Hundreds of trustees and staff from The Nature Conservancy’s offices around the world took a different kind of hike recently: we visited Washington, DC to meet with Congress about our policy priorities for TNC’s annual Advocacy Day.
The US Senate has approved a bipartisan bill to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Thanks to the leadership of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and colleagues across the country, the bill to ensure the conservation of our shared public lands and waters for generations of Americans to come now heads to the House.
Our priorities for the 2019 Legislature touch upon all our work, and all our lives, whether we live in the Palouse, along the coast, or in between. They include tackling climate change, protecting the natural and cultural wealth that makes Washington special, and improving equity in environmental policymaking so that all of us can benefit from cleaner, healthier air and water.
Photography by John Marshall
Once again our state has set a grim record. For the second summer in a row, we are experiencing the largest wildfire in our state’s history. Nearly 1 million acres have burned, hundreds of homes have been lost, and, most devastating, three firefighters lost their lives fighting the blazes that blanket North Central Washington.
The Conservancy has been advocating for and working on strategies to improve our resilience to these megafires.
Here’s a roundup of recent news coverage:
Seattle Times, Nov. 9: Legislature needs to provide the funding to pre-empt wildfires
Seattle Times editorial on the need for Legislative funding for fire solutions
Seattle Times, Nov. 9: Congress needs to address wildfires like any other disaster
Seattle Times editorial in support of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which is a Nature Conservancy priority for Congress. It would bring funding stability to the Forest Service, which has to spend money designated for improvements on fighting fires.
KING-TV, Oct. 15: Forest restored to pre-wildfire condition
KING TV’s new environmental reporter, Alison Morrow, did a feature story on the collaborative restoration project at Oak Creek Wildlife Area, designed to make the forest more resilient in the face of wildfire.
Seattle Times, Oct. 11: Fighting Fire With Fire
Front-page storyon the importance of controlled burning in fighting wildfire, and the barriers to getting more done in Washington:
“We have a set of regulations that are fairly outdated,” said Reese Lolley, director of the Nature Conservancy’s Eastern Washington Forest Program. “More and more, I think we are looking at how do we better live with fire, and how do we use it as a tool.”
Our forest scientists played a critical role in helping the reporters develop the story.
The Olympian, Sept. 27: Dramatic climate shifts require attention to forests, water
Guest opinion column by Washington State Director Mike Stevens and Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark.
Wenatchee World, Aug. 30: Preparing for the next megafire
“The federal and state agencies, local government, and stakeholders through groups like the Nature Conservancy and the North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative, know what to do and are ready to go.”
Tri-City Herald, Aug. 28: Wildfires should have natural disaster status
“Federal Agencies have run short of wildfire suppression money eight times since 2002, according to The Nature Conservancy in Washington State.”
Seattle Times, Aug. 26: Why we have such large wildfires this summer
“Analysis by the Nature Conservancy and U.S. Forest Service found that about 30 percent (2.7 million acres) of Eastern Washington federal, state, tribal and private forestland needs some kind of thinning or treatment to reduce the risk of wildfire. That could include cutting smaller trees or using planned fires to thin the forest.”
Wenatchee World, Aug. 19: We burn, but we have initiative
“‘We need to be proactive in reducing these hazardous fuels,’ said Lloyd McGee of the Nature Conservancy. That requires controlled burns and mechanical treatment.”
Yakima Herald, Aug. 19: New tools needed to improve wildfire prevention
“Collaborative efforts between the state, the Forest Service and the Yakama Nation at thinning fuel and restoring forest health have reduced fire risks, said Mary Sutton Carruthers, coordinator of the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative.”
Wenatchee World, Aug. 18: Leaders search for solutions for wildfire management
“‘We’re fighting a war. To win a war sometime we have to learn how to live with the enemy,’ said Lloyd McGee, Eastern Washington Forests Program manager for The Nature Conservancy.”
