We're honored to be a 'Conservation Partner of the Year'

Written by Heather Cole
Puget Sound community relations manager for The Nature Conservancy Washington Chapter

A blissful night of smiles, awards, good food and inspiring words was the theme last Thursday for the Snohomish Conservation District 75th Anniversary Better Ground Showcase. Inside the Mukilteo Rosehill community center, which overlooks Puget Sound, were the Snohomish Conservation District’s (SCD) closest 250 friends, partners and leaders — all have contributed to improving the Puget Sound region through sustainable actions that conserve land, water, forests and wildlife.

Over the past 75 years, the SCD has worked with thousands of stakeholders — from apartment dwellers to commercial farmers to everyone in between.  The turnout for the event was evidence of the SCD’s quality of work, the community trust it has built and its future vision to innovate and push the status quo.

Jessie Israel, our Puget Sound conservation director, was honored to accept TNC’s “Conservation Partner of the Year” award. Monte Marti, event host and the SCD's district manager, explained the reasoning for this non-traditional honor and partnership: “The Nature Conservancy has taken a very unique and creative approach to advance numerous place-based conservation projects and initiatives in Puget Sound. They have recognized the value and need for local place-based activities and the critical role of local partners and champions. They have demonstrated that it is more valuable to support and guide than to impose their will on a local effort. This type of approach takes a unique style of leadership and a tremendous amount a courage, patience and listening.”  

Other notable awards that were presented at the event were: Boeing as “Conservation Business of the Year," Ron Shultz, of the Washington State Conservation Commission, as another “Conservation Partner of the Year," TNC board member Greg Moga and organic farmer and local leader Tristan Klesick as “Conservation Leaders of the Year."

This night was not only about the awards; it also gave us a glimpse of the local young leaders who are doing outstanding work in the field of conservation. Lorenzo Rohani, a 17-year-old high-school student, captured our hearts with his keynote address on birds. (I also later learned that he published his first book on backyard birds at age 13!)

The things all 250 people had in common on this night were the passion and fortitude to carry this important work forward for another 75 years.

Thank you to the Snohomish Conservation District for creating an inspiring and wonderful night!

Fall Reflections

Written By Phil Levin, Conservancy Lead Scientist

The softening gray sky; cornflower yellow leaves piled up and smelling of their earthly past; once brilliant sockeye salmon carcasses collecting in swirling waters.  Fall is in the air.  I can feel it.

After a too-short Northwest summer, the twilight of autumn envelopes me and draws me inside. 

For many, the onset of autumn’s north winds signals an end.  A time to preserve the bounty of the summer; a time to prepare for winter’s rest; a season to dream of spring’s awakening.  For me, though, it’s a beginning.  

As fall sets in, I walk through my garden, assessing which plants thrived and which ones disappointed.  Did I choose the wrong varieties?  Was the soil deficient in some nutrient?  Did the slugs take more than their fair share?  Answering these questions is the start of next year’s growth and productivity. 

Autumn is also the time I take stock of myself.  I look back at the last year--what I have done well and where have I missed the mark.  Am I the person I really wish to be? How can I grow to better father, partner, friend -- person?  The equinox is the annual moment I begin again.

Self-reflection is also critically important for the science underlying conservation.  Conservation science has been called a crisis discipline. As we confront climate change, acidifying oceans, rapidly altering ecosystems, extinctions, and the loss of biodiversity, we lack the luxury of time. Species are going extinct before they have the chance to be recognized by science, while fewer and fewer places around the globe support functioning ecosystems.  In the words of the 16th century poet and Rabbi, Eleazar Azikri, “the time [to act] is now; rush; be quick; be bold.”

The urgency of the moment requires unflinching action, but as we consider what strategies will best address the challenges confronting the earth’s biosphere, we face incredible scientific uncertainty.

Taking actions under uncertainty requires an adaptive approach to management. This means that we must take action without precisely knowing the outcomes. Instead, we must define the potential risks and benefits of alternative solutions and identify vulnerabilities to key uncertainties.  We can then identify the actions that we think are most robust to uncertainty.  

The “adaptive” in adaptive management means that we carefully monitor and assess ecosystems so that our knowledge of the world’s ecosystems is improved and we learn how they respond to our actions.  In this sense, repairing our world and growing our knowledge is not so different than my own autumnal introspection—we must take the time to reflect on our actions, determine if we missed the mark, and when necessary adapt our strategies to enhance our opportunities for success.

But when we do not stop and ponder our actions and assess how we are doing, success will be difficult.  Surprisingly, conservationists often do not monitor their actions.  For example, Steve Katz, a scientist at Washington State University, and his colleagues examined 23,123 examples of river restoration projects throughout the Pacific Northwest.  Only 1569 of these projects-6.7 %- monitored the outcomes of their actions.  In 93% of cases, conservationists lacked the ability to take stock, assess how riverine environments were doing, and if necessary, adjust and improve their actions. 

For two decades, The Nature Conservancy’s work has been grounded in the tenets of adaptive management by a framework we call Conservation by Design.  Conservation by Design provides a consistent, science-based approach with cutting-edge analytical methods. It has guided us in identifying what to conserve and how to conserve it.  And, importantly we monitor and evaluate our work, and when necessary adapt our approaches to achieve better outcomes for both nature and people. 

While there is no question that we must move boldly forward to tackle today’s challenges, autumn’s golden light reminds us of the importance of reflection.  The Hasidic Rabbi Sholem Noach Berezovsky teaches that a person is like an aging house— to truly improve, one needs to be prepared to entirely destroy the structure of the old house in order to build a deep and strong foundation for an entirely new building.  This lesson in no less important for conservation.  While we may not need to demolish our house, we conservation scientists and practitioners must pause, reflect on our actions, and, if necessary, be willing to at least do a little remodeling.  In doing so, we have the best chance to conserve and protect nature today and into the future. 

G-I-Yes! Musings Among two Geographers on GIS Day

by Erica Simek Sloniker, GIS and Visual Communications and Jamie Robertson, Spatial Analyst

What low laying areas in this valley will flood during the next big storm? How many acres of Cascade forests need to be restored in order to prevent big, catastrophic wildfires? Where are the best elk migration corridors in our state?

These questions, and many more, can be answered using geographic informative systems (GIS). GIS is a computer system capable of holding and using data describing places on earth’s surface. It is a powerful tool that allows us to look at the relationships of features on the landscape. With that knowledge, we can make informed decisions about the places and things we care about. Cool! Companies like Google and Microsoft have harnessed the power of GIS in tools like Google Earth, Google Maps, and Bing Maps. Federal and state agencies use GIS to catalog and analyze information from natural resources to census track data. And non-profits, like The Nature Conservancy, use GIS to help solve the toughest environmental questions of the day.

In celebration of GIS Day, November 16th, a day that celebrates the real-world applications of GIS that are making a difference in our society, two GIS professionals from our office sat down for a question and answer session to talk maps and data and to share geography stories. They invite us all to become map lovers!

Q: What is a favorite GIS project you’ve worked on recently?

A (Jamie): An advantage to being a geographer at The Nature Conservancy is that we get to work on so many really cool projects!  I’m really excited about stormwater modeling, mapping fire severity throughout the Pacific Northwest, producing numbers to help finance a timber mill project, and modelling coastal vulnerability. And, there are many things I’m leaving out. It’s like winning an Oscar and having to thank everyone I work with on these projects!

Q: Who is your inspiration?

A (Erica): I am a big fan of many past and current cartographers who focus their craft on shaded relief. Shaded relief is a method for representing the peaks and valleys on maps in a natural, aesthetic, and intuitive manner. I also admire people who create infographics with their maps and people who map new and interesting topics.

Q: First mapping memory?

A (Jamie): In grad school, I was contracted by a land owner to map a forest being used for recreation and sustainable forestry in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina.  I actually got paid to hike the trails and collect coordinates of all the infrastructure and points of interest!  The deliverable was a poster size map, which (looking back) ended up being one of the ugliest maps I’ve ever seen.  

Q: What books would you recommend for the map enthusiast?

A (Erica): Maphead by Ken Jennings (non-fiction)

A (Jamie): The Mapmakers by John Noble Wilford (non-fiction/history).

Q: How many states/countries have you stepped foot in?

A (Erica): I’ve been to 23 states and 6 countries (Canada, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Peru, and U.S.)

A (Jamie): All states except LA, MS, Al, AK, and HI.  I’ve stepped foot in Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Spain, Sweden, Scotland/UK, Canada, South Africa, and China/Tibet, and the U.S., so 12 countries.

Q: What is one place you’ve mapped that you really want to go to!?

A (Jamie): Out of grad school I got a job as a GIS analyst with the National Zoo’s Conservation Research Center in Virginia. They do a lot of work in southeast Asia, and one of my big projects was mapping deforestation in Asian elephant habitat and ranges.  I was particularly fascinated by the Upper Brahmaputra River Valley but never had an opportunity to go.  The way the river braids and changes from year to year in the Assam area is incredible to witness via satellite imagery, but the upland forests neighboring Bhutan and Myanmar and the highlands leading towards China are what really appeal tome.  Maybe someday!

Q: What are you looking forward to as a GIS professional?

