food

Gratitude for Harvest

By Mike Stevens, Washington State Director for The Nature Conservancy

Harvest season brings the bounty of earth and sea to our tables.

In the Pacific Northwest, we enjoy plentiful seafood, fruits and vegetables, grains and meats, even wine and beer that come from within a day’s drive.

Yet ancient Romans built roads to transport salt, grain and olive oil to the capital. Today we’d be hard-pressed to do without our coffee, tea, or chocolate here in the Northwest.

How can we work both locally and globally to ensure that natural systems that sustain our food supply—clean fresh water, a healthy living ocean, productive soil—will support the coming population of 9 billion? And how do we protect and restore wild places in the face of global demands for land and water?

In Washington, the Conservancy is collaborating with farmers around Puget Sound to preserve working farms and expand practices that produce clean water and healthy soils. We’re partnering with commercial fishermen and tribes on the coast to sustain fishing. We’re supporting statewide solutions to floods and droughts that threaten water for drinking, farms and fish.

Globally, the Conservancy is working with food growers, from large companies to local farmers, to keep soils healthy and water quality high. In Brazil we’re working with agricultural giant Cargill and with local farmers on practices to combat deforestation and protect the Amazon. In Kenya, we’re working with families who raise livestock to improve market access while protecting their lands and wildlife. Learn more at https://global.nature.org/content/the-next-agriculture-revolution-is-under-our-feet

The work we do to protect nature and our food supply is not possible without your support. In this season of gratitude, I am most thankful for your generous gifts. 

Learn more about our work


Nature on Your Table

Salmon from the Skagit River. Mushrooms gathered from the forest. A heritage turkey or pasture pork. Winter kale, acorn squash, ripe red apples and sweet golden pears.

Hungry yet?

You can set the table for a Thanksgiving feast with the yield from Washington’s farmers, fishermen, foragers and shellfish growers. This rich resource depends on nature—healthy land and air, and clean water in the right quantities at the right time.

“A teaspoon of soil has more than a billion organisms in it,” says Jack Toevs, who grows organic apples on his family farm near Quincy. “One of the big reasons I went organic was learning about the soil—it’s a living thing.” As a farmer, Toevs values clean water and healthy soil, and he works to protect the wild sagelands nearby. “Those wild lands are important as a reservoir for a diversity of flowers, of pollinators, of life.”

Bill Taylor likes oysters raw, fried, barbecued, sautéed, smoked—any way they can be prepared. He has a simple message: “You need clean water to have healthy shellfish that are safe to eat.” His great-grandfather started farming shellfish more than 120 years ago, and today Taylor Shellfish is a leading advocate for clean water and Puget Sound. “Ensuring that the rivers that flow into marine waters and the land around them are healthy is vital.”

Food producers like Taylor and Toevs, who serves on the Conservancy’s Washington Leadership Council, are vital partners as we work on innovative solutions to protect our lands and waters and assure strong resilient farms and abundant seafood. They understand the value of nature in protecting our food supply.


The Fir Island Farm Project

Written by Beth Geiger
Photographs by Jenny Baker, Senior Restoration Manager

A tiny juvenile salmon swims down the Skagit River toward Puget Sound. The finger-sized fish finally arrives in the tidal reaches of the lower Skagit. It’s a big world of water and fields. Saltwater is just a splash away.  

Next to the river, on Fir Island, farmers work some of the world’s most fertile agricultural land. In winter, thousands of migrating snow geese arrive in noisy white clouds. The scene is framed by snowy vistas of Mt. Baker to the east and verdant islands of Puget Sound to the west. It’s a beautiful place.

Yet for this little salmon, something critical is limited: a shallow estuary where it can grow, feed, and hide before entering the deep, exposed waters of Puget Sound. Century-old dikes built to keep floods and tides off the land to make farming the Skagit delta possible eliminated much of the estuarine marshes this young fish needs. Science tells us that restoring tidal estuaries is key to helping revive Chinook salmon populations in the Skagit watershed.

