resilience

A Scientist's Adventure on the Hill

Written by Phil Levin, Conservancy Lead Scientist

The gentle rocking of the train car subsides as it pulls into the station called “The Mall”.  My fellow passengers, dressed in the uniform of The City, and wearing important frowns, look up in synchrony from their phones.  We join the scurrying masses through subterranean tubes, eventually rising to the surface where we step on the stage of history.  Sandwiched between the U.S. Capital and Lincoln Memorial, I can only smile, as I make my way along the National Mall to the business entrance of the Capital. 

A very large man with a very large rifle greeted me and my colleagues as we made our way through security and into a conference room on the Senate side of the building.  I’ve given briefings on the Hill before, but this was my first time as a Nature Conservancy rather than government (NOAA) employee.  The reason for my smile is now clear to me—since I am no longer a representative of the executive branch, I am allowed to eat Congressional cookies!

The conference room was overflowing with 50 Senate and House staffers, all of whom focus on ocean issues.  We were there to roll-out a new report from the Lenfest Fishery Ecosystem Task Force.  The report, Building Effective Fishery Ecosystem Plans, provides guidance to fisheries managers on implementing ecosystem-based fisheries management—a holistic place-based approach that seeks to sustain fisheries by maintaining healthy, productive and resilient ecosystems.   The Task Force, convened with support from the Lenfest Ocean Program, consisted of 14 preeminent fisheries scientists from around the U.S. and world.   Timothy Essington, of the University of Washington and I led the task force.

Our report highlights that connections matter. Indeed, this is the unifying principle of ecosystem-based fisheries management. Ecological connections matter because fishing affects target species, predators, prey, competitors, bycatch species, and habitat. Economic connections matter because management affects fishermen, wholesalers, retailers, and recreational fishing guides. And social connections matter because fishing supports families, communities and cultures. 

While many have noted the importance of ecological, economic and social connections for oceans and people, fisheries managers have had a difficult time bringing this principle into practice.  We concluded that a structured process for establishing goals and translating them into action is critical for overcoming the barriers to including these important connections in fisheries management.  

As the briefing concluded, staffers immediately started asking questions.  They were nonpartisan.   They poked, dissected and deconstructed the information we provided them. They looked for connections between existing or planned legislation and executive orders.  They conjured their boss as they sought clarification. They were smart, engaged critical thinkers.  Looking out at them, it struck me that they seemed so young-mostly in their late 20s-30s. Realizing that these young staffers are the engine that make our government work, gave me great hope.

After additional briefings at the White House Council for Environmental Quality and the National Marine Fisheries Service, we were exhausted but further encouraged by those who work for our environment.   I walked across downtown DC as the indigo night sky warmed the edges of the austere city.  I joined the herds of suited laborers, ties loosened, and migrated home.  The work has just begun. 

Living in the Era of Megafires

Written by Reese Lolley, Director of Forest Restoration and Fire
Photo credit: John Marshall

New Showing Added Oct. 28 - Cle Elum Senior Center - 6:30 p.m. - Free

Megafires and the destruction caused by them is a serious and growing issue to our region. Our communities, homes, businesses and our very way of life are threatened. If we are going to make effective progress towards increasing fire resiliency, we must increase awareness and stimulate conversation about this important issue across all levels of society.

The Wildfire Project is a 60-minute, multi-media, traveling presentation hosted by Dr. Paul Hessburg (Pacific Northwest Research Station and the University of Washington), who has conducted fire and landscape ecology research for more than 27 years. The presented material comes in the form of fast-moving, short, topic-based talks interspersed with compelling video vignettes and features the work of wildfire photographer, John Marshall. The videos are being created by award-winning documentary film company, North 40 Productions, of Wenatchee,

Upcoming tour dates include:

October 28: Cle Elum, WA: 6:30 p.m. at Putnam Centennial Center (senior center) - hosted by Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative, U.S. Forest Service, Washington Resource Conservation and Development Council, Washington DNR

 

Learn more about the project here


When Fire Comes Close

Written by Hilary Lundgren, Director of Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition (CWSC)
Photographed by Brain Shurgrue

