Reflections on My Time on Yellow Island

By Phil Green, Yellow Island steward

At the end of each interview last week, we asked the candidates for our Yellow Island Steward position (I'm retiring after 19 years in the job) if they had any questions for us. One of the candidates turned and asked me,"Given The Nature Conservancy is all about tangible, long-lasting results: After 19 years on Yellow, what would you say are your tangible, long-lasting results?"

Yellow Island Steward greets a member excursion to Yellow Island Preserve in the San Juan islands of Puget Sound. Photo by Cameron Karsten.   

Wow! I felt like this was my exit interview. I immediately jumped to one of my favorite activities on Yellow: seed collecting. I love to collect seed, to clean them, to plant them — whether in beds, trays or out on the island. These are my babies, and they will represent the island in the future — and I've been intimately involved with each and every one. It is both tangible and long lasting.

Since that response, I've thought about the question a lot. While my original thoughts immediately jumped to the physical island itself for tangible, long-lasting results, there is another way to look at it. Last week, we hosted 100 members of our Legacy Club on the island; we will be hosting nearly 100 more in a few days. These thoughtful people have included The Nature Conservancy in their estate plans, and this is their legacy of tangible, long-lasting results. The Conservancy couldn't succeed in its mission without the generous commitment of these donors.

TNC member excursion to Yellow Island Preserve in the San Juan islands of Puget Sound. Photo by Cameron Karsten.

These donors like to know that their dollars are making a difference. Yellow Island is a perfect place to showcase how we work in multiple arenas: in the terrestrial habitat using science to figure out what is the best way to maintain an anthropogenic prairie; in the marine environment working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to ensure the marine protected area around Yellow and Low islands stays protected; and also the cultural aspect of maintaining the historic Dodd cabin as a residence for the steward. In all three cases, the Conservancy is making tangible, long-lasting results. And as for me, I am the one who has been blessed over the last 19-plus years to push our mission forward in these areas.

TNC Washington members on a field trip to Yellow Island in the San Juans, where native prairie wildflowers were in full bloom. Photo by Sean Galvin.

So my other legacy that I'm proud of that I hope has tangible, long-lasting results is that I inspired others to appreciate and in their own way work to protect the environment. It's similar to planting seeds: plant one, and the plant grows with multiple seeds, each then growing with multiple more seeds. It's called exponential growth. (I used to be a math instructor in a former life.) Likewise with the people we inspire. It is this exponential growth in human buy-in that will eventually save this planet, our Mother Earth.