A bill in the state Senate would fund much-needed wildfire prevention, suppression and preparedness activities, investing in the health of Washington’s iconic forests and the resilience of our communities.
We spent yesterday morning in the company of more than a hundred friends and neighbors at Green Lake Park in Seattle, gathered together in support of America’s most important conservation program, the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and all the special places it protects.
Written by Kathleen Hebert, Trustee for The Nature Conservancy in Washington
Recently, I joined 148 Conservancy trustees from across the United States and six international programs in Washington, DC, to speak up for the Power of Nature.
In a single day, Conservancy trustees and staff made the case in face-to-face meetings with 175 elected officials. It was unbelievably motivating to take part in such a powerful statement on behalf of the Conservancy and conservation.
Washington Board Chair Byron Bishop, Scott Wyatt and I joined State Director Mike Stevens and Federal Government Relations Director Cathy Baker to meet with five Members of Congress: Sen. Maria Cantwell, Sen. Patty Murray, and Reps. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Derek Kilmer and Suzan DelBene. We also met with the chief of staff for Rep. Denny Heck.
I had seen the stunning U.S. Capitol and the Mall before, but it was my first time inside the halls of our Capitol. It was a rare opportunity to join the team from Washington state and key staff from our World Office for an inside look at the progress of key conservation bills for this session of Congress.
This session’s Energy Bill includes provisions that authorize important programs for wildlife protection, recreation on public lands and reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). It also focuses on critical upgrades to the nation’s energy grid and energy efficiency, which, if enacted, would reduce carbon emissions by as much as 150 million tons per year, or the equivalent of taking 22 million cars off the road. These core measures represent initial steps to address climate change that have bipartisan support.
Advocating on the Hill was both inspiring and exhausting. It was a brief glimpse into the political and time pressures that come with being a Member of Congress. Meetings were quick and to the point. In two cases, to hold our meetings staff had to pull their Representative away from the House Democrat’s spontaneous “sit-in” protest for gun control.
Despite tight schedules, it was clear they were glad to meet with us and listen to our core issues, and they were generous with the time they had. It was gratifying to hear their level of engagement and knowledge about everything from wildfire funding to LWCF.
I was privileged to join in discussions with experienced TNC staff, such as Nature Conservancy Director of Public Policy Lynn Scarlett, who was Deputy Secretary of the Interior under Pres. Bush, and the chair of the Conservancy’s global board, Craig McCaw, who founded McCaw Cellular right here in Washington state. I left feeling optimistic that our Congressional representatives and TNC shared common concerns, desired outcomes and a commitment to take action.
Outside the meetings on the hill, the TNC Leadership Summit was a valuable opportunity to meet trustees from all 50 states and numerous international programs.
I had the chance to hear first-hand from Aurelio Ramos, the Managing Director of our Latin America program, about projects that link reforestation and support for local economies in the Brazilian rainforest, and to find out about the California chapter’s progress in creating new carbon credits for working forests.
A highlight of the general session was an encouraging speech by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) about climate change and generating the political will to change. Even casual discussions during breaks gave me new insights into thinking about lands and programs in Washington state and created connections I will continue to foster.
As a first time participant, I came to DC full of energy and enthusiasm, but conscious of my inexperience. After three action-packed days, I left exhausted yet energized, daunted yet more optimistic than ever, and even more grateful to play a small part in TNC’s important work. Being on the Hill reminded me how critical local voices are to informing our elected officials’ actions. They rely on their constituents’ input about public policy.
The Nature Conservancy’s support not only of key historic programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but of evolving issues such as energy grid modernization, provides new ways of thinking about the link between nature and our economy.
Photographed by Mo McBroom, Government Relations Director
What's better than brews and beautiful views? We recently hosted an event for young environmental professionals to network, relax, and talk about their work in a beautiful setting. Guests enjoyed our rooftop deck, with beautiful views of Puget Sound!
Meeting up allows us to get to know other young professionals across a diverse array of conservation and outdoor industry organizations. This will be a regular gathering, if anyone is interested in getting on the invitation list for the next event, please contact Tom Bugert:
Two Strategies for Consideration at Senate Committee Hearing in Seattle
Written by Carrie Krueger, Director of Marketing
Photographed by John Marshall
As the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meets in Seattle to examine this summer’s disastrous fires, The Nature Conservancy encourages the Committee to focus on two solutions the organization believes can provide relief from the worst of today’s megafires:
1. Support and fund the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy: The Cohesive Strategy is the result of a five-year collaborative planning effort that aligns governments at all levels to help develop fire-adapted communities, resilient landscapes, and to improve wildfire operations. It provides an approved mechanism to get all layers of government working together, including cities, counties, states, Tribes and Federal Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Defense, and Homeland Security. The Cohesive Strategy works to:
- Manage vegetation and fuels through thinning and controlled burns;
- Protect homes, communities, and other assets;
- Manage human-caused ignitions
- Effectively and efficiently respond to fire.
