On the Lookout for Charismatic Mini-Fauna

Written by Jodie Toft, Senior Marine Ecologist
Photographed by Jason Toft

Here in downtown Seattle, residents are dusting off sunglasses and sandals, in hopes that the mercury finds its way past 65. Let's not kid ourselves, 60 degrees is completely shorts-worthy. The market is full of tulips and daffodils and nature's perfume of choice is part cherry blossom, part salty smelling water. 

One of the best parts of this aptly named season is what's going on with one of the Pacific Northwest's biggest icons. Yes ma'am, it's baby salmon time. Millions of tiny salmon are springing - actually just swimming - through Puget Sound towards the big ocean. Over the next few months, pulses of hatchery and wild juvenile chum, Chinook, coho, and pink salmon will be out migrating. They'll make the journey from fresh to salt water, looking to feed themselves and also serving as food for other members of the marine food web. And after a few years - how long depends on the species of salmon - those who've endured life in the big blue will run home. 

Seeing the big salmon return is a powerful experience for locals and tourists alike; seeing the little ones set out, however, also definitely strikes a chord. If you find yourself in downtown Seattle, head towards water's edge and you'll find yourself next to a baby salmon highway (aka, a migratory corridor). Take a moment to peek into the water. This year, three species in particular – Chinook, pink and chum salmon - are your best bet for baby salmon viewing. These three use nearshore habitats more than the other species of salmon. Accordingly, as natural shorelines in Puget Sound were hardened, or armored, over the last century and a half, Chinook salmon bore the brunt of that habitat loss. That habitat loss and myriad other factors, landed Puget Sound Chinook with a listing of threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Yet with creative restoration can hopefully come recovery.  Efforts right here in downtown Seattle are benefiting salmon, from creation of habitat during construction of the Olympic Sculpture Park, to habitat enhancements associated with replacement of the aging seawall along Seattle's central waterfront.  Other efforts, such as those that we at The Nature Conservancy are taking, are aimed at finding innovative solutions that tackle pollution caused by toxic stormwater run-off.

In coming weeks and months, if you’re on the lookout for nature in cities, don’t forget to look to the salty environs.  See if you can catch a glimpse one of Seattle’s best kept secrets - our very own charismatic mini-fauna.

Learn More about Our Marine Work


Our New Nest

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

You would think that staff for The Nature Conservancy spend workdays scaling mountains, paddling rivers and soaking in our iconic Pacific coast. But the reality is that most of us spend a lot of our time in an office.  Together we use science to shape strategies that benefit people and nature.  We fundraise and use innovative financial strategies to figure out how to pay for transformative work. We use social media to share stories about our work as a way of generating support. We form partnerships to do work with the biggest impact possible and to push for action from government leaders.  It’s not as glamourous as a walk in the woods, but it’s critical to our commitment to doing more, faster.

Starting this week, a lot of this work will be done from a new nest. After ten years in a historic building at the market, we’ve moved! Our new space is just a few blocks north in Seattle’s Belltown. Here are just a few reasons we are excited:

Our new space is all open, giving us enhanced opportunities for collaboration and partnership.

The modern, efficient layout allows us to use less space, saving money and stretching precious resources to do more for people and nature.

We’ve “recycled” an older low rise building, keeping the character of the neighborhood, and allowing us to sit right in the heart of a vibrant urban scene.

Keeping our easy access to public transit and bike routes will allow our Seattle office to continue to be nearly 100% car-free.

Our urban setting fosters increased focus on keeping cities connected to nature and employing green infrastructure – work that’s increasing in importance as our state and world become increasingly urban

Our field offices across the state continue to be critical to our work. And the Seattle team will still relish every opportunity to be outside working in nature. But for those days when meetings and computer screens fill our time, our new nest will allow us to do more faster, for people and nature.


Puget Sound – It’s Time to Tackle Stormwater

Green Infrastructure Summit Brings Leaders together for Innovative Natural Solution

Written by Jeanine Stewart, Volunteer
Photographed by Paul Brown, Northwest Photographer
Infographics by Erica Simek Sloniker, Visual Communications

Stormwater sneaks up on the Seattle region so innocently, as rain droplets falling through the misty air. Yet when it hits the ground, it picks up bacteria from lawn fertilizers, copper from break pad deposits, oil and other pollutants that become deadly to salmon and Orcas in Puget Sound.

The Washington Department of Ecology calls it the biggest water pollution problem in the entire state, and yet lacks a comprehensive plan to tackle the problem.

That’s why the annual Green Infrastructure Summit each February is so exciting. This event, co-hosted by The Nature Conservancy, brings together key stakeholders to begin a discussion that will lead to collaboration for years to come.

Here, government, non-profit, business and research organizations will share what they’ve done already. There have been some great strides made. Green infrastructure such as rain gardens, which keep stormwater from trickling into places it doesn’t belong, have been installed around the city. However, there simply aren’t enough of them.

 “We have to move beyond projects that are just another cute street, to tackle this problem on a scale thatwill make a difference to all of Puget Sound,” said Jessie Israel, Puget Sound Conservation Director for the Conservancy.

