emerald edge

Milestone for First Nations-led conservation in Clayoquot Sound

Milestone for First Nations-led conservation in Clayoquot Sound

The federal government of Canada has committed to funding the land-use visions and authority of First Nations for the iconic Clayoquot Sound as part of a groundbreaking announcement earlier this week. It will help to establish major new protected forest and coastal areas as well as provide funding to support them.

Fisheries Market Analysis - Request for Proposals

Fisheries Market Analysis - Request for Proposals

The Nature Conservancy is seeking a contractor who will conduct a review and market analysis of the current commercial fisheries along Washington’s Pacific Coast to identify potential opportunities to increase sustainable fish markets. Proposals due Sept. 4, 2019

Keeping Danger at Bay near the shores of Bella Bella

Photographed by Heiltsuk Nation

It has been 12 days since a Texas-owned tug boat and its empty fuel barge crashed on rocks near Bella Bella, a First Nations community in the Great Bear Rainforest, leaking thousands of liters of diesel fuel. "It's an environmental disaster. It's a cultural disaster. It's affecting every facet of our community," Jess Housty of the Heiltsuk First Nation told one Canadian media outlet just days after the spill. Housty is also a Board director for TNC Canada, building on a 10-year partnership between TNC and the Heiltsuk Nation. Here at the Conservancy’s Washington chapter, we are deeply saddened by the spill and stand behind the Heiltsuk, who are working from dawn to dusk to mitigate the environmental and cultural damage.

The Great Bear Rainforest is at the heart of what the Conservancy calls the “Emerald Edge”—100 million acres of the largest remaining coastal rainforest on Earth, stretching from Alaska’s Tongass Forest to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Great Bear’s old-growth forests, rivers and coastal waters are the homeland of many First Nations, as well as extraordinarily rich habitat for grizzlies, wolves, several species of salmon, whales, eagles and other wildlife. It is the only home of the Spirit Bear, a rare subspecies of black bear that has white fur.

Clam beds are slicked with fuel, and just yesterday, divers confirmed that endangered abalone had been poisoned, as well as kelp and juvenile herring—all connected to Heiltsuk sustenance and livelihoods. Orcas and other sea life has been spotted traveling through the contaminated waters. Governmental response to the spill has been inadequate, and the sunken tug has not yet been recovered.

The Heiltsuk have started a fundraiser to cover their spill recovery costs and a community investigation into the accident and its impacts. To monitor the recovery efforts, check out the Heiltsuk Tribal Council Facebook page.

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. 

Last year, my colleagues from the Ocean Modeling Forum (OMF) and I brought together more than 125 First Nation and Tribal Elders, governmental officials, scientists and environmental NGOs and asked what were the critical science gaps for science management.  As one of the directors of the OMF, my role is to connect diverse types of knowledge and bring it to bear on pressing ocean management issues.  In the case of herring, we learned that the extensive traditional knowledge of indigenous people is often marginalized in management, and the cultural costs and benefits of herring are not adequately considered in decision making.  

To fill these gaps the OMF created a working group of 18 social and natural scientists, traditional knowledge holders, commercial fishers, and resource managers to tackle this problem.  I just returned from co-chairing the 3rd meeting of the OMF herring group (with Dr. Tessa Francis from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute) which met in Sitka, Alaska.  The group has made great strides in incorporating traditional knowledge into quantitative ecological models – the language of fisheries management. Working collaboratively across our professional silos, we have developed the means to formally examine management alternatives to determine their ecological, economic and cultural outcomes—the triple bottom line.

After the OMF meeting concluded, I had the privilege of visiting historic and current herring spawning grounds with Harvey Kitka – an elder of the Sitka tribe.  Each cove and beach seemed to have a story of plenitude and demise.  Harvey spoke about the time when herring were so abundant that they jumped from the water and the crack of their bodies hitting the ocean’s surface would echo across the Sound like hail.  Those days are gone.  Instead, Harvey pointed to islands were there was just a little spawning here and a little spot there.  He spoke with sadness about the present, but was always optimistic about the future, and the work we are trying to do.

Solving difficult conservation problems, like herring conflicts along the Emerald Edge, will require new approaches and innovative thinking.  My experiences working with a diverse group of people with vastly different perspectives on herring, suggest that given the chance people can rise to the occasion and tame these wicked problems. 

Learn more about our work in the Emerald Edge



Camping in Paradise

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

Clayoquot Sound, on Canada’s Vancouver Island is a spectacular place of sea and forests, centuries of culture, and home to First Nations with deep connections to the land and water. As the region’s indigenous people look for ways to protect cherished natural resources they are also sharing the area’s abundance with others. One example: The Lone Cone – a campground and hostel located in the heart of this rich ecological treasure and open to all to enjoy.

A short boat trip takes visitors to the Lone Cone, for camping, dormitory style housing or even private rooms along with a community kitchen, game room and hot tub.  But it’s the access to nature that attracts visitors – from tents with a view to hiking trails and beaches, nature abounds. Kayaks, paddleboards and mountain bikes are available as part of the eco-tourism experience.

The Lone Cone is an example of community based conservation that protects nature while creating local economic opportunities.  The site has created more than 20 jobs and attracts visitors from around the world. It is run by the Ahousaht First Nation which has plans for other sites and attractions in the area.

It’s a tiny piece of the vast Emerald Edge, a Nature Conservancy priority that spans from Washington, through British Columbia and all the way to Alaska.  The landscape holds the largest intact coastal rainforest and is of massive ecological importance to the world. Through our work we are committed to partnership with indigenous and local people to heal the lands and waters while creating new opportunities for local wealth creation, economic development and entrepreneurship.



Quinault Indian Nation named Title Sponsor for Washington Coast Works Sustainable Business Plan Competition

June 21, 2016 (Seattle, Washington) — Washington Coast Works is pleased to announce the Quinault Indian Nation as the Title Sponsor for the 2016 Sustainable Small Business Competition. This year’s business training is underway and will conclude July 22-24 during the Entrepreneurship Summit at the Olympic Natural Resource Center in Forks, Washington. At the Summit, participants will develop their presentation pitch and polish their business plans for a chance to vie for up to $20,000 in startup financing. Winners will be announced in October. 

This year’s participating entrepreneurs include a cultural tourism business, a wood boat kit manufacturer, a bee keeper, a construction business, a chocolatier, a tiny homes builder, a food truck, a dog boarding business, a permaculture farm, a stump grinder, a nature-inspired fitness company, a sustainable vegetable and hog producer, and a manufacturer of art equipment. All are “triple-bottom-line” businesses from coastal communities in Grays Harbor, Jefferson and Clallam Counties and designed to generate profits with significant social and environmental benefits.

“The Quinault Indian Nation is a critical partner for us,” said Eric Delvin, Emerald Edge Project Manager at The Nature Conservancy. “Their commitment to conservation of their natural resources and to sustainable economic development is clearly demonstrated by their sponsorship of Washington Coast Works.” 

Other 2016 competition sponsors include Enterprise for Equity and Washington Department of Commerce. 

Washington Coast Works is an initiative of The Nature Conservancy in collaboration with Enterprise for Equity (with support from a USDA Rural Business Development Grant), the Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship, and the Ta’ala Fund, a native community development financial institution that supports business development in western Washington coast tribal communities. 

The complete calendar of events leading up to the competition is available at www.wacoastworks.org. Contact at Mike Skinner info@wacoastworks.org to learn more about the competition, to volunteer to mentor or judge, or to request information about more sponsorship opportunities.