April Volunteer Spotlight: Susie Saalwaechter

In celebration of Earth Month, we’d like to highlight the work of one of our most loyal volunteers, who we are proud to say is being honored by Governor Jay Inslee with the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award in the category of “environment” on April 11th.  Check out our interview with Susie below, and we invite you to join us at Safeco Stadium on April 11th, for the Mariner’s Salute to Volunteers where Susie will be acknowledged along with other outstanding volunteers in the community.

Thank you for all of your hard work Susie! 

TNC: What is your volunteer role?

Susie Saalwaechter: I am a Conservation Ambassador Team Leader.  I am responsible for planning, coordinating, supplying, and recruiting volunteers for 20-25 community outreach events each year.

TNC: How long have you been volunteering with The Nature Conservancy?

Susie: It’s three years now.

TNC: Do you volunteer anywhere else?

Susie: Yes.  I am also Co-President of the Newport Band Parents Association, which is a booster club for the band program at Newport High School In Bellevue, Washington.  Our son attends Newport, and is in the band.

TNC: Where are you from?

Susie: I was originally born in Japan, then moved to the US when I was very young.  My family settled in the Chicago area.  I’ve lived in the Midwest, the East Coast, and now the West Coast.  We’ve been in Seattle for 8 years.

TNC: Anything about your career or schooling you would like to share?

Susie: I am trained as an aerospace engineer, and worked on Air Force and Army programs during my first career.

TNC: What inspired you to start volunteering with The Nature Conservancy?

Susie: I was looking for a non-profit where I could help protect nature.

TNC: What gives you the most hope for the future?

Susie: Many people do say that the future can be bleak, based on the immensity and scope of environmental problems.  And there are good reasons to feel that way.  Yet I am very hopeful and optimistic because there are so many ordinary people, organizations, and companies that are doing their part to help the environment.  There is a tremendous amount of grass roots effort that is underway for the benefit of nature.  Its extraordinary how people all over the world, not just in Seattle or Washington, but people all over the world are making changes, big and small, to the way they live.  They have actively chosen to live differently because of our impact on the Earth.  The rapid growth in clean energy, the huge popularity of electric cars, the sheer numbers of people who recycle; these are significant changes.  The media don’t report on this, and when they do, it’s not the top story.  But quietly and below the radar, people everywhere are slowly making the change to a greener economy.  In addition, companies worldwide announce they are adopting some kind of green policy every day.  So yes, the bad news is climate change is here, but the good news is people everywhere are starting to embrace green solutions.  The Nature Conservancy, like other similar non-profits, is contributing to those solutions.

TNC: What's your favorite thing to do when you're not volunteering?

Susie: Enjoying nature, of course.  Usually in the form of travel.

TNC: How does volunteering make you feel?

Susie: It’s like getting paid to do your hobby!  Except you don’t get paid.  It truly is like doing your favorite hobby.  If you volunteer for something you really enjoy and believe in, it’s incredibly fun.  I do have a passion for a healthy planet.  That passion usually starts locally with a desire to protect places that you love, but then you quickly realize that protection is a regional, national, and global objective because it’s all connected.  And guess what?  TNC is about protection.

TNC: What is your favorite Nature Conservancy preserve or project?

Susie: The pygmy rabbit restoration project is amazing.  Who doesn’t love rabbits that fit in the palm of your hand?  How cool is that?  I really enjoyed it.  Outreach is also very rewarding.  You get to meet all kinds of people who care about nature.  Plus we get to be outdoors!

TNC: What do you think the world will be like in 50 years?

Susie: I think we are in the midst of exponential change worldwide.  When I think about what life was like 50 years ago, and how it compares to today, it will be just as different 50 years into the future.  I would like to see far more versatile public transportation that encourages greater use over single-passenger car travel that dominates today’s transportation mode.

TNC: Who is your environmental hero?

Susie: There are many but my top three are John Muir, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Elon Musk.

TNC: What is your spirit animal and why?

Susie: I took one of those tests, and it came up with an owl.  It said that it can see beyond illusion.  However I was also born in the year of the Tiger, so there you go.

TNC: Have you ever convinced someone to do something they didn't want to do?

Susie: No, not that I know of anyway!

TNC: Is there anything you would like to see The Nature Conservancy doing that we are not already doing?

Susie: I would like to see the Washington chapter play a more prominent role in combating water pollution in Puget Sound.  I read in a recent Seattle Times story that juvenile salmon in the Pacific Northwest have been found with high levels of drugs, medications, and personal care products in their tissues, among the highest in the nation.  Read more.