Saturday afternoon, I was sitting on my porch editing a community After the Fire Resource guide.  As I was just about to hit save and shut down the computer to join my family on a camping trip, when my neighbor yelled “What’s up with the flames over the road?” Within a few seconds, I received a call from a friend who moved to town last week asking “Do we need to be worried about smoke?  What do we do?  Is this normal?”  After a quick call to Chelan County Fire District 3 (CCFD3), it was clear that things were “not good.” Homes were being threatened.  Early in my career, I spent time digging fireline, working on an engine, and spraying water, i.e., working on the landscape.  In this ‘new’ position with the Coalition and as a member of the Fire Adapted Community (FAC) Learning Network, I'd been working with the community.  My time and energy has been dedicated to helping to prepare our homes, landscapes, families, and businesses for the inevitable.  I had never worked so closely with a community of individuals where life as we know it could change with one ember.  Honestly, the moment that I heard that ‘it’ was happening, I froze.  And then I cried.  

Now what?  Were we ready?  Was I ready?  

We had done our work before the fire.  It was now time to trust the work of the landowners--and begin our during the fire work.  I took a deep breath, collected myself, packed up my computer and headed down to the station.  

When I arrived, the CCFD3 Auxiliary was in full force:  answering phones, preparing food for the firefighters, and sharing information.  The power was out for many Chumstick area residents and the cell tower had burnt down, so those who lost phone service (which was a significant population of Leavenworth area residents and visitors) were desperate for information.  As residents called or stopped by the station, we signed them up for the Chelan County Emergency Alert registry to be notified via text, voicemail, or email of any evacuation or shelter in place notices.  (Residents were still able to receive texts.)We shared Incident Management Team and Emergency Management notifications and fire status updates on social media to keep our community informed.  As the evening came to a close, the winds died down and fire behavior changed.

On Sunday morning the community was still on high alert and still seeking any type of information.  The CWSC took an opportunity to distribute Chelan County Special Needs Registry sign-up forms (the registry allows emergency responders to identify and notify those who may require additional assistance of potential risks and notices during a disaster), evacuation guides, and evacuation level notices (all forms in English & Spanish) at local area churches and the Red Cross temporary shelter.  At each stop, at least one person knew someone who would benefit from registering with the County’s Registry.  Many of the pastors and priests also service areas outside of the Leavenworth area (Peshastin, Monitor, Cashmere, Wenatchee) and were able to distribute informational materials to Hispanic communities and with rural congregations.

While smoke was in the air, CWSC began to receive calls and photos from landowners who were immediately taking action to reduce their risk.  Residents were raking pine needles off of their roof, cleaning gutters, and removing fuels from around their home.  (They wanted to know when CWSC, in partnership with the Washington Department of Natural Resources, would be offering a Fuel Reduction and Chipping cost-share program!)

As the fire moved away from homes and into forested areas, the community began to feel a sense of relief.  CWSC worked with CCFD3 to distribute After the Fire door hangers (created by FAC Learning Network members) that include post-fire watch-out situations and recovery resources.  The Incident Management Team hosted a community meeting where they shared the progress of their efforts.  The number of organizations and fire-centric entities and organizations present at the meeting (US Forest Service, Washington Department of Natural Resources, NOAA, CCFD3 and Auxiliary members, National Weather Service, Burlington Nothern Railway, Red Cross, Chelan County Public Utility District, Cascadia Conservation District, Chelan-Douglas Health District, Chelan County Roads Department, as well as many others) demonstrated the success of interagency coordination.  The CCFD3 Chief, Kelly O’Brien, noted that in his 20+ year career he has never had an incident run so smoothly.  Residents were given many accolades for doing their work – preparing their home and landscape – but above all creating a space for response entities to do their job safely and effectively.

At the meeting, CWSC and Cascadia Conservation District were able to share After the Fire resource guides and informational pamphlets generated by the FAC Learning Network and NOAA (and even a few pages from the draft Leavenworth area After the Fire Resource Guide that we were working on when the fire broke out…).  CWSC took the opportunity to remind residents that the work is not over.  Even though the flames were not at our door-step, a change in weather conditions in combination with the changed landscape still poses a risk (unstable slopes, debris flows, and falling trees are potential post-fire considerations). The CWSC also stressed the importance of contacting insurance agents to verify flood insurance policies.  

