thanksgiving

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.


Farming for Wildlife

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Farmers in Washington’s Skagit River Delta in northwest Washington State are adding a new crop to their fields — shorebirds.

By flooding parts of their fields with 2 or 3 inches of water for part of the year, these farmers are creating new or improved habitat for shorebirds such as Western sandpipers, black-bellied plovers, dunlins and marbled godwits and at the same time improving the health of the fields for farming.

The dedicated farmers are participating in an innovative research project The Nature Conservancy has launched in cooperation with Washington State University, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland, and the Western Washington Agricultural Association.

Called “Farming for Wildlife,” the project is about finding ways to help provide some of the shorebird habitat that’s been lost while also supporting local farms. The partners involved are studying the relationship between three farming practices (mowing, grazing, and flooding) and habitat for migratory shorebirds. The intent of the experiment is to discover how habitat rotation can be compatible with crop rotations in the Skagit Valley.

THE SKAGIT DELTA COMMUNITY

The Skagit Delta is a vibrant rural community—one of the last strongholds of farming in Western Washington and a bread basket both regionally and nationally. The local community is rightfully proud and protective of its family farming heritage which reaches back for generations.

At the same time, the delta is rich in wildlife. Though altered over the years by human development, diking and draining, the delta continues to support tidal marshes and riverine habitats which host one of the largest and most diverse concentrations of wintering raptors on the continent.

And in recent winters, biologists surveying the delta have counted more than 150,000 dabbling ducks and more than 65,000 shorebirds, underscoring its status as a critical stop along the Pacific Flyway.

A WIN FOR FARMERS AND FLIERS

Worldwide, shorebirds have suffered dramatic population declines, and one of the greatest threats to these populations is the loss of wetland habitats. In the Skagit Delta, we’ve lost 70 percent of estuarine and 90 percent of freshwater wetlands. Despite that loss, the Skagit Delta still supports 70 percent of Puget Sound shorebirds during migration. Kevin Morse, the Conservancy’s Puget Sound program manager describes the delta as “one of the last best places for shorebirds.”

“They’ve lost this type of habitat along their migratory routes,” Morse said.

The real payoff will come if the Conservancy learns which practices are successful and can be replicated in other areas of the country. As part of the study, the Conservancy has rigorously monitored use of the habitat by shorebirds at different tide heights, as well as the presence of weeds, invertebrates in the soil and overall soil condition. If significantly higher numbers of shorebirds are feeding in the pilot fields than in neighboring farm fields, and the soil condition is measurably improved, and farmers embrace the treatments, that will spell success.

“If 100 years from now,” farmer Dave Hedlin said, “there are healthy viable family farms in this valley and waterfowl and wildlife and salmon in the river, then everyone wins.”

TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT?

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Nothing says “Pacific Northwest” like a salmon sizzling on a barbeque in the summer. Salmon is an iconic food in the Pacific Northwest and we can’t seem to get enough of it. From 2000 to 2004, Americans consumed an average of about 284,000 metric tons of salmon annually. They’re willing to pay a high price for special runs such as Copper River salmon from Alaska.

But wait – aren’t salmon endangered? Should we be even be eating them at all?

WILD ALASKAN IS BEST

The answer is yes, especially if you’re buying wild Alaskan salmon. Runs of wild salmon in Alaska are over and above their historical levels. Eat all the wild Alaskan salmon you can find—they’re good for you, and the fish populations are not in trouble.

Salmon fishing is an important part of our economy and eating salmon connects us to our heritage. Salmon have sustained human communities for generations, fueling entire ecosystems as they swim up to 1,000 miles upstream to where they hatched, lay their eggs and then die, continuing the cycle of life in healthy rivers and streams.

In the lower 48 states, salmon populations have been drastically reduced by over-fishing, dams, logging and water diversions. This has led to listing some species of salmon on the endangered species list.

Salmon need cold, clear water to thrive. In Washington state, The Nature Conservancy is working to restore forests on the Olympic Peninsula so that they provide shade and filter the water for our rivers and streams. In time, this conservation work will lead to recovery of wild salmon populations.

WHAT ABOUT FARMED SALMON?

Some salmon you see in stores is actually farmed salmon, rather than wild. What exactly is the difference? Farm-raised salmon live their whole lives in pens, can breed disease, and are fed fishmeal that can be highly contaminated with PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls. The name itself should let you know that these chemicals are not a good thing to ingest!

On the east coast, the only real wild Atlantic salmon are currently in Nova Scotia, so if you’re seeing Atlantic salmon in the store, unless it says Nova Scotia wild salmon, it’s probably farmed fish.

HEALTH BENEFITS

Salmon is chock full of omega-3 fatty acids, the good kind of fat, which means it’s not only good for your heart but can reduce excess inflammation in our bodies that can cause chronic illness. Even one small serving of salmon contains a full day’s dose of Vitamin D, along with a whole host of other nutrients.

Canned salmon is a good option, since it’s usually wild caught. And both wild and farmed salmon typically contain low levels of mercury. In short, salmon is good for you. Eat up and enjoy!

50 Years of the Wild    By Mike Stevens, Washington State Director  
 Wrangell-St. Elias. Absaroka-Beartooth. Yosemite. Craters of the Moon. Weminuche. Mt. Adams. John Muir.   These names conjure vivid memories for me of glaciers, grizzlies, rock spires, wildflowers, rain, sun and streams. And they bring up strong emotions as I remember family and friends and shared experiences – epic lightning storms, being close to wild animals, skiing on high ridgelines, the freedom of just walking, eating, and swimming, shivering through star-filled nights, learning about each other and about ourselves.   I write this in my office overlooking Puget Sound and the port of Seattle. Ten million visitors a year crowd the marketplace below, just steps from a busy bay where we have seen orcas. In the distance, over the tops of freighters arriving full from China, I can see the wilderness peaks of the Olympic Mountains. Most of the time, when I look out the window, I make sure to enjoy the beauty of the place, and then I return to working through our piece of the challenge of conservation in the 21st century.   The challenge is overwhelming given that the pace of change is staggering – when I graduated from college in 1990, global population was just over 5 billion. We are at 7 billion today and I will retire as we hit 9 billion. How do we sustain large landscapes and wide-ranging wildlife on a planet with 9 billion people? How do we secure food, clean water, energy and shelter? Surely, we must deploy every strategy and every tool at hand, we must fire our imaginations and work together.   Today, however, on the Wilderness Act’s 50th birthday, I’m keeping things simple. I am going to think about those wilderness areas, those magical names, and how they mean so much to me and to so many others. I will treasure my memories and look forward to the next adventure, to learning a new mountain range, to introducing young friends to their first backpack or peak climb. I am going to reflect on how a few committed people dedicated themselves to the protection and stewardship of these places. And give thanks.

50 Years of the Wild

By Mike Stevens, Washington State Director

Wrangell-St. Elias. Absaroka-Beartooth. Yosemite. Craters of the Moon. Weminuche. Mt. Adams. John Muir.

These names conjure vivid memories for me of glaciers, grizzlies, rock spires, wildflowers, rain, sun and streams. And they bring up strong emotions as I remember family and friends and shared experiences – epic lightning storms, being close to wild animals, skiing on high ridgelines, the freedom of just walking, eating, and swimming, shivering through star-filled nights, learning about each other and about ourselves.

I write this in my office overlooking Puget Sound and the port of Seattle. Ten million visitors a year crowd the marketplace below, just steps from a busy bay where we have seen orcas. In the distance, over the tops of freighters arriving full from China, I can see the wilderness peaks of the Olympic Mountains. Most of the time, when I look out the window, I make sure to enjoy the beauty of the place, and then I return to working through our piece of the challenge of conservation in the 21st century.

The challenge is overwhelming given that the pace of change is staggering – when I graduated from college in 1990, global population was just over 5 billion. We are at 7 billion today and I will retire as we hit 9 billion. How do we sustain large landscapes and wide-ranging wildlife on a planet with 9 billion people? How do we secure food, clean water, energy and shelter? Surely, we must deploy every strategy and every tool at hand, we must fire our imaginations and work together.

Today, however, on the Wilderness Act’s 50th birthday, I’m keeping things simple. I am going to think about those wilderness areas, those magical names, and how they mean so much to me and to so many others. I will treasure my memories and look forward to the next adventure, to learning a new mountain range, to introducing young friends to their first backpack or peak climb. I am going to reflect on how a few committed people dedicated themselves to the protection and stewardship of these places. And give thanks.

DINNER AT THE TOP

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By Carrie Krueger, Director of Marketing

Food and nature go hand in hand. Without nature, our plates are empty. This Earth Day, we’ve been celebrating how nature feeds us and examining what we need to do to protect nature so that we can keep enjoying its bounty.

In my family Easter is a day of celebration, friends and great foods. This year we decided to connect our spring feast to our love of nature by taking our Easter brunch up a local mountain. We joined forces with friends to create the ultimate movable feast. The result: Brunch with a view, and a new appreciation for how nature feeds us.

Let’s just admit our packs were pretty heavy. We weren’t content with the usual hiking fare- sandwiches, apples, granola bars. For our celebration we wanted a full, hot meal which meant carrying a camp stove, frying pan, a hefty fruit salad, a bin of fresh cooked blueberry muffins and most important all the fixings for breakfast burritos. Pre-cracking the eggs probably saved us a lot of grief! And pre-cooking sausage and veggies was also wise. But all these goodies, including condiments for the burritos, and the fixings for Easter mimosas had us pretty weighed down on the trip up.

Luckily we picked a peak that can reasonably be reached in 90 minutes. The very popular Poo Poo Point trail in Issaquah is a suburban delight – relentlessly up, overused on weekends, but also spectacularly beautiful with a view at the top that rewards every sweaty step. The location of this trail, in the heart of Seattle’s rapidly developing eastside, represents a classic intersection of human needs like housing and agriculture, with nearly pristine nature. On the trek up a fellow hiker pointed out an owl nesting in a large pine, and near the top, a turkey vulture circled.

The trail is also favored by paragliders who step off of the steep cliffs near the top, and into the sky, attached to enormous kites which keep them aloft. We paused to watch these bold adventurers launch into the blue. But alas, our brunch beaconed and we continued on.

The summit of Poo Poo point feels remote. But there are some communications towers, and oddly, a picnic bench, where we set up our elegant dining table. Eggs were scrambled, tortillas were warmed, a champagne bottle was popped and hot chocolate was topped with marshmallows. This was first class, all the way.

Other weary hikers wandered by, noticing our feast. We invited all to join, ready to share our bounty. The view from our perch was nothing short of spectacular: Forests, lakes, and mountains in the distance, but also farms, houses, roads and many reminders that we coexist with nature.

As burritos were inhaled and the dog begged for leftovