eastern washington

Sink your teeth into trivia on Washington’s favorite fruit




If the old adage is true—that an apple a day keeps a doctor away—then the world owes a lot to Washington.

The Evergreen State produces more than half of all apples grown in the United States for fresh eating, according to the Washington Apple Commission. In fact, Washington apples are sold in all 50 states and more than 50 countries, meaning that many a person enjoy the fruits of Washington’s labors.

For Washington residents, our expansive apple orchards are one reason it’s easy to buy and enjoy local fruit.

Each and every Washington apple is picked by hand, and there are more varieties than a person can remember. The industry here is based primarily on seven principal varieties: Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Cripps Pink and Honeycrisp.

But an enterprising eater can sink their teeth into many more varieties, including rare heirlooms. Or search farther afield for your favorite of more than 7,500 varieties grown worldwide.

The sweet, crunchy apple is a large part of the economy and culture in Eastern Washington, home of Nature Conservancy Leadership Council and former board member Jack Toevs. For Jack, growing apples is a family operation, now involving his son. “The family has been involved in farming for centuries,” he said. “It’s our heritage.”

He’s observed many changes over the years. For example, the Red Delicious has been overtaken in popularity by the Gala. And many growers – himself included – have gone organic, meeting the public’s demand for more healthy and sustainable fruit. Our state cultivates 14,000 acres of certified organic orchards, according to the Washington Apple Commission.

It seems Washington has an ideal climate for apple production – particularly organic apples. “It’s a dry climate, with fewer problems for disease and insects. It’s just been a great place to grow apples,” said Jack.

In addition to serving as a Conservancy board member, Jack and his wife volunteer as stewards at the Conservancy’s Beezley Hills Preserve, which sits atop the hills visible from their orchard in the town of Quincy. This Eastern Washington preserve is awash with wildflowers every spring.

In Eastern Washington apple country you’ll find a strong connection between people and nature. That’s one of the reasons why The Nature Conservancy has a presence here, as well as in the Yakima Valley to the south and Skagit farmlands to the west. It’s the kind of win-win connection the Conservancy strives to create in communities everywhere we work: conservation that will bear fruit for generations.

Talkin’ Conservation Communication

Written and Photographed by Nick Altadonna, Eastern WA Stewardship Coord.

It probably comes as no surprise that most land stewards are not the gregarious type.  Few of us dreamt of “fighting the good fight” via WebEx calls, stakeholder meetings, or social media, in spite of the benefits to our cause. Winning friends and influencing people to support the mission, is not usually our natural inclination…restoration planning, protecting preserve resources, ecological monitoring, and soaking in wild places seem to make a lot more sense.

As a firm believer that nature conservation is intrinsically intertwined with the needs of people, and suffering a steward’s disposition, I often feel hamstrung upon the social stage in which so much of The Nature Conservancy’s work takes place. Embracing my inner extrovert to champion our work is tough, but thankfully I have an opportunity through our volunteer program.

The personal power of the volunteer program, is that I can engage and be engaged by the public in a setting and a style that’s my own. Out on our preserves, communicating about conservation is easy, naturally inspired, and not subject to deadlines. Through volunteer stewardship, you not only meet a person’s need to tangibly affect nature conservation, but also to share the story behind that ethic.  Take the time to listen to their story, and it’s often reciprocated in kind.  It is at this intersection that I found Volunteer Steward Paulette Murphy, out in Lind Coulee.  

Paulette grew up in a rural setting outside the Tri-Cities and in a past life was a NOAA climate scientist, one of a collection of amazing threads from her tale I am still unraveling. Now a resident of greater Seattle, her ethic is nourished in the fantastic geology of the Columbia Plateau, working with her hands, and rediscovering the nature of eastern Washington. Given her interests, our conversation “magically snowballed” into TNC’s work on the “sunny side” of the state, and as the dust settled on our fence retirement at Lind, we concocted a plan to get her in on the action. Two weeks later, she accepted my proposal to serve as a Volunteer Steward, co-leading monitoring of our Moxee Bog & Yakima River Canyon preserves.

Now that’s my kind of talk.


Beezley Hills Wildflower Day

Photographed by AJ Dent, Volunteer Photographer

It was a celebration of the magic of Eastern Washington at our Wildflower Day Celebration! Visitors explored the Beezley Hills preserve, then joined in the festivities with other Conservancy members and Legacy Club guests through guided walks and talks about nature.

Peter Lancaster began at the trailhead to talk about the Pygmy Rabbit recovery program happening in the area. Afterwards, Molly Boyter, Botanist for the Bureau of Land Management and Emily Orling, Botanist for Rebalance Consulting shared information about plants and flowers.

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Conservancy Comes Together for Northwest Forests

Written & Photographed by Caitlyn O'Connor, Staff Volunteer

The interior forests of the Northwest and Intermountain West are yielding fewer benefits for nature and people as a result of impaired forest health and reduced productivity, massive wildfires, regulatory hurdles, and challenging economics. 

Leaders from The Nature Conservancy’s Idaho, Washington, and Oregon chapters came together recently to figure out how to accelerate the pace and scale of forest restoration across private and public lands across these three states.

The goal of this meeting was to convene trustees, staff, and industry leaders to learn more about regional challenges to forest restoration, to facilitate cross-state learning, and to strengthen our regional collaboration and shared purpose.

We met in Walla Walla, where it was sunny and 80 degrees the whole weekend. Dr. Ryan Haugo, Senior Forest Ecologist for Washington kicked off the meeting by explaining what is a healthy fire environment, evaluating forest restoration needs, the hard truths, and the path forward.

We convened the next day at the Water and Environment Center for a deep dive into the issues. We started the day on a positive note by looking at our ‘bright spots’, what we were doing well and stories of integrated small diameter mills, with guest speakers Duane Vaagen from Vaagen Bros and Nils Christoffersen, Wallowa Resources.

Then we looked at the private and public forest management and their roles in forest health. We listened to Bill Aney, USFS Region 6 and Tom Lindquist, formerly of Plum Creek.

But our learning was not done yet. At dinner, we were treated to a presentation from Dr. Kevin Pogue, a geology professor at Whitman College, where he is known for his expertise on terroir for winegrape production.

This presentation wrapped up the official program for our Walla Walla conference.

For those who had extra time, Dr. Pogue helped us explore multiple vineyards, the different types of terroir and explained how much location matters when growing grapes and what conditions make the best type of grapes for the type of wine. Fascinating information where we learned about the Rocks District in the Walla Walla Valley. Yes, growing wine on rocks.

We are constantly learning more about how much nature is intertwined and interconnected with everything we love!

Hunters Become Stewards at Beezley Hills

Written & Photographed by Anna Snook, Northwest Photographer

Everyone who loves the outdoors interacts with it in different ways. Some of us go out to shoot with cameras; some of us, to shoot with rifles. Some shoot wildflowers and landscapes, some shoot animals, and some shoot glass bottles. All these activities intersect on the Beezley Hills preserve in Eastern Washington. By day, Beezley Hills is an expansive steppe; the sprawling sagebrush reaching to the sky in all directions, dry ground under foot. In the spring, it’s home to dozens of wildflower species – balsamroots bowing their golden heads in the breeze, sprinkled with the purple of phlox and shooting star, followed by lupine and camas. In the fall, home to a hunting tradition that precedes the preserve’s TNC days.

Several times a year, local hunters are provided the opportunity to learn more about the preserve, and the chance to take care of it – in exchange, they get hunting rights on the land. When we’ve seen what kind of conflict can arise from “othering” in states like Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, a project like The Nature Conservancy’s Hunter Steward program is heartening. It shows us that there are environmentalists, and there are hunters, and there are both. Conservation is as simple as that: people who love the land take care of it, no matter how they use it.