Yakima Herald, Aug. 6: Advocating for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act
“‘We’re going to fight these fires and pay for them one way or another, but this sets up a more rational way of funding that doesn’t impact other programs,’ said Cathy Baker, governmental relations director for The Nature Conservancy in Washington. ‘We’re really pleased with the strong bipartisan support for solving this. They just haven’t gotten there yet.’”
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 James Schroeder, Director of Forest Conservation and Partnerships;
Photographed by Tomas Corsini, Northwest Photographer
Did you know The Nature Conservancy has a Steering Committee of dedicated volunteers focused on the success of our work in the East Cascades Forests? For more than five years now, this group of volunteers has met to learn, discuss, and strategize on how to protect, connect and restore the forests in their backyard. With members from Leavenworth, Cle Elum, Wenatchee, Ellensburg, Yakima, Selah, Seattle, Sammamish, and the Tri-Cities, this group has a broad reach and diverse ideas and experience. One thing that binds them is their love for The Nature Conservancy and their belief in our mission.
From meeting with County Commissioners to lobbying members of Congress, from introducing TNC to their local news media to speaking about our work at their local rotaries, this group has decided to put their energy toward making a difference for TNC in the East Cascades.
At our August meeting, hosted by Larry and Becky Scholl at their beautiful home in Ronald, we discussed the Conservancy¹s management plan for our 48,000 acres forest acquisition. We spoke about the status of wildfires across the state, and what TNC is doing to promote “Fire Adapted Communities,” and we updated them on what they can do to speak up on state and federal policies that could affect our work and their lives. And along with the conversation, we enjoyed wine, dinner and delicious berry pie for dessert!
If you are interested in learning more about the East Cascades Steering Committee, or might be interested in attending a dinner meeting, please let us know!
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.
People of color and low-income communities are bearing the brunt of carbon-centric fuel production and changing global climate: why the energy transition is a civil rights concern.
Written by Cailin Mackenzie, GLOBE Intern
Photography by Ingrid Taylar / Flickr Creative Commons
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses a formula to determine allocation of their levee-reinforcement budget. This formula heavily weights potential economic impact of levee failure. In 2011, the Corps reported that their Levee Safety Program contributed to more than $120 billion in prevented damage. Sounds good, right?
In fact, this formula increases the already inequitable impact of climate change on low-income and minority communities, says Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. The failure of levees protecting areas of lower economic infrastructure caused in part the disproportionate impact of Hurricane Katrina on people of color.
Climate justice is a critical consideration to ensure that policy and mitigation strategically target climate change’s disparate consequences.
Patterson was the keynote speaker at Resilience at the Crossroads of Race and Climate Justice, an event hosted by United Indians at the Daybreak Star Center. She gave an insightful overview of the incredibly complex, multifaceted impacts to marginalized communities, from coal ash slides to “fraccidents.” The event was an invaluable lesson in the depth and breadth of climate justice issues and the collaborative partnerships that transcend race and class to address climate change in a socially equitable way.
Environmental justice issues are not limited to climate change and are old news to people of color and low-income communities. After trichloroethylene was discovered in groundwater in Dickson County, Tennessee, white families were warned of the dangerous well water and connected to municipal water, while black families were left to drink contaminated water for years. The black community in Dickson is still suffering widespread cancers and birth defects.
The Nature Conservancy is determined to hear different perspectives, learn from past discrimination, and implement equitable climate policy. Patterson illustrated how climate justice affects all of the national and global areas where the Conservancy works:
Oceans: Indigenous and low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to live in coastal areas that are vulnerable to rising ocean levels. For example, in 2008 the president of the Maldives hosted an underwater cabinet meeting to illustrate the country’s future with projected sea level rise. Climbing global temperatures are also affecting the fish populations that subsistent fishing communities rely on for survival.
Land: Nearly 26% of African Americans experience food insecurity while the national average is 14.6%. As climate change increasingly impacts agricultural yields and crop diversity, access to nutritious meals may become even more limited for many people of color.