Stormwater pollutes the marine environment, leaving devastating impacts in its wake. A study flagged up by the Seattle Times recently said stormwater runoff can kill adult fish in as little as 2.5 hours.  (Watch the Conservancy's video on this extraordinary research)

Stats like these are why The Nature Conservancy has laid out big goals for tackling this problem. In five years, here’s what we want to see: 

  • 1 billion gallons of stormwater treated using green infrastructure
  • 1 million trees planted or maintained to impact freshwater quality, sequester carbon and benefit underserved communities
  • 20,000 new raingardens in private spaces
  • Green spaces created and enhanced in ways that better quality of life
  • Cross sector, issue, and jurisdictional leaders deploy effective leadership and focus investments in green stormwater infrastructure


The Value of Green in Gray

Written by  Katie Martens, Volunteer Writer
Photograph by Aurora Photos

What is green space? Its generic definition is an area of grass, trees, or other vegetation set apart for recreational or aesthetic purposes in an otherwise urban environment. Usually these spaces are public and used for community purposes. Green space is a social, political, economic, and cultural topic of interest. It crosses barriers within city life, allowing community to flourish and develop. The city government develops and maintains green space, neighborhood activists use green space for exercising their rights, families use green space for community connections, and wildlife uses green space as their habitat. Green space has multiple functions for various organizations, people and animals. It is a valuable asset and resource to the city, its people and wildlife. I’m sure that economically, green space could be evaluated and translated to have a numerical value.

Politically, organizations and governments could create lists and arguments focused on green space’s value in abstract and intangible terms. Biologists could organize hard data that expresses green spaces importance and function for wildlife. While these are great and important resources, I will provide a short piece on green spaces’ value in my life.

Nature is the most eccentric and beautiful thing that I have ever seen in my 22 years on this planet. It is dynamic and interactive. It encourages self-reflection, self-care and self-awareness. In no other space can a human tangibly experience being part of something larger than themselves whilst simultaneously experience their innate solitude. Green space is an opportunity to experience a beautiful escape of city life. It’s the cheapest and most convenient form of meditation and therapy.

Green space is essential to my life; it has influenced my entire Seattle experience – where I decided to live, where I wanted to work, how I relax, and where I explore with friends and family. For me, its value is incalculable and thus, has become a personal necessity. I can find green space in the city simply by actually observing what is around me. The streets are lined with gorgeous colors of autumn changes, the grass on lawns has an increasing vibrancy, there is an against- all-odds plant peaking out of my gutter, I walked 3 feet away from a crow in a park and we were both okay with it, I caught up with a friend walking around Green Lake, I saw someone trip on a tree root protruding from a side walk; these are all meaningful experiences I have within green space. Green space can be as large as Golden Gardens Park and as small as the trees lining busy streets. Green space is a vital resource for city dwellers and its beauty deserves to be appreciated and utilized.

As cliché as this might be, John Muir once said “In every walk with Nature one receives far more than (s)he seeks”. So I encourage you to escape the gray and enter into the green and I promise you, it will be a valuable experience. 

Learn More About Our Work in Cities

Close Encounters of the Urban Kind

Written by Susan Rae Sampson, Volunteer Writer

All it takes to encounter nature in an urban environment is a setting that’s even just a little bit wild. Just mildly wild is what my neighbors and I got in Seattle as we moved into our rows of tidy houses on 40’x60’ lots, on streets with broad planting strips, on blocks bisected by alleys separating our back yards. When our plat merged with another plat that was staked out along different compass points, builders left a triangle at the corner of the subdivisions undeveloped.

I’m sure that whoever platted our neighborhood in Seattle was just doing what was profitable 100 years or so ago; he didn’t intend for it to be wild. But by now, the triangular lot between plats is an open space that supports mature trees, raucous crows, and an occasional flush of meadow mushrooms.

Most of our planting strips are mowed down to crew-cut grass, but some of the alleys are slightly overgrown with blackberry brambles and naturalized escapees from gardens, like fennel and mint. (One friend cleared her lot of brambles and discovered terraces underneath, planted with an Italian garden, including an espaliered fig.) Wild animals have discovered the alleys, and we neighbors have discovered the animals--not that all of our encounters have been felicitous. Joanne was charmed by the sound of squirrels on her roof, until somebody told her they were actually rats in the attic. Caroline came face to face with a hissing raccoon that was fishing in her koi pond.  Driving home late one night, Fred saw a coyote trot nonchalantly down the alley and up onto a back porch to look for dog food, or else for a small pet to eat. A lady at the health department assured me that I didn’t need to worry about my bats, so long as they stayed up under the eaves. Animal control responded to capture a swarm of bees.

The late poet Stanley Kunitz was an avid gardener who once compared a poem to a garden that needed to be pruned, but not too much. His ideal for a poem also describes an urban garden that is just wild enough to be a natural habitat: “There has to be a certain degree of domestication in a garden. The danger is that you can so tame your garden that it becomes a thing. It becomes landscaping.” I, for one, prefer a slightly wild garden to a sculpted landscape.