As I reflect over the last few days, the principals of the prescribed fire 4 Rights Campaign launched by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Pacific Region (shared by a fellow Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network member) keep coming to mind.  The 4 rights, Right People, Right Place, Right Time, and Right Choice, can easily be translated to the success of this wildfire incident:

Interagency and community organization coordination, communication, and support resulted in safe and effective response; firefighters from CCFD3 and other local fire districts were prepared and well trained; the CWSC’s connections with partners has allowed us to share information faster and support those seeking assistance (right people). Work of the residents created a landscape to reduce the risk of wildfire to their homes and create defensible space for firefighters (right place). Weather conditions played a significant role in fire behavior and allowed fire fighters to conduct burnout operations resulting in a low-moderate severity burn (right time). Individuals who have taken steps to prepare themselves, their organizations, and community are leading the path toward becoming a truly fire adapted community (Right Choice).

Yesterday it rained.  Today the weather is cool and clouds are in the air.  Firefighters are packing their tools and refueling their engines and their bodies for the next incident.  The plume has turned into a few puffs of smoke.  Organizations are assessing the post fire impacts on the landscape and to homeowners.  With each conversation and each action, we will learn, we will share, and we will continue to prepare.  Maybe next time I won’t cry.

The Chumstick Coalition is the Washington host site of National Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network and Member of Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network which are working to engage communities across the Nation and in Washington to take actions to share how they are reducing their risk before, during and after wildfire.  

Learn more about the Chumstick Coalition


2014: Huge Progress for Nature and People   2014 was a year of unprecedented progress for The Nature Conservancy in Washington.  Thanks to your strong support we were able to do more for people and nature than ever before.   Here are some of the highlights as reported in the news media: 
  Top Stories of the Year Lists  
  Number 8 on Top Story of the Year.  Ellensburg Daily Record  
 Number 8 on Top 10 reasons to be encouraged by environmental progress in 2014.  The Huffington Post  
 One of the Top Outdoor Stories of the Year.  The Spokesman Review  
   Protecting, connecting and restoring forests  
  48,000 acres of prized forestland acquired for people and nature.  Seattle Times  
 2500 acres on Clearwater to be acquired, restored for Salmon.  Seattle PI  
 Report offers forest restoration needs.  The Spokesman Review  
 Manastash acquisition protects wildlife.  Yakima Herald  
 Queets land to be protected.  KONP  
 Forests play critical role in drought resiliency.  Crosscut  
    Protecting communities from catastrophic fire  
  Managing forests for resilience.  Yakima Herald  
 Wildfires, climate change,restoration.  Seattle Times  
 The science of controlled burns.  Yakima Herald  
    Protecting nature and communities from flooding  
  Communities work with nature to reduce flood risks.  The Columbian and more than 30 other outlets  
  Orting levee successful.  KOMO-TV  
   Raising voices and money for nature  
  Illabot Creek designated wild and scenic.  Skagit Valley Herald  
 Record breaking donation connects local and global work.  Seattle Times  
 Farm bill to help conservation.   NorthWest Public Radio, including KUOW  
 Bill Robinson, nature’s voice in Olympia.  The Olympian  
   Innovative science  
  Quinault Indian Nation neutralizing derelict crab pots.   The Daily World  
 Salmon recovery in Fisher Slough.   Skagit Herald  
 Science at work in Moses Coulee.  Seattle Times  
 Bat survey.  KUOW  
 Using quadcopters for conservation.  KIMA-TV ,  KUOW

2014: Huge Progress for Nature and People

2014 was a year of unprecedented progress for The Nature Conservancy in Washington.  Thanks to your strong support we were able to do more for people and nature than ever before.   Here are some of the highlights as reported in the news media:

Top Stories of the Year Lists

Protecting, connecting and restoring forests

  • 48,000 acres of prized forestland acquired for people and nature. Seattle Times
  • 2500 acres on Clearwater to be acquired, restored for Salmon. Seattle PI
  • Report offers forest restoration needs. The Spokesman Review
  • Manastash acquisition protects wildlife. Yakima Herald
  • Queets land to be protected. KONP
  • Forests play critical role in drought resiliency. Crosscut

 Protecting communities from catastrophic fire

 Protecting nature and communities from flooding

Raising voices and money for nature

Innovative science

Welcome to Flood Season    Written by Julie Morse, Regional Ecologist, The Nature Conservancy in Washington Photogrpah by Andy Porter, Northwest Photographer   It’s flood season here in Western Washington. That’s nothing new of course. Puget Sound rivers have reached flood stage over 1400 times in the last 20 years. It’s just part of life here.  Albeit, a very stressful part of life. Especially for floodplain managers whose jobs it is to minimize the damage caused by swelling rivers that naturally want and need to jump their banks – wreaking havoc on people’s homes and businesses, undermining transportation corridors, and putting lives and our economy at risk.  Ken Wolfe has one of those unenviable floodplain manager jobs. He is responsible for safety of the City of Orting which sits on the Puyallup River -one of the most flood prone rivers in the State. So it’s strange to see him walking around with a big smile on his face this time of year.  Last week a “pineapple express” or what the weathermen call an “atmospheric river” moved through our region bringing heavy rains. These storms are common here and can result in flooding, especially in the fall when there’s little snowpack in the mountains to absorb all that rain or when it warms rapidly after snowfall so rain and snow melt create a double whammy. The Puyallup River was raging and peaked at over 16,000 cubic feet per second.  The last time the river got that high was in January 2009, when it broke through the levee and caused 26,000 people to be evacuated in the Puyallup River Valley, in and around the City of Orting It resulted in one of largest urban evacuations in the State’s history. Despite the fact that it was the 4th highest flow ever recorded on the Puyallup, this year only a handful of residents voluntarily evacuated.  And instead of overseeing the chaos of filling 17,000 sandbags as he did in 2009, Ken Wolfe is smiling.  Just last month major phases of the Calistoga Reach  Floodplains by Design  Project was completed.  In Orting, the City moved 1.5 miles of the levee back to expand the width of the river corridor by up to 4 times - giving the river more room to spread out and slow down. Clearly, it worked, and has helped dramatically reduce the flood risk for this community.  Meanwhile, just downstream, this summer Pierce County completed an effort to reconnect about 150 acres of floodplain and carve a new side channel to the river. During last week’s high flow, this new channel took about 30% of the flow out of the mainstem Puyallup, dramatically reducing pressure on riverbank levees that protect a large subdivision.  The project in Orting is one of the first  Floodplains by Design  projects to be completed, and the first to stand the test of a big flood. What’s more, in addition to the dramatically reduced flood risks in this area, these projects are also providing other important community benefits. The side channels and reconnected floodplains provide critical salmon spawning and refuge habitat. And when the waters recede, city and county residents are left with about 2 miles of scenic riverfront open space.  The City of Orting and Pierce County deserve kudos for working together on a large stretch of river to implement projects that combined, reduce flood risk, restore critical habitat for salmon and improve the quality of life for residents of the area. This is exactly what  Floodplains by Design  program is all about – working together to implement big projects that produce big results.   Related Blog Posts           Farms, Fish & Floods Initiative      
      Welcome to Flood Season      
      Fisher Slough & the Flood

Welcome to Flood Season

Written by Julie Morse, Regional Ecologist, The Nature Conservancy in Washington
Photogrpah by Andy Porter, Northwest Photographer

It’s flood season here in Western Washington. That’s nothing new of course. Puget Sound rivers have reached flood stage over 1400 times in the last 20 years. It’s just part of life here.

Albeit, a very stressful part of life. Especially for floodplain managers whose jobs it is to minimize the damage caused by swelling rivers that naturally want and need to jump their banks – wreaking havoc on people’s homes and businesses, undermining transportation corridors, and putting lives and our economy at risk.