A (Jamie): One fundamental thing that a GIS professional can always look forward to is discovery. Although much of the world has been mapped and the entire world is being touched in some way by humans, our senses of place and our understanding of relationships among people and nature provide an infinite world of exploration.  Sounds cheesy, but I genuinely feel this way about my work.

Q: What is the power of maps?

A (Erica): Maps and spatial analysis are amazing tools at understanding our world. Not only do they communicate, explain, and reveal information, but most of us remember more through visual learning! The Nature Conservancy uses maps and spatial analysis in just about every conservation project we work on. They are powerful in answering the most pressing environmental questions of the day, which lead to positive conservation impact for both people and nature.

Explore our Maps and Infographics 

Restoring America’s Forests Annual Meeting


Written and photographed by Ryan Haugo, Washington Senior Forest Ecologist

At the end of September several of us had the pleasure of representing the Washington chapter at the Conservancy’s annual North America “Restoring America’s Forests” conference in northern Arizona.  Restoring America’s Forests is a formal network of over 13 demonstration landscapes across North America where the Conservancy is pursuing conservation through collaborative, ecological restoration on our national forests.  Within Washington, the Restoring America’s Forests network incorporates both the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative and the North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative.   

Northern Arizona is home to one North America’s largest, most ambitious ecological restoration efforts – the Four Forests Initiative (better known as 4FRI).  Here the Conservancy has been instrumental in driving a science based approach to the restoration of millions of acres of dry, fire-adapted forests that are suffering from over a century of wildfire suppression. 

The similarities (and differences) between the forests of Northern Arizona and eastern Washington are striking.  Just as in eastern Washington, the dry forests of northern Arizona have experienced record breaking wildfires in recent years.  The dry forests of northern Arizona are adapted to (and depend upon) frequent, low severity fire.  Many of the recent “mega-fires” however, are well outside the range of conditions to which the forests are adapted.  These fires threaten not only local communities but also the abundant fish and wildlife habitat, clean air and water, and recreational opportunities that draw people from across the globe to northern Arizona.  Similar to eastern Washington, restoring the health and resilience of these forests depends upon using a combination of tools including mechanical thinning (logging), controlled burning, and managed wildfire to thin out the incredible density of small trees that have grown up in the absence of natural wildfire.  

Finally, the economic viability of restoring dry forests in both northern Arizona and eastern Washington depends upon a forest products industry that has largely vanished from the local landscapes in recent decades. The differences are important to understand.  The dry forests of northern Arizona are simpler, primarily with one tree species (ponderosa pine), and are typically much flatter. Both of these factors ease the implementation of ecological restoration treatments in comparison to eastern Washington. 

A highlight of our 4FRI field tour including seeing first-hand the ingenious in-cab tablet technology that TNC has helped to develop.  The tablets are designed to increase the efficiency of implementing ecological prescriptions during forest thinning projects. We also had the opportunity to visit the newly developed NewPac Fibre sawmill in Williams, AZ.  This sawmill processes the trees harvested during restoration thinning and provides sustainable employment opportunities for local communities.   

Most importantly however, was the opportunity to share successes, failures, and lessons learned amongst all of the Restoring America’s Forests landscapes.  During these meetings we dive in deep to the policy, science, and partnership issues facing our work to restoring our National Forests. The Restoring America’s Forests network provides the opportunity to make and maintain personal connections between a forest ecologist in Washington State, a forest policy expert in Washington DC, a fire manager in Arkansas, and a forest manager in Arizona.  These are powerful relationships and help to make the Conservancy such an effective conservation organization.  

Learn more about our forestry work

Honoring Our Floodplain Champions

Natural resource leaders honored at first Floodplains by Design celebration

Written by Bob Carey, Strategic Partnership Director

Agencies and tribes recognized for their leadership in improving river management to improve flood protection, restore salmon habitats, improve water quality, and enhance outdoor recreation. More than 150 people came together to celebrate the Floodplains by Design Partnership and honor seven floodplain champions and project partnerships at a dinner Monday, September 12, in Seattle.

The Floodplains by Design Partnership, led by the Washington Department of Ecology, The Nature Conservancy, and the Puget Sound Partnership, identify and support large-scale projects that are built from the ground up by local governments, tribes and community stakeholders. Collectively the partnership is pursuing a vision of collaborative, integrated management delivering results to help Washington’s communities and ecosystems thrive.

In four short years, with the support of $80M in new state funding, the Floodplains by Design partnership has reduced flood risks to hundreds of families in 25 communities while restoring habitat along 10 miles of salmon-producing rivers, protecting 500 acres of farmland and creating new river access and trails.

