Forest Restoration Spotlight

Photographed by Chris Crisman

Restoring our forests, streams and all the habitat in between.

Our work making Washington’s forests and streams healthier is spotlighted in two vastly different landscapes – the temperate coastal rainforest of Ellsworth Creek, and the dry ponderosa forests of the Central Cascades.

These two stories highlight the restoration work taking place on the ground, as well as paint a picture of the long term vision for these very special places.

From the Chinook Observer, a beautiful story that captures the breadth and depth of the work we’re doing in Ellsworth Creek. Link below. 

Chinook Observer - Towering Titans: Nature Conservancy Restoration Breathes Life Into Forest Stream

And a front page spread on the Yakima Herald that showcases our work with the Yakama Nation on the North Fork Taneum Creek. Link below.

Yakima-Herald: Creek Restoration Vital to a Healthy Forest.

No joke: Compromise on Eastern WA Water and Lands

Guest post by Nicky Pasi, Conservation Outreach Associate, American Rivers
Photographs by Keith Lazelle; Benj Drummond/LightHawk

There are so many proverbs, pithy quips and wry one-liners about western water conflicts, you could bind them up in a respectably thick book.  But here’s a new one, less of a joke than it might seem:

“An irrigator, an environmentalist, and a tribal member walk into a Senator’s office … and the room doesn’t erupt?”

Question mark intentional. It’s an unexpected scenario, but it’s exactly how the people of the Yakima Basin have decided to address their many, often conflicting, demands on water.

  • Since time immemorial, the Yakama Nation has gathered, fished, and hunted here, and retain the rights to do so today.
  • Ours is the most agriculturally productive basin in Washington, generating about $4 billion in crops and jobs every year.
  • The proximity of our mountains, rivers, trails and canyons to the densely populated Puget Sound makes the Yakima a popular destination for folks searching for connection with nature and the outdoors.

All of these needs – tribal, agricultural, recreational, environmental - are kept afloat by the Yakima River.  And all are threatened by climate change. 

Warmer winters and hotter summers empty our reservoirs, prevent snowpack from accumulating to refill them, and raise in-stream temperatures to dangerous highs. Drought threatens salmon and trout, while farmers let fields fallow and orchards die, and fires keep hikers out of the woods. 

That’s a lot of struggling users, and in 2009, the groups advocating for each did something really extreme. They stopped throwing rocks (read: lawsuits) at one another.  They came out from behind entrenched positions.  They mapped out their needs, compared those against their wants, and went to work negotiating between the two.

The result was the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, a compromise so broad and interwoven that Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor has called it “a model – not just for working through watershed challenges, but for any natural resources management [issues].”

These stakeholders – our irrigators, environmentalists, tribal leaders and management agencies- took their plan to Senator Maria Cantwell, who recognized the importance of such an unusual partnership.  In 2015 she and Senator Patty Murray introduced legislation to provide federal authorization for the first decade of Yakima Plan projects.

Last November, the Yakima Bill unanimously passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  In April,  it was amended to the Senate Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 (also unanimously), which then passed out of the Senate by a vote of 85-12.   As the Yakima Herald Editorial Board put it, “the success of [the Yakima Bill] so far speaks to the collaboration of the various stakeholders and the bipartisan cooperation of the state’s congressional delegation.”  The Energy Bill now moves on to the House of Representatives, where Yakima Basin Representatives Reichert and Newhouse set the stage by introducing a companion Yakima Bill back in February.

So here’s the punch line, which isn’t actually a punch line at all, but rather the thread that ties the whole package together: cooperative compromise. 

As with any compromise, there is give and take.  No one gets 100% of what they want, but they’ve determined what they need, and where those needs overlap.

Because the plan recognized the needs of water users and eastern Washington county commissioners, these people backed environmental priorities of the Yakama Nation and an environmental coalition led by American Rivers, The Wilderness Society and Trout Unlimited.

On that front, we have protected 50,000 acres in the Teanaway, now Washington’s first Community Forest, complementing parallel forest conservation efforts of partners like The Nature Conservancy.  In exchange for protective designations, private citizens keep access to wild areas and enjoy better management of facilities.

It’s a network as complicated and vital as the ecosystems we’re striving to protect, all moving forward on a consensus built on compromise.

That’s no joke, but it’s worth smiling about.


Community engagement critical to conservation

Nature Conservancy team members spend a lot of time in forests, on rivers and on ocean shores. But did you know we also spend a lot of time meeting and talking with people? Community is critical to our work. As we forge a new relationship between people and nature, and shape the future of our state, it’s vital we engage, collaborate and partner with people, as often as we focus on wildlife and get our hands dirty in wild places.