Ken Wolfe has one of those unenviable floodplain manager jobs. He is responsible for safety of the City of Orting which sits on the Puyallup River -one of the most flood prone rivers in the State. So it’s strange to see him walking around with a big smile on his face this time of year.

Last week a “pineapple express” or what the weathermen call an “atmospheric river” moved through our region bringing heavy rains. These storms are common here and can result in flooding, especially in the fall when there’s little snowpack in the mountains to absorb all that rain or when it warms rapidly after snowfall so rain and snow melt create a double whammy. The Puyallup River was raging and peaked at over 16,000 cubic feet per second.

The last time the river got that high was in January 2009, when it broke through the levee and caused 26,000 people to be evacuated in the Puyallup River Valley, in and around the City of Orting It resulted in one of largest urban evacuations in the State’s history. Despite the fact that it was the 4th highest flow ever recorded on the Puyallup, this year only a handful of residents voluntarily evacuated.

And instead of overseeing the chaos of filling 17,000 sandbags as he did in 2009, Ken Wolfe is smiling.

Just last month major phases of the Calistoga Reach Floodplains by Design Project was completed.

In Orting, the City moved 1.5 miles of the levee back to expand the width of the river corridor by up to 4 times - giving the river more room to spread out and slow down. Clearly, it worked, and has helped dramatically reduce the flood risk for this community.

Meanwhile, just downstream, this summer Pierce County completed an effort to reconnect about 150 acres of floodplain and carve a new side channel to the river. During last week’s high flow, this new channel took about 30% of the flow out of the mainstem Puyallup, dramatically reducing pressure on riverbank levees that protect a large subdivision.

The project in Orting is one of the first Floodplains by Design projects to be completed, and the first to stand the test of a big flood. What’s more, in addition to the dramatically reduced flood risks in this area, these projects are also providing other important community benefits. The side channels and reconnected floodplains provide critical salmon spawning and refuge habitat. And when the waters recede, city and county residents are left with about 2 miles of scenic riverfront open space.

The City of Orting and Pierce County deserve kudos for working together on a large stretch of river to implement projects that combined, reduce flood risk, restore critical habitat for salmon and improve the quality of life for residents of the area. This is exactly what Floodplains by Design program is all about – working together to implement big projects that produce big results.

Related Blog Posts

Farms, Fish & Floods Initiative

Welcome to Flood Season

Fisher Slough & the Flood

tumblr_ncoqwrkFhr1tt4iu9o3_1280.jpg
tumblr_ncoqwrkFhr1tt4iu9o1_1280.jpg

Farms, Fish & Flood Initiative

Where are you working on this project?

In the Skagit Delta located in North Puget Sound. The Skagit is the largest river in Puget Sound and the Skagit Valley is home to the largest agricultural industry in Puget Sound. We’re working with a group of organizations to come together with a commitment to achieve the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery goals of estuary restoration and resource land protection through the formation of the Farms, Fish and Floods Initiative (3FI).

Which organizations are helping with this initiative?

To date, the 3FI partners (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), Skagit Conservation District, Skagit County, Skagit County Dike and Drainage Partnership, Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland, The Nature Conservancy, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Western Washington Agricultural Association) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work in the spirit of collaboration to achieve the 3FI mission: To create and advance mutually beneficial strategies that support the long-term viability of agriculture and salmon while reducing the risks of destructive floods.

There are a lot of great people and organizations involved in this project.

Tell us a little more about why this project is so important to learn about

The 3FI is the first landscape scale effort in the Skagit Delta. It’s where the conservation and agricultural interests have agreed to come together to bring about breakthroughs in estuary restoration, flood risk reduction and farmland protection in a way that supports multiple community interests. This is not only great for people but also important for the future of the Skagit Valley in terms of flood protection, viability of agriculture as well as salmon recovery. By approaching our common goals at a landscape scale, the 3FI members will be able to work with a broad base of stakeholders and trustees to identify actions needed to achieve our goals.

Have you done any projects like this before?

After working together on restoration projects and agreements, such as the Fisher Slough Project, Drainage Fish Initiative, Tidegate Fish Initiative, and Guidance on WDFW’s Vision for Conservation and Land Acquisition for the Skagit Delta, we now know what it takes to get projects done, which is reflected in the core values developed by the 3FI member organizations.

See examples at this video link for projects The Nature Conservancy has worked on in the Skagit Valley and Stillaguamish watershed that are similar to the issues we are working to solve with our partners in the Skagit Delta through the Farms Fish and Floods Initiative.

Under Construction: Restoring Estuary Habitat in the Puget Sound from HabitatSeven on Vimeo.

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.

tumblr_n6wq59Ey4f1tt4iu9o2_1280.jpg
tumblr_n6wq59Ey4f1tt4iu9o1_r1_1280.jpg
tumblr_n6wq59Ey4f1tt4iu9o3_r1_1280.jpg

GOOD FIRE, BAD FIRE

By Ryan Haugo, Washington-Idaho Forest Ecologist

The 2012 Pacific Northwest wildfire season was one for the record books.

In Idaho, the Mustang Complex alone burned 300,000 acres.  In Washington, over 350,000 total acres burned and fire suppression costs alone totaled more than $88 million dollars.  Not exactly chump change in this time of fiscal cliffs and sequestration.

Yet, fire always has been and always will be an integral part of our western forests.  Fire is both inevitable and is the ultimate contradiction; often beautiful, terrifying, destructive, renewing and life-giving, all at the same time.  Yet, our management of western forests over the past century has broken this natural link with fire, leaving our forests vulnerable to uncharacteristically large and destructive fire and insect and disease outbreaks.  Climate change will only increase these vulnerabilities.

In my role as a forest ecologist I spend a lot of time talking about the risks of “uncharacteristic fire” (bad!) and the importance of “prescribed fire” (good!) in restoring healthy and resilient forests.

Our official tagline is “The Nature Conservancy works to maintain fire’s role where it benefits people and nature, and keep fire out of places where it is destructive”.  An excellent sentiment, but the line between fire that “benefits people and nature” and fire that is “destructive” can be quite blurry.

Last September an intense late summer lightning storm rolled across the Pacific Northwest, starting fires in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.   That month I had a series of meetings across eastern Washington and northern Idaho.  No matter where I traveled, I couldn’t escape the smoke.  During the day visibility was terrible and at night my eyes stung and my throat hurt, even when holed up in my hotel room.  No fun – that much smoke must certainly indicate a “bad fire”, right?

Not necessarily.  This winter we were finally able to get out and take a look at some of the newly burned forests that had smoked-in my September travels.  Matt Dahlgreen, TNC forester and intrepid explorer, shot a beautiful series of photos from one section of the Wenatchee Complex fires in eastern Washington.

His photos show rejuvenation and restoration, not death and destruction.  These fires had burned with relatively low severity during a time of moderate weather conditions, and the net result were thinned forest stands that will be even more resilient to the next fire.  There were other patches with nearly all of the trees killed, but this occurred in areas where the forest is adapted to “high severity fire” and the bear, elk and other wildlife will greatly benefit.

What determines if a wildfire is good or bad?  Suppression costs?  Property destruction? Air quality? Impacts on wildlife habitat?   Can a fire be good and bad at the same time?

I don’t think there are any easy answers to these questions.  Even a small, seemingly benign prescribed fire produces smoke that can be hazardous to sensitive populations if precautions are not taken.  Even a massive “mega-fire” leaves behind habitat for a number of different wildlife species.  Society weighs the costs and benefits based on the affected values of the time.

The one thing that we know for certain is that in forests across the west there will be more wildfire in the coming years (see recent research by Moritz and colleagues, and Westerling and colleagues).

In the face of this inevitability, our focus at the Conservancy is on promoting resilient natural and human communities.  In the forests that have traditionally supported timber economies, we focus on smart restoration using tools such as mechanical harvests and prescribed fire.

In other forests, we advocate managing wildfires at the right place and time – when the conditions are right.  Just as there is often not a simple answer as to whether a fire is good or bad, there is no one single approach to conserving our forested landscapes.