In a partnership with TNC, the Fir Island Farm project, managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), aims to do just what science tells us is needed for salmon, but in a collaborative way that also pays homage to the current agricultural productivity of this great place.

Most food is produced hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles from where it is consumed. That requires significant energy consumption, and it leaves communities at risk if the food supply chain becomes challenged. Preserving and enhancing farm productivity means preserving our ability to have local, sustainable fruits and vegetables now and in the future.

This is a complex system, in a critical landscape with lots of public and private interests at play – which is exactly The Nature Conservancy’s wheelhouse. No wonder this project is a balancing act. Balance estuaries for juvenile salmon with improved protection for farmland. Balance nature with community, farmers, and recreation.

The Conservancy is a critical partner in navigating this complex task. We contribute our expertise and “lessons learned” from projects that set the stage for this project, including nearby Fisher Slough. That project was managed by the Conservancy and completed in 2011.

This experience and others have taught us the importance of partners such as Consolidated Diking and Drainage District 22, which helps keep Fir Island’s farms dry. “The Conservancy was instrumental in encouraging us to talk to the Diking District early in the process,” says Jenna Friebel, Fir Island project manager for the WDFW. The Diking District, Friebel says, brought essential ideas to the project planning table, such as what type of tide gates and pumping station would work best.

In 2015 the Fir Island Farm project constructed 5,800 feet of brand new dike inland from the old dike, on a parcel of former farmland now owned by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. This summer the old dike will be removed, tides will flood in, and 131 acres will become a new tidal marsh.

By spring of 2017, tens of thousands of tiny Chinook salmon coming down the Skagit will find a safe haven, and a better future. “If the habitat is there, they can grow bigger and ready for the ocean,” says Friebel.  At the same time, the future of farming here is preserved as well. 


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!

Enamored By The Coast    By Wendy Marsh, Director of Donor Communication & Stewardship   The thing I love the most about tide pools is that they offer a window into the ocean by revealing the fascinating beauty below the surface. 
 Last week I visited Second Beach, an incredible wilderness coastline in Olympic National Park. The Quileute Needles—jagged, dagger-shaped rock formations—are visible jutting out of the sea. Cliffs line the shoreline and, during low tide, reveal shallow tide pools. I was excited about this trip since I was traveling with members of our conservation and science staff. They are intimately knowledgeable and passionate about our work; seeing nature through their eyes is an incredibly rich experience. 
 However, my enthusiasm for exploring the tide pools had turned to trepidation after our meeting with NOAA earlier that morning in Port Angeles. I had asked her if she had any insight into the tragically massive die-off of starfish along the Pacific coasts. 
 Starfish have always seemed indestructible to me; if they lose a leg, it grows back. If you cut one in half, it can regenerate itself into two more individual stars. 
 But now there is an alarming wasting illness spreading through the starfish population. Similar to a flesh-eating disease, it’s a gruesome way to die. White lesions on the starfish’s limbs appear. Then the tissue surrounding the lesion starts to decay. The body fragments and “melts”, basically turning to goo. 
 Scientists don’t know what’s causing the disease or its spread, though it’s also possible that the disease is a result of a virus. But they’re not ruling out ocean acidification, lower oxygen levels or warming waters. 
 Why does this matter? Despite the fact that starfish are fascinating creatures that come in a variety of colors and shapes, they are a “keystone species” – meaning that, like in any stone building, if you remove the keystone, things start to crumble. Other species depend on them. Their extinction would have an extraordinarily significant effect on the biodiversity of their community. 
 The next day we surveyed the forests and land along the Hoh River. Our work here in the Olympics revolves around restoring salmon. Salmon are another keystone species and a symbol for building support for the conservation of the coastal ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest. 
 For me, here was an example of how environmental changes on one area create a domino effect on other parts of related ecosystems – in this case, specifically between the Hoh River and the Pacific Ocean. 
 Salmon make the case since they are also an indicator species. Because their lifecycle takes them from mountain headwaters, to the ocean, and back again, they are a litmus test of sorts for the overall health of our region. When they are healthy, so are our soil, our water, and our food supply. So we need to behave like salmon and bring together forests, rivers, estuaries and the ocean. 
 Unfortunately, most of the pressing threats to our natural world are anthropogenic (caused by humans): over fishing, land clearing, runoff pollution, removal of old growth forest, urban runoff, water and sediment contamination with toxic substances. The cumulative impact of several stressors has reduced the resiliency of many ecosystems. But we can and are changing all that . 
 Just as the land and the sea meet at tide pools, TNC’s work is to help these natural assets adjust, adapt, and become resilient in the challenging changing of the tides every day. 
 I hope you’re a member – I can tell you first hand that there is nothing like the feeling that comes from creating change that is better for the environment and, therefore, ourselves.