So, on a warm sunny Saturday in April, you might find a few of these dedicated stewards, bags in hand, picking up everything from broken glass bottles and beer cans, to burn piles and even car frames. Hopping out of their pickup in between clean-up sites every time they see a bit of roadside litter. Finding hidden treasures among the trash – a marble, a usable car part, a coin. Every once in a while, standing up to take in the never-ending sky, or the mountains, or the perfume of sagebrush. It’s all in a day’s work on the Beezley Hills preserve. 

Anna Snook is a Northwest photographer, see more of her work

Learn more about our work at Moses Coulee and Beezley Hills

Learn how you can volunteer too!


Wildfire’s Cycle of Renewal on the Eastern Washington Landscape

Written by Peter Goldmark, Commissioner of Public Lands, Washington State Department of Natural Resources
Photographs by Washington State Department of Natural Resources

In mid-June, I stood with TNC’s Washington State Director Mike Stevens and a group of biologists and foresters at the top of Three Devils Road, in the heart of the devastation wreaked by Washington’s 2014 Carlton Complex fire. As we looked across the valley in Okanogan County, we saw hills spiked with blackened trees, almost as far as the eye could see.  

Under the glare of the June sun, I felt a renewed sense of grief for the loss of homes, habitat and forestlands taken by that firestorm, which had destructive power and speed unmatched in Washington’s wildfire history.

As Washington’s elected Commissioner of Public Lands, I have responsibility for the Department of Natural Resources, which manages 5.6 million acres of state-owned aquatic, forest, agricultural and rangelands. As part of that responsibility, I oversee the state’s major wildfire fighting force, which protects 13 million acres of state and private lands. I am also charged with protecting forest health.  

The long-term health and resilience of this magnificent landscape was the purpose of our mid-June trip. Along with Mike and his TNC team, we had with us DNR foresters who have decades of experience in fighting fire and planting trees over these hills. In addition, we had renowned University of Washington professor Jerry Franklin, whose definitive work on forest ecology is essential reading for those of us who care deeply about this topic. University of Washington professor Jon Bakker, an ecologist with expertise in ecological restoration, brought an additional dimension of knowledge to our group.

What can we do to build resilience and help healthy forests flourish in this region? As we walked the hills and pondered, we noted how dry-pine forests in eastern Washington have extended their range over the last 100 years. There was discussion among us about the effect of that extension on forest health, and whether it might be the result of historic fire suppression.  

As we looked closer at the burned landscape, we saw grass and wildflowers on some of the hills. Proud, old “yellowbelly” Ponderosa pines, native to our region, were standing scorched but alive in their groves. In other areas, small timber salvage operations were underway to assist local economic recovery and help DNR meet its obligations to the state trust.

While the people and the landscape will long bear the marks of the Carlton Complex, the cycle of renewal of this fire-prone landscape has begun again.  This time around, we should strive to build resilience into these native forests that will help them better endure the inevitable vicissitudes of wildfire.

Soaring Above These Historic Lands

The Beauty of Moses Coulee

Video by Ryan Haugo, Senior Forest Ecologist

Last year, we partnered with the Yakima Valley Community College to build new aerial tools for forest conservation.

Recently, we brought this tool to the Nature Conservancy Field Station in Eastern Washington. It gave us a chance to film the first attempt for the Conservancy at flying the “quadcopter for conservation” through the beautiful perspective of our 33,000 acre Moses Coulee Preserve – an amazing preserve that doesn’t have a lot attention today. 

It’s a staggeringly beautiful place created by the great lava flows and flooding of the early Miocene epoch. Today, it’s mostly farmland, providing a stunning contrast of bright green fields, breezy plateaus and a deep river gorge that has developed over the past 20 million years. As a result of the erosion, beautifully textured igneous rock canyon walls and precious sagebrush habitat that local wildlife rely on are abundant and easily accessible by foot and the many trails throughout the preserve.