A Critical Conversation

Climate Change was the topic at Seattle City Club’s Civic Cocktail this week. State Director Mike Stevens joined Yoram Bauman, known as The Stand-up Economist, and Rod Brown, co-chair of the governor’s Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force, to discuss one of the most critical issues of our time. Topics ranged from what we know right now about the impact of climate change, to Governor Inslee’s carbon tax proposal. An engaged audience asked important questions creating a dialog that will inform our work, which is deeply impacted by climate change.

A Community that Cares

Meanwhile across the Cascades, we hosted the first of three open houses about our acquisition of 48,000 acres of land in the areas. Community turnout in Cle Elum was terrific and we had a great dialog about how the land is used, what people in the area value and how we can manage the land to benefit nature and the community. We deeply value the level of engagement we got, particularly as we broke into small groups. We were able to hear from and learn from everyone. We look forward to upcoming meetings in Ellensburg and Yakima

Energizing Expertise

Innovative solutions for people and nature were shared at a Floodplains by Design workshop attended by more than 160 people last week. Together they shared mutual concerns and worked towards a regional vision for Puget Sound’s rivers and floodplains. The Nature Conservancy organized the event and with partners, shared experience and expertise with the diverse attendees. These workshops are an important opportunity for us to connect directly with those who can benefit most from this model program.

Taking Flight in a Special Place

Finally, last weekend gave us several beautiful days to be part of the Snow Goose Festival in Stanwood. Our preserve at Port Susan Bay was open for bird watching. At our booth we had stimulating conversations with dozens of community members who rely on working lands and value nature. It’s always a thrill to meet people, learn about their interests and share our work with them. These community events are some of our favorite places to connect.

In ten days’ time, we were part of four very different and important conservations in very different places. This dialog helps us shape our work and allows us to make the biggest impact we can across our state. Our work is as much about nature as it is about people. Thank you for being part of the community and the conversation.

Related Blog Posts

2015 Floodplains by Design Workshop

Cle Elum Open House

Forests for Our Future

Trapped on Wizard Island


Written & Photographed by Carrie Krueger, Director of Marketing for The Nature Conservancy in Washington

Crater Lake National Park provides unexpected adventure

When the theme song from “Gilligan’s Island” begins running through your head, it is rarely a good sign. Our “three hour tour” happened in Crater Lake National Park.  We set-sail that day to tour the stunning, deep lake, and wound up trapped on the little island in the middle known as Wizard Island. 

But let’s start at the beginning:  Five families from five different parts of the country chose Crater Lake National Park for a summer vacation and reunion.  Located in south central Oregon, the park is near nothing and not particularly easy to get to.  But the trek is well worth it.  The first view of the lake is unforgettable.  The color is a remarkable deep blue and the water is surrounded by sheer cliffs and during our visit, a great deal of snow.  Once we worked through our childish impulse to pelt one another with snow, we settled into the picturesque lodge on the rim of the volcanic crater that forms the lake. We spent our first day on short hikes around the region, learning about the geologic events the formed this stunning place.

The next morning we packed sandwiches and snacks and made our way to the tour boat dock. We were promised a water tour of the lake including drop off and pick up at Wizard Island where we could explore further.  It seemed simple enough and we felt well prepared, even with many young kids in tow.

Wizard Island was a blast.  From the rocky shore, we hiked to the high point of the island where we discovered a snow-filled crater.  In no time at all, the kids had made sleds out of their rain jackets and anything else they could find and were zooming down the hills and hiking back up.  This was sheer bliss, an unexpected delight – sledding in shorts and t-shirts, on a sunny island in the middle of the nation’s deepest lake. Wow.  

Soon it was time to head to the little dock and await pick-up.  A small crowd gathered at the dock, but when the next tour boat came by, it didn’t stop.  The crowd on the boat waved and the captain called out that the boat was full and no one onboard wanted to get off at Wizard Island, so we would have to wait for the next boat.  When this same scenario happened three times over the 90 minutes, we started to feel just a little concerned.  One of us whistled the Gilligan’s Island theme and another softly sang “A three hour tour, a three hour tour.”

But in nature, there is always a way to have fun. Boredom is not an option! On the rocky shoreline, a rock-skipping contest ensued, with kids from all the waiting families (and some adults) joining in.  On the flat, smooth water, rocks could skip and skip and skip!  For those not in the skipping mood, it was time to get creative with cairns.  You know, those little towers and piles of rocks – those are cairns and it’s amazing how much fun it is to look for the right flat rocks to build with.  There were woods to explore, massive games of “eye spy” and critter spotting. 

