By Arul Menezes, Washington Trustee
Sen. Maria Cantwell has a giant mural of Mount Rainier in her conference room. Rep. Derek Kilmer’s office has a ton of Star Wars memorabilia. Rep. Denny Heck’s office features a large portrait of Nisqually tribal leader Billy Frank Jr. looking down over the room. And all the members of Washington state’s congressional delegation are working incredibly hard and are not getting enough sleep.
The physical and emotional toll of their jobs is quite apparent when you meet them up close and personal. I learned all this — and more! — when I traveled to the other Washington last week.
I was joining several other trustees of The Nature Conservancy in Washington and more than 200 trustees from all 50 states and around the world at the Conservancy’s annual Volunteer Leadership Summit. The best part of the summit was Advocacy Day, where we had a chance to use our voices for nature on Capitol Hill.
We met with both Sens. Cantwell and Patty Murray and with four of our members in the House of Representatives: Reps. Kilmer, Heck, Pramila Jayapal and Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Though our day was packed, ours were just six of the nearly 300 meetings that were held across Washington, D.C., as part of Advocacy Day. We were a big group from Washington state: myself, board chair Kate Janeway, Byron Bishop, Greg Moga, Mike Schaefer and Diani Taylor, joined by staff members Cathy Baker, Mo McBroom and Brittany Gallagher from our Government Relations team and State Director Mike Stevens.
There was a lot to talk about this year. We thanked our delegation for supporting the recent fire funding fix, which helps the U.S. Forest Service fight the increasing number of wildfires without pillaging money from trails and other essential programs.
Next up was the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which was set up 50 years ago to direct a small portion of oil and gas royalty revenue into protecting nature: wilderness land, trails, parks and recreation, and much more. This landmark law has been critical to our state’s beautiful natural areas and recreation opportunities in every part of the state. The law is set to expire this year. We urged our representatives and senators to work toward permanently reauthorizing the LWCF and ensuring that it is funded at a robust level.
Back at the Volunteer Leadership Summit, we learned about the state of the Conservancy from CEO Mark Tercek and from our youngest trustee (just 24 years old) from New York on what drew a city kid like her to nature.
At breakfast, I got a chance to hear about the great work that our newest international chapter is doing in India to help clean up New Delhi’s choking air pollution by helping upwind farmers switch from burning crop residue to improved tilling and seeding methods. And in the hallway, I ran into Alex Wegman, who is using cutting-edge remote-sensing technology to enable scientists from all over the world do great science at the Conservancy’s Palmyra research station without needing to be physically on the atoll.
Overall it was an incredible experience for me as a first-time Advocacy Day participant. The scope and scale of the Nature Conservancy’s work around the world is breathtaking, and I’m incredibly proud to play a small part of it.