This bird’s eye view helped to see both the beauty and the landscape scale of our conservation in and around the historic preserve!

Sagebrush Giants at Moses Coulee


Story and Photograph by Andrew Lindgren, Biologist for the United States Geological Survey

Is it a bush or a tree? Last spring when the SageSTEP field crew and I were staying at the Moses Coulee Field Station, one of our crew members found a giant sagebrush north of the station along one of the spurs of the trail that spurs off the entrance road to the station.  When we went back and measured it, we measured it to be about 15’ tall and 15’ in diameter, the trunk at ground level was 4’ in circumference!  I was blown away when I saw it!  

It’s by far the largest one I’ve ever seen in my 10 years working! My co-workers have said they’ve never seen one that big.  If you haven’t seen it, next time you’re at the field station its well worth the walk.

Totaling more than 30,000 acres, The Nature Conservancy’s Moses Coulee/Beezley Hills Preserve is an especially rich and diverse example of Washington’s shrub-steppe. With its Ice Age floodcarved, steep-walled coulees, its pothole lakes, dunes, haystack boulders, waterfalls and scablands—this area is home to a rich and fragile mosaic of rare living things.

Washington Trustee John Rose receives Oak Leaf Award


Champion for Eastern Washington Forests and Conservation across the state

John Rose is passionate about Washington’s great outdoors. It’s a passion that he has carried his whole life, has fostered in his family, and celebrates with his friends. The Evergreen State’s signature landscapes have been the backdrop for some of the most exciting and momentous times in John’s life – from childhood trips in the San Juan Islands, to exploring forests of the Cascades, to courting his wife, Patty in the fragrant sage desert of central Washington. John cares about maintaining our state’s beauty and health for all who live here. But there is one thing that John cares about even more than the great places of Washington and the Northwest- conserving those places for future generations.

John’s commitment to conservation here and around the world was honored this week at a global gathering of trustees where John was recognized with the Oak Leaf Award for his tireless leadership and hard work.

A member of The Nature Conservancy since 1975, John has served on the Board of Trustees of the Washington Chapter since 2000. During that time, has been Board Chair as well as chaired the Board’s Philanthropy, Nominating & Governance, Executive, Campaign and Conservations Committees.

John is a leader amongst our trustees and an anchor of the Board. He has a deep understanding of the Conservancy’s work and is relied upon by his fellow trustees to bring a balanced, insightful and probing perspective to our work. He deeply supports the staff. He works indefatigably on our behalf. He has an infectious passion for our work and the people with whom we work. And he has backed up his passion and his work with major philanthropic commitments.

A thought leader for the Conservancy, John has led the Board in moving from a preserve and Washington focus to an embrace of our global mission and the role of the Chapter in advancing our Global Challenges/Global Solutions approach. He has traveled to Central America and across the Pacific Northwest and Canada to learn about our work. He has galvanized Board support and engagement in our next-generation projects such as marine fisheries conservation and the Emerald Edge as well as large-scale forest conservation and restoration in the Cascades.

John’s tangible, lasting contributions to our mission, to the region and to the Chapter are extraordinary. John has demonstrated a remarkable ability to inspire giving in others. John is the kind of trustee that enables us to change the world.

It is a sign of John and his wife Patty’s exemplary leadership and their deep commitment that receiving the Oak Leaf Award is not only a highlight for them, but also a moving and joyous moment for all of us at the Washington Chapter.


Restoring Forest Health to Prevent Catastrophic Fires

Disastrous fires ravaged Washington in July. Multiple fires closed major roads, led to the evacuation of thousands, scorched more than 400 square miles and destroyed about 300 homes. The lives of both residents and firefighters remain in jeopardy and the road to recovery will be long and costly.

The conversation has already begun on how we as a society can prepare resilient communities and mitigate and reduce future catastrophic fires.