As the hours went by and food ran low, there was a funny irony in being able to actually see the lodge hanging on the cliff in the distance.  Our home away from home, so close and yet so far.  Surely we would not be left for the night?  We were ill prepared for such a possibility, relieved we had at least insisted each child bring a light jacket.  The day had been sunny and nearly hot, but as shadows lengthened, it quickly became chilly. Just for fun, we sat on the shore and brainstormed various ways we could get from there to the lodge.  None were feasible, of course, but neither were most of the things Gilligan and his gang attempted on the old TV show.  The kids enjoyed pretending we were actually going to spend the night on the island and we talked about the various ways we would shelter and feed ourselves.

Luckily, before anyone could lose their sense of humor about the situation the tour boat company dispatched an empty boat specifically to pick us all up.  A dozen families and groupings crowded the dock and piled onto the boat and we tried to remember, did the Gilligan’s Island gang ever get rescued? 

As young adults, all of the kids on that adventure still talk about the day we were trapped on Wizard Island and the fun we had exploring nature, as we waited to be “rescued”.  Together we’ve visited many more National Parks and feel a collective sense of gratitude for the accessibility of such beautiful places and for the opportunity to commune and experience them.  For me, every foray into nature stirs a powerful sense of responsibility to protect and preserve nature so that each generation can experience wild places, little adventures and big escapes.

Treasured Experiences


Written & Photographed by Marlo Mytty, Puget Sound Programs Conservation Coordinator

Watching the sunrise at Haleakala, riding bikes and climbing up a butte in a Canyonlands sunset, floating on air mattresses in Glacier Park’s Lake MacDonald, hiking in the gorgeous diverse Siskyou forest at Oregon Caves National Monument, wandering in a maple glade of enormous moss-draped trees in Olympic National Park, a hawk gliding close and silently by through the fall colors and mist on a November hike to a Mt. Rainier fire lookout. These are just a few of the most treasured experiences of my life, all of which took place in National Parks.

A lifetime native of Seattle, of all the National parks I have visited, Mt. Rainier is closest to my heart and soul, and I think of it as home. My memories there are countless, yet its draw for me continues.  I have been there on two backpacks so far this month and the more I visit, the more I realize that there is more than a lifetime of beauty to explore in this park alone.

We have the work of visionaries like Muir, Roosevelt and many others over a century ago to thank for our National Park system, which is truly one of the treasures of this planet; drawing hundreds of millions of visitors each year from all over the world.  A century later the ambition and impact of their vision has become more apparent, and this will no doubt be the case in another century.

This kind of long lasting impact is the reason I work for The Nature Conservancy. Looking back 100 years from now, I believe that the effect The Nature Conservancy has had on the landscape of Washington, the nation and the planet will be apparent. The innovative and far reaching projects we are working on are humbling and inspiring. 

From working with major players in industry to implement sustainable and economically viable business practices, to working with communities, governments and First Nations to restore the floodplains of major rivers that flow into Puget Sound, to connecting and restoring dry forests across the west in order to reduce catastrophic wildfires, to a large fisheries project on the West coast that will have a positive impact on the fisheries and fishing communities along the entire West coast, to forming coalitions with Chinese dam builders and mining companies in Mongolia to influence siting decisions, The Nature Conservancy is tackling many of the world’s largest environmental challenges. I am continually inspired by the ingenuity and dedication of my colleagues and am fortunate to be a part of what will surely be an impact that reaches or exceeds the scale of our National Parks in the centuries to come.

Conserving Manastash Forest For Wildlife, Water and People


More streams for fish, hiking trails for people and habitat for wildlife. That is just some of what we are getting after the newest purchase of land for people and nature .

The latest addition to the Heart of the Cascades project is 1,280 acres of timberland in the Manastash, west of Ellensburg. The decade-long effort to weave together a checkerbaordof public and private lands in the East Cascades takes another step forward, adding to more than 25,000 acres of private timberlands brought into public ownership.

In this case, The Nature Conservancy has purchased 1,280 acres of timberland from Plum Creek, and transferred it to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to be managed as part of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area.

Working with partners including the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Yakama Nation and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Conservancy continues to secure public access and protect this vital resource for our communities. The Tapash Sustainable Forests Collaborative, which includes public, non-profit and tribal landowners, is working together across in this region to restore a much larger forest landscape.

