas and keeping people out of it. But people are part of that ecosystem and always have been. I think that’s important to recognize. And I think our organizations do recognize that.