Engaging tomorrow’s stewards in community-supported conservation
Written and Photographed by Laura Lea Rubino, Marketing Intern
Could you ask for a better classroom? On Friday July 10th, the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars (DDCS), a group of 25 undergraduate students, learned about building community support and collaboration for conservation at the Conservancy’s Fisher Slough restoration site. The DDCS program offers competitive applicants an opportunity to learn more about conservation by exposing participants to professionals who are reshaping landscapes and transforming communities. Given the history of the Fisher Slough restoration project, its selection as the outdoor classroom of choice was clear.
Fisher Slough is without a doubt a success story. Located in the Skagit River Delta, it is the end product of a recent restoration effort aimed at creating salmon habitat and advancing the interests of local community members. Its revitalization is living proof that stakeholder engagement is the foundation of effective conservation.
The Skagit River Delta is noteworthy—it contributes 50% of the wild Chinook salmon population to Puget Sound and sustains an annual $300 million agricultural industry. Yet conditions have changed considerably since the arrival of the first European settlers—diking and draining started in the 1800s, resulting in a river disconnected from its floodplain and a 73% loss in tidal wetlands.
These wetlands have the potential to provide a variety of invaluable natural benefits, such as habitat for endangered Chinook, flood protection, and water filtration. But capturing these benefits requires the alteration of landscapes where humans live, work, and grow food. Understanding community needs and incorporating community benefits is essential for mobilizing local support and sustaining conservation outcomes.
The initiative to restore Fisher Slough, a task that The Nature Conservancy was invited to lead, was successful because it was a fundamentally collaborative effort. All groups with a stake in the area participated in the project’s decision-making process and took an active role in setting project objectives.
Reflecting on the reasons for its remarkable success, Fisher Slough Project Manager Jenny Baker (pictured in photo 2), who led the site visit, suggests “Multiple community needs were satisfied because a process that valued everyone’s needs equally was established at the project outset and followed throughout the life of the project.”
At the end of the day, the restoration of Fisher Slough strengthened flood protection, increased fish habitat, and provided the community with updated flood and drainage infrastructure. This kind of win-win solution is the cornerstone of the Nature Conservancy’s approach to conservation.
Like The Nature Conservancy, the DDCS program is a proponent of inclusive conservation strategies that honor diverse stakeholders, voices, and values. Its philosophy is rooted in the belief that the future success of conservationism hinges on its ability to diversify and uphold an ethic of inclusivity.
The young scholars who visited Fisher Slough were passionate, inquisitive, and eager to learn more about conservation as it relates to the Skagit River Delta. With backgrounds in a variety of disciplines—not just conservation—these students’ participation in the DDCS program signifies their commitment to the environment and their understanding of the many possibilities for addressing environmental issues. By meeting with conservation leaders like Jenny, these young men and women are learning that effective conservation is not simply the work of conservationists, but the work of entire communities.
No matter the direction of their future careers, these students will continue to view problem solving through a lens of inclusivity and collaboration. Though freshmen and sophomores in college today, these scholars are the leaders of tomorrow. This is good news for conservation, and good news for the world.