Water for the Future

Why does it matter? These particular sections of forest are full of streams and tributaries that flow into the Yakima River. Conserving this forest will protect valuable river habitat for wildlife as well as ensure water downstream for people, fish, and the rich agriculture of the Yakima Valley. Protecting these forests is an important part of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Plan, a coordinated effort by farmers, conservationists, tribes, and governments to ensure water for the Yakima Valley as climate change threatens increasing drought.

Rich Wildlife Habitat

Washington’s Heart of the Cascades is a multi-phased project designed to protect, connect, and restore the most biologically rich forests in the Western United States.

From high mountain snowfields descending to the arid sagebrush steppe of the Columbia Plateau, the Cascade forests span rugged and beautiful country that supports a diverse variety of habitats and, in turn, a broad array of species. In addition to amazing abundance of birds, mammals, fish, trees, and flowers, these forests are home to federally protected populations of grey wolf, spotted owl, ferruginous hawk, northern goshawk, and Pacific salmon. People across the region prize these forests for their many recreational activities.

Your Support will Help Save Forests for Nature and People

Today, we have a remarkable opportunity to invest in the future of this place and to protect what we love about it – lush alpine meadows, clean cold mountain streams, and the unfettered access that comes with a connected and protected landscape. We have this opportunity because tens of thousands of acres of private commercial timberlands are for sale. These lands, privatized in the 1800s to bring the railroads to the Pacific, disconnect our federal forestlands from our state Wildlife Areas. Their sale to development threatens access and opportunity for people and wildlife on this landscape.

The Heart of the Cascades project is a cooperative effort by conservation groups, tribes, residents, and public land management agencies to accomplish the following:

  • Protect 110,000+ acres of forests that will reconnect a four million acre landscape
  • Protect access and open space for people and wildlife
  • Restore the natural functions and processes that sustain these forests, including reintroducing beneficial fire and restorative thinning where needed
  • Support local economies working in a compatible way with the natural resources and values of the region

Thank you for your generous support!




By Ryan Haugo, Washington-Idaho Forest Ecologist

The 2012 Pacific Northwest wildfire season was one for the record books.

In Idaho, the Mustang Complex alone burned 300,000 acres.  In Washington, over 350,000 total acres burned and fire suppression costs alone totaled more than $88 million dollars.  Not exactly chump change in this time of fiscal cliffs and sequestration.

Yet, fire always has been and always will be an integral part of our western forests.  Fire is both inevitable and is the ultimate contradiction; often beautiful, terrifying, destructive, renewing and life-giving, all at the same time.  Yet, our management of western forests over the past century has broken this natural link with fire, leaving our forests vulnerable to uncharacteristically large and destructive fire and insect and disease outbreaks.  Climate change will only increase these vulnerabilities.

In my role as a forest ecologist I spend a lot of time talking about the risks of “uncharacteristic fire” (bad!) and the importance of “prescribed fire” (good!) in restoring healthy and resilient forests.

Our official tagline is “The Nature Conservancy works to maintain fire’s role where it benefits people and nature, and keep fire out of places where it is destructive”.  An excellent sentiment, but the line between fire that “benefits people and nature” and fire that is “destructive” can be quite blurry.

Last September an intense late summer lightning storm rolled across the Pacific Northwest, starting fires in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.   That month I had a series of meetings across eastern Washington and northern Idaho.  No matter where I traveled, I couldn’t escape the smoke.  During the day visibility was terrible and at night my eyes stung and my throat hurt, even when holed up in my hotel room.  No fun – that much smoke must certainly indicate a “bad fire”, right?

Not necessarily.  This winter we were finally able to get out and take a look at some of the newly burned forests that had smoked-in my September travels.  Matt Dahlgreen, TNC forester and intrepid explorer, shot a beautiful series of photos from one section of the Wenatchee Complex fires in eastern Washington.

His photos show rejuvenation and restoration, not death and destruction.  These fires had burned with relatively low severity during a time of moderate weather conditions, and the net result were thinned forest stands that will be even more resilient to the next fire.  There were other patches with nearly all of the trees killed, but this occurred in areas where the forest is adapted to “high severity fire” and the bear, elk and other wildlife will greatly benefit.

What determines if a wildfire is good or bad?  Suppression costs?  Property destruction? Air quality? Impacts on wildlife habitat?   Can a fire be good and bad at the same time?

I don’t think there are any easy answers to these questions.  Even a small, seemingly benign prescribed fire produces smoke that can be hazardous to sensitive populations if precautions are not taken.  Even a massive “mega-fire” leaves behind habitat for a number of different wildlife species.  Society weighs the costs and benefits based on the affected values of the time.