Enamored By The Coast

By Wendy Marsh, Director of Donor Communication & Stewardship

The thing I love the most about tide pools is that they offer a window into the ocean by revealing the fascinating beauty below the surface.

Last week I visited Second Beach, an incredible wilderness coastline in Olympic National Park. The Quileute Needles—jagged, dagger-shaped rock formations—are visible jutting out of the sea. Cliffs line the shoreline and, during low tide, reveal shallow tide pools. I was excited about this trip since I was traveling with members of our conservation and science staff. They are intimately knowledgeable and passionate about our work; seeing nature through their eyes is an incredibly rich experience.

However, my enthusiasm for exploring the tide pools had turned to trepidation after our meeting with NOAA earlier that morning in Port Angeles. I had asked her if she had any insight into the tragically massive die-off of starfish along the Pacific coasts.

Starfish have always seemed indestructible to me; if they lose a leg, it grows back. If you cut one in half, it can regenerate itself into two more individual stars.

But now there is an alarming wasting illness spreading through the starfish population. Similar to a flesh-eating disease, it’s a gruesome way to die. White lesions on the starfish’s limbs appear. Then the tissue surrounding the lesion starts to decay. The body fragments and “melts”, basically turning to goo.

Scientists don’t know what’s causing the disease or its spread, though it’s also possible that the disease is a result of a virus. But they’re not ruling out ocean acidification, lower oxygen levels or warming waters.

Why does this matter? Despite the fact that starfish are fascinating creatures that come in a variety of colors and shapes, they are a “keystone species” – meaning that, like in any stone building, if you remove the keystone, things start to crumble. Other species depend on them. Their extinction would have an extraordinarily significant effect on the biodiversity of their community.

The next day we surveyed the forests and land along the Hoh River. Our work here in the Olympics revolves around restoring salmon. Salmon are another keystone species and a symbol for building support for the conservation of the coastal ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest.

For me, here was an example of how environmental changes on one area create a domino effect on other parts of related ecosystems – in this case, specifically between the Hoh River and the Pacific Ocean.

Salmon make the case since they are also an indicator species. Because their lifecycle takes them from mountain headwaters, to the ocean, and back again, they are a litmus test of sorts for the overall health of our region. When they are healthy, so are our soil, our water, and our food supply. So we need to behave like salmon and bring together forests, rivers, estuaries and the ocean.

Unfortunately, most of the pressing threats to our natural world are anthropogenic (caused by humans): over fishing, land clearing, runoff pollution, removal of old growth forest, urban runoff, water and sediment contamination with toxic substances. The cumulative impact of several stressors has reduced the resiliency of many ecosystems. But we can and are changing all that .

Just as the land and the sea meet at tide pools, TNC’s work is to help these natural assets adjust, adapt, and become resilient in the challenging changing of the tides every day.

I hope you’re a member – I can tell you first hand that there is nothing like the feeling that comes from creating change that is better for the environment and, therefore, ourselves.