The Nature Conservancy’s Washington state director, Mike Stevens, explores the question of how to prepare and adapt in a guest opinion column that appeared in the Seattle Times on Sunday, July 27.

Read Mike Stevens’s column here.

Climate change and damaged forests are increasing the risk of huge and catastrophic wildfires in Washington.

James Schroeder, director of our eastern Washington conservation program, explains the role of fires in our forests, and the role of The Nature Conservancy in mitigating the risk of catastrophic fires.

Question: Are forest fires natural?

James: Fires have always been a normal part of healthy, thriving forests, especially in eastern Washington where our forests are drier and lightning strikes are common. So-called “good” fires have historically, and can still, help thin out small trees, clean out underbrush and ultimately leave behind stronger, more resilient trees and forests.

But in a damaged, unhealthy forest, a fire sparked by lightening can quickly spread like wildfire –literally, climbing up and jumping from tree to tree, across natural boundaries like rivers and threatening homes, communities and people.

Q: Are damaged forests and the fire that can spread through them a problem in our state?

James: We have almost 3 million acres of forest that are unhealthy, and much of that is at risk for catastrophic fire. One of the biggest causes is past logging practices followed by dense replanting of trees (often of a single species). Replanting is good, but without good fire those trees grow packed together to similar size, competing for water and other resources, become stressed and prone to burn with bad results.  Another driver of unhealthy forests is climate change, which has allowed some insects to thrive where they once died off earlier each winter.  Already stressed trees and more insects attacking them, mean more dead trees and fuel for fires. 

Q. So what can be done?

James: We use a number of techniques to restore forests to health. One is thinning, where lots of these crowded, smaller, less fire resilient trees are removed. This lessens the amount of dry fuel waiting to burn, allows larger trees to survive fires, and promotes greater biodiversity which is important to forest health.  Another interesting technique is what is called a prescribed or controlled burn. Basically this is a fire that is carefully and intentionally set by fire professionals in order to clear out that fuel in a contained way.

Q. Why is concern over forest fires growing?

James: Climate change is already making our fire season longer and hotter. With higher temperatures and snowpack declining and melting earlier in the year, scientists predict the situation will get much worse.  Also with our state’s growing population, people now live much closer to fire prone areas. So the threat to humans, homes and infrastructure such as power lines is much higher.

In addition, fighting fires is very expensive and of course it puts lives at risk.

Q. What can be done to assure the health and safety of communities and protect our forests?

James: At The Nature Conservancy, we are working to keep key forest land parcels that may get developed in public ownership so that we can restore forests to health. We also work to assure adequate public funding of forest restoration programs which protect all of us from the danger and expense of wild fires.

Another valuable tool we are investing in is Forest Collaboratives. These groups pull together a wide variety of folks who have an interest in the forest – land owners, business, industry, tribes.  Everyone comes together to work on solutions for the good of the forest and everyone who depends on the forest for their livelihood and well-being.

Q. For people who live in or near dry forests, what can they do to protect their homes and keep safe?

James: The Nature Conservancy in Washington is part of a program building what is called Fire Adaptive Communities. The idea is that fire is inevitable, so we must proactively learn how to live with it intentionally and safely – taking actions to protect homes and lives and recognizing the differences between good and bad fire.  There is much home and property owners and communities can do working together to prepare for and lessen the risk of fire.

Learn more about or work to restore forests in eastern Washington.



Earlier this month, we got together with some of the top Washington creatives on Instagram to explore our Moses Coulee Preserve. Each of them are extremely talented photographers and storytellers, and have quite the following on Instagram. For most, it was their first time explore the arid lands in Washington. As we journeyed on, we got to know each one a little better and have amazing memories to look back on, on this trip and see the amazing work we are doing in this part of the state.


Bethany Olson

Cory Staudacher

Benjamin Schuyler

Eric Kimberlin

Travis Gillet

Don Macanlalay

Forest Eckley

Caleb Babcock

Ariana Babcock

Kari Davidson

Erik Hedberg


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