The one thing that we know for certain is that in forests across the west there will be more wildfire in the coming years (see recent research by Moritz and colleagues, and Westerling and colleagues).

In the face of this inevitability, our focus at the Conservancy is on promoting resilient natural and human communities.  In the forests that have traditionally supported timber economies, we focus on smart restoration using tools such as mechanical harvests and prescribed fire.

In other forests, we advocate managing wildfires at the right place and time – when the conditions are right.  Just as there is often not a simple answer as to whether a fire is good or bad, there is no one single approach to conserving our forested landscapes.



Much of what The Nature Conservancy does in Washington is not glamorous. Pushing back levees, cleaning up waste water and thinning forests are all vitally important, but they aren’t the stuff of postcards.

Then there’s Yellow Island. This tiny preserve in the San Juan Islands redefines natural beauty – especially this time of year. Meadows of blooming wildflowers flow down to the water, making it nearly impossible two walk more than a few steps without taking a picture. This weekend a group of 30 or so supporters visited this very special place to soak in the views and learn more about what the Nature Conservancy is doing to keep it beautiful.

Behind the beauty, there is a lot of science and hard work. To the east, in the Skagit Valley, we work to improve water quality, assuring what runs into the sound supports a healthy environment around Yellow Island and beyond. On the Washington coast, to the southwest, we restore forests, clean up streams and rivers and improve sustainable fishing practices – all to assure marine health in the region. Partnerships with farmers, fisherman, loggers and communities make this work happen. In many cases, it’s not about saving nature from people; it’s about imagining the best ways for nature and people to work together. It’s not always glamorous, though there is great beauty in the fields and farms that grow our food, the forests that shelter and clean our water and the rivers that sustain our salmon.

Yellow Island may be a crown jewel in the work we do in Washington. It’s certainly a spectacular example of the beauty of nature and an inspiration to keep up our hard work around the state. Your support makes Yellow Island – and our work in the east cascade forests, coastal rivers and around Puget Sound possible. Thank you for contributing to the multifaceted work – some glamorous, some not – that makes our state so beautiful.



By Carrie Krueger, Director of Marketing

Food and nature go hand in hand. Without nature, our plates are empty. This Earth Day, we’ve been celebrating how nature feeds us and examining what we need to do to protect nature so that we can keep enjoying its bounty.

In my family Easter is a day of celebration, friends and great foods. This year we decided to connect our spring feast to our love of nature by taking our Easter brunch up a local mountain. We joined forces with friends to create the ultimate movable feast. The result: Brunch with a view, and a new appreciation for how nature feeds us.

Let’s just admit our packs were pretty heavy. We weren’t content with the usual hiking fare- sandwiches, apples, granola bars. For our celebration we wanted a full, hot meal which meant carrying a camp stove, frying pan, a hefty fruit salad, a bin of fresh cooked blueberry muffins and most important all the fixings for breakfast burritos. Pre-cracking the eggs probably saved us a lot of grief! And pre-cooking sausage and veggies was also wise. But all these goodies, including condiments for the burritos, and the fixings for Easter mimosas had us pretty weighed down on the trip up.

Luckily we picked a peak that can reasonably be reached in 90 minutes. The very popular Poo Poo Point trail in Issaquah is a suburban delight – relentlessly up, overused on weekends, but also spectacularly beautiful with a view at the top that rewards every sweaty step. The location of this trail, in the heart of Seattle’s rapidly developing eastside, represents a classic intersection of human needs like housing and agriculture, with nearly pristine nature. On the trek up a fellow hiker pointed out an owl nesting in a large pine, and near the top, a turkey vulture circled.

The trail is also favored by paragliders who step off of the steep cliffs near the top, and into the sky, attached to enormous kites which keep them aloft. We paused to watch these bold adventurers launch into the blue. But alas, our brunch beaconed and we continued on.

The summit of Poo Poo point feels remote. But there are some communications towers, and oddly, a picnic bench, where we set up our elegant dining table. Eggs were scrambled, tortillas were warmed, a champagne bottle was popped and hot chocolate was topped with marshmallows. This was first class, all the way.

Other weary hikers wandered by, noticing our feast. We invited all to join, ready to share our bounty. The view from our perch was nothing short of spectacular: Forests, lakes, and mountains in the distance, but also farms, houses, roads and many reminders that we coexist with nature.

As burritos were inhaled and the dog begged for leftovers, we raised our mugs and glasses in a toast to the beautiful day, our remarkable feast and the fact that nature feeds us – on Easter, on Earth Day and all year.