2. Fix the way emergency firefighting is funded by passing a fire-funding solution such as the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA): As the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior suppress the emergency fires, they have to dip into funds set aside for other projects—including some of those that can help reduce the risk of fires in the first place. This is different from how other natural disasters are paid for, such as hurricanes, tornadoes or floods. The Nature Conservancy encourages Congress to continue its work to find a bipartisan solution to fix the fire-funding problem, like the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA) that creates a disaster funding process for emergency wildfires. WDFA has the support of hundreds of conservation, forestry, outdoor industry, sportsmen’s organizations and more.
“Today the Forest Service has already spent close to all of its firefighting budget for the year, so we know they will need to transfer money away from other programs soon—affecting programs that conserve the water, wildlife and wood resources our forests provide,” said Cecilia Clavet, Senior Policy Advisor at The Nature Conservancy. “We need a solution now to stop crippling the federal agencies managing our natural assets with disruptive funding shortfalls.”
“Climate change, drought, and insects and disease, and more people living closer to forests have created an urgent need for restoration,” said Mike Stevens, Washington State Director for The Nature Conservancy. “Only a commitment to restoration and the funding necessary to make it happen at scale can break the cycle of catastrophic fires that are taking such a tremendous toll on our state.”
America’s forests are the source of half our nation’s water; support one million forest product jobs; grow the largest and oldest trees in the world; are home to thousands of American wildlife species; and generate more than $14 billion of recreation and other economic activity on Forest Service lands alone.
Today these essential benefits are in jeopardy, due to the unhealthy state of our forests and the dangerous megafires that result from these conditions. For example:
- The U.S. Forest Service estimates more than 100,000 square miles of the forests they manage—an area bigger than Oregon—is now at risk for megafire.
- 55 years of records from the National Interagency Fire Center reveal that nine out of our 10 largest fire seasons have occurred after 2000, with three of our largest fire seasons coming since 2006.
- Since 2007, six states have experienced record-sized fires—Arizona, California, Georgia, Texas, New Mexico and Washington. New Mexico and Washington each broke their own records twice in this time period.
- Insurance experts estimate there are nearly 900,000 residential properties (worth a total of $237 billion) at “high” to “very high” risk of wildfire in 2015.
Written by Cathy Baker, Director Federal Government Relations, The Nature Conservancy in Washington
Photographed by Julie Morse, Regional Ecologist, Jenny Baker, Sr. Restoration Manager & Thomas O’Keefe, PhD Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director, American Whitewater
Under sunny skies and a light breeze, The Nature Conservancy joined Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and key conservation partners to celebrate the designation of Illabot Creek as a National Wild & Scenic River yesterday. The celebration was many years in the making.
Illabot Creek is an important tributary of the Skagit River. Located near Rockport, Washington, Illabot Creek is in the heart of the Skagit River Bald Eagle Natural Area – a preserve that we helped establish nearly 40 years ago. This area is rich in natural abundance. Every winter, bald eagles gather there by the hundreds to feed on some of the biggest and healthiest salmon runs in all of Puget Sound. The area has inspired strong partnerships and significant conservation investments. Partners have protected more than 9,000 acres of eagle habitat, including more than 10 miles of river and thousands of acres of forests. About 1,300 acres are owned and managed by the Conservancy.
The Skagit River Bald Eagle Natural Area is located within the Skagit River Wild and Scenic River System – 158 river miles in the Upper Skagit watershed which were designated in 1978 by Congress due it its outstanding qualities. Illabot Creek was one of the missing links in the Skagit Wild & Scenic River System until Congress passed legislation in December 2014 to permanently protect this important tributary.
We were so pleased to be on the river yesterday to celebrate this victory with Congresswoman DelBene and our long time partners. It was a perfect day to drift down the river in rafts, watching eagles and osprey soar overhead and waving to several fishermen who were standing on the banks trying their luck. We stopped at the mouth of Illabot Creek and heard stories about how the creek is literally chock full of salmon during the fall salmon runs.
The Nature Conservancy gratefully acknowledges the leadership of our Congressional members who worked hard over seven years to secure passage of this legislation: Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, Congressman Rick Larsen, Senator Patty Murray, and Senator Cantwell. Big thanks to American Rivers and American Whitewater who partnered with us on advocacy and helped organize the event yesterday. And a special shout out to all our friends and partners who made time to join in the celebration: Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki and her husband Mike Janicki, a TNC board member; representatives from Senator Cantwell’s office, Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, Seattle City Light, Skagit Land Trust, Skagit County Parks and Recreation Department, Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group, North Cascades National Park, North Cascades Institute, and the National Parks Conservation Association.
Got some time this fall? Take a drive up to the Skagit Valley and spend some time on the river in Rockport. We expect huge numbers of pink salmon to be making the run back to their natal streams, starting in late September. You can look up the Illabot Creek watershed and know that this stream will remain free-flowing forever thanks to the passage of this recent federal legislation.