“Floodplains by Design is not just a grant program, it’s a movement!” Bob Carey from The Nature Conservancy told the celebrants. “It’s a movement to put our shoulders together to make our communities safer from flooding, to make our salmon runs stronger, and to ensure future generations have local food, clean water, and recreational opportunities.”

Three locally-driven river management partnerships were recognized as 2016 Floodplain Luminaries, for their steadfast pursuit of an integrated, resilient river management program and delivering results in support of a prosperous community and healthy environment:

·       The Yakima River Floodplain Project

·       The Dungeness River Floodplain Partnership

·       Puyallup Floodplains for the Future Partnership

Four organizations were honored as 2016 Floodplain Champions for their steadfast support of integrated, resilient river management programs that deliver results for a prosperous community and healthy environment, include:

·       Washington State Department of Ecology

·       US Environmental Protection Agency

·       Tulalip Tribes

·       Puget Sound Conservation Districts

Award presenters included Washington Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, King County Executive Dow Constantine, NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator Will Stelle, Puget Sound Partnership Executive Director Sheida Sahandy, and Washington Department of Ecology Program Manager Gordon White.

Presenting sponsors for the Floodplains by Design conference were Anchor QEA, ESA, HDR Inc. and Northwest Hydraulic Consultants. Dinner sponsors were Watershed Science & Engineering, Northwest Regional Floodplain Management Association and WEST Consultants. Funding for the Conservancy’s engagement in Floodplains by Design has been provided in part by the Boeing Company and The Russell Family Foundation.

Learn more about Floodplains by Design






A Cultural Exchange for Global Conservation

Photo credit: Bethany Goodrich, Sustainable Southeast Partnership
Photo credit: Michael Reid, TNC Canada

Every four years, the World Conservation Congress invites several thousand leaders and practitioners from government, academia, business, and indigenous and local communities to share their conservation goal, accomplishments, and challenges. This year, TNC Canada sponsored a group of Indigenous leaders from the Emerald Edge (British Columbia, Alaska, and Washington) to participate in this event and vocalize key issues felt on the ground in the Pacific Northwest. 

The pre-congress gathering, which was held in O'ahu, Hawaii, brought together cultures from over 30 different countries to discuss global conservation problems and connect with each other to move towards creating cohesive protection for our planet and people. View the gallery above for photos of the World Conservation Congress gathering.  

The Nature Conservancy's work in the Emerald Edge includes communication and collaboration with First Nations, tribes, and local communities throughout the region to protect and restore these valuable ecosystems for people and nature. 


Learn more about our work in the Emerald Edge


The Many Gifts of Herring in the Emerald Edge

Nature signals spring.  In Texas it is blue bonnets, in New England, robins, and for the Emerald Edge of Alaska, British Columbia and Washington, it is the return of herring. 

Written & Photographed by Phil Levin, Conservancy Lead Scientist

For millennia, Pacific herring have been harbingers of spring.  Historically, they returned in great numbers to spawn on kelp, seagrass and gravel throughout the Pacific Northwest.  Their arrival was quickly followed by horde of sea lions, humpback whales, seabirds, and eagles all gorging on this plentiful prey.  And in their wake, killer whales arrived to eat the sea lions and whales.   With the arrival of herring, the waters of the Emerald Edge erupt with life. 

Herring eggs on hemlock branches 

Herring eggs on hemlock branches 

And for the indigenous people of the Emerald Edge, herring eggs bring the first pulse of fresh food of the season.  For the Haida, Tlingit and many other peoples, herring eggs are perhaps second only to salmon as the most culturally revered food.  The Haida gather herring roe on kelp, while Tlingit set hemlock branches in the water and collect the thick layers of herring eggs that coat the limbs. Those who gather the delicacy will eat it themselves, share with family and friends locally and in distant communities, or trade for other products.  Every feast and celebration will be accompanied by mounds of bright herring eggs that connect people to each other, their past and to the ocean. 

Herring also signal the opening of the fishing season for commercial fishers.  Many fishers who latter will focus on the lucrative salmon fishery, start their year with herring.  In Southeast Alaska, over the last decade these boats scooped up an average of about 13,000 tons, annually. The unspawned roe is coveted in Japan, and in recent decades this has become a lucrative market.  Both the income generated by the herring and the opportunity to break in new crew at the beginning of the season are critically important for many fisherman. 

Herring are thus central for nature, for culture and for the economy of coastal communities. However, historic overfishing, pollution, coastal development and climate variability have resulted in many declining stocks of herring. In some places, the number of fish is so low that fisheries have been closed for years.   In recent times, then, herring has not only announced spring, but has also marked a time of conflict.