Kunitz,Stanley,The Wild Braid, p.78. Copyright 2005,  W.W.Norton & Co. 

Learn More About Our Work in Cities

December Volunteer Spotlight: Erik Alarcon

Written by Lauren Miheli, Volunteer Coordinator

Erik has been actively involved as a volunteer with The Nature Conservancy for almost 2 years, both as a member of our Conservation Ambassadors and as a regular participant in our work parties.  When he’s not volunteering with us, or working long hours with UPS, he’s an enthusiastic supporter of our work, talking about the importance of conservation to anyone who will listen.  We appreciate Erik for his willingness to always help out with the heavy lifting, and for always making volunteering fun!  Thank you Erik!

Recently we chatted with Erik about why he volunteers, and what matters most in life.  Here’s what he had to say.

The Nature Conservancy: Where are you from?  How long have you been living in Seattle?

Erik Alarcon: I was born in Chicago, grew up in Los Angeles, and went to college in Arizona.  I have been living in Seattle for about 3 years.  I love Seattle.  One of the main reasons I’ve stayed here is for the outdoor activities! 

TNC:  What inspired you to start volunteering with The Nature Conservancy?

EA: I love the outdoors!  I first signed up with Washington Trails Association clearing trails, but most of their opportunities did not fit with my schedule.  I was headed home from hiking one day, and I saw a volunteer recruitment flyer at a Starbucks, which led me to call and sign up.  It’s actually a funny story… I almost didn’t come back after my first time volunteering. The Volunteer Coordinator (Lauren) chastised me for not wearing my logo t-shirt to the event.  But I kept getting the emails and ended up coming back and having a great time (and Lauren calmed down about the t-shirt thing.)

TNC: What gives you the most hope for the future?

EA: People are having more awareness of climate change and that we need to preserve our wilderness and nature.  We know that we need to take care of the beauty around us.  Washington is a beautiful place that we want to be able to share with our kids and grandkids, and teach them to appreciate and take care of the environment.

TNC: How does volunteering make you feel?

EA: Good, like I’m helping out.  It makes me feel a part of something.  It makes me feel like I saved bunnies*.  Volunteering helps you learn things that you never would have learned yourself; there’s a lot of history in Washington.  You get to meet new people. There are interesting people from different walks of life.  Everyone I’ve met through The Nature Conservancy is selfless, so kind and giving.  Also, there are always good snacks and refreshments for volunteers!

*(Editor’s note: Erik volunteered with the Pygmy Rabbit Reintroduction Project in partnership with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, so he literally did save bunnies.) 

TNC: What is your favorite Nature Conservancy preserve or project?

EA: The Moses Coulee and Beezley Hills Preserves, and the Pygmy Rabbit Reintroduction Project!  I volunteered twice on this project already, and am looking forward to getting out there again soon.

TNC: What do you think the world will be like in 50 years?

EA: I think we’re going to be fine.  I think a lot of people are realizing we can’t continue to take the resources of our planet, and we need to conserve the environment.

TNC: Have you ever convinced someone to do something they didn't want to do?

EA:  Yes!  When I first moved to Seattle I was amazed that many of the people who I met who grew up here had never left the city, so I coordinated hiking trips to get them outdoors and show them the beautiful nature they had been missing out on.  Hiking can be intimidating when you think you need expensive hiking boots and special gear, or that you need to be “outdoorsy”, but really anyone can get out and enjoy the wilderness, you really don’t need much more than a map, food, water, and good friends to hike with!

Cargo, Conversation & Conservation


Adapting to the new image of nature

Written and Photographed by by Melissa Laird, Associate Director of Philanthropy and Laura Nelson, Marc Hershman Marine Policy Fellow

If you close your eyes and think of Puget Sound, what do you see? Beaches, wildlife, boats?

Last week, as we looked out the windows of our Seattle office in the heart of Pike Place Market, we saw more commercial vessels navigating through one of our state’s natural icons than ever before. While the crowded waterway that day might have been an anomaly for the current time, this could be an increasingly familiar scene in the near future.

There are several proposed port expansions that would add volume to the roughly 10,000 deep draft vessels already annually plying the waters of the Salish Sea. These ships will also be carrying cargoes like oil and coal; not things we want ending up in the water. There are many existing safety measures already in place in the Sound and groups like the Coast Guard work hard to protect it from oil spills. However, there is still work to be done to ensure the system is ready to handle the proposed increases or to make it more robust even if those expansions do not end up getting built. 

The Nature Conservancy, along with several partners like the Makah Tribe, is working to facilitate discussions between federal, state, provincial, tribal, and first nation groups in the United States and Canada to improve coordination, communication, and capacity in oil spill prevention and planning efforts. We need to keep oil out of the water if we want to protect the marine habitat we treasure and that orcas and salmon call home.

How do we continue to protect that pristine image that you see when you close your eyes? Having an open dialogue with partners and working together on solutions is a good first step. And we’re committed to being part of this conversation.

Learn more about our work on Puget Sound.