Water: is becoming increasingly scarce, and prices for clean water are only projected to likewise increase. Detroit has shut off water to delinquent bill households, putting low-income families and families of color at risk for disease and dehydration. Low-income families are also often more likely to live in floodplains with little financial resilience to relocate or rebuild.
Cities: Inner cities, about ten degrees warmer than non-urban areas, have higher African American populations. Heat-related deaths currently occur at a 150-200% greater rate among African Americans than non-Hispanic whites, and climate change is projected to increase heat-related deaths by at least 90%.
Climate Change: In 2000 the World Health Organization estimated conservatively that climate change was causing 150,000 deaths annually, equivalent to a weekly 9/11 attack. The death toll has only mounted as severe weather events become more frequent, only exacerbating inequality: between 1996 and 2005, disasters caused 20 times greater loss to developing countries compared to developed ones.
In Washington, The Nature Conservancy is committed to ensuring the climate change response we advocate will actively reverse disproportionate impact.
“Reducing our carbon emissions can and must be accomplished in a way that reduces inequity and improves quality of life for low income communities,” says Mo McBroom, Director of Government Relations for the Washington chapter. “Greening our inner cities and securing access for all to clean water and natural places is a core tenet of our climate advocacy.”
The Conservancy is dedicated to actively listening to our communities and incorporating diverse viewpoints to equitably facilitate the transition to renewable energy sources and fossil fuel emission reduction.
Legislature funds innovative Floodplains by Design program
OLYMPIA, WA – Last week state legislators awarded $35.5 million dollars to the Floodplains by Design grant program in the capital budget paving the way for seven multiple benefit projects across the state to move forward.
Floodplains by Design, administered by the Department of Ecology, supports collaborative floodplain management efforts that combine flood risk reduction, habitat protection, agricultural preservation and recreational access. Projects funded by the program emphasize multiple benefits to maximize effectiveness and ensure tax dollars are well spent.
Legislators approved $33 million for Floodplains by Design in the last biennium, funding projects that supported over 750 jobs in nine locations, restored natural salmon habitats, and protected homes worth over $115 million. The newly approved funding is a testament to the success and growth of the program.
“As flood risk and clean water needs continue to grow while public dollars become more limited, it is critical that we coordinate our investments to maximize outcomes per dollar spent,” said The Nature Conservancy’s Washington State Director Mike Stevens. “The multiple benefits approach of Floodplains by Design is a model for how our state can tackle our greatest challenges.”
“We’re gratified that the Legislature has recognized the value of the proactive approach of the Floodplains by Design program. Our collaborative Puyallup basin project will reconnect the Puyallup River floodplains and will dramatically reduce the risk of flooding to communities from Alderton to Tacoma, while enhancing salmon habitat and protecting farmlands,” said Hans Hunger, Capital Projects Manager with Pierce County. “We appreciate the support for this project, and hope by the demonstrated benefits it brings many more communities will be able to follow its example of working with rivers rather than against them.”
Washington’s floodplains contain billions of dollars in property and infrastructure, and are home to Washington’s richest farmland and signature salmon runs. Studies show that for every $1 spent on flood risk reduction saves $4 in flood damages. As Washington’s communities continue to grow, it is essential to keep floodplain management at the same pace. Flooding is becoming more frequent, severe and costly, which poses a serious threat to Washington’s communities and businesses.
The funding for Floodplains by Design approved today will allow communities across the state to properly manage their floodplains and the benefits they provide
What is Floodplains by Design?
Floodplains by Design is an ambitious public-private partnership working to reduce flood risks and restore habitat, while also supporting other floodplain priorities such as clean water, agriculture and recreation, along Washington’s major river corridors. Because Floodplains by Design projects are built collaboratively from the ground up and serve diverse interests, they enjoy broad support and deliver multiple benefits. For more information visit www.floodplainsbydesign.org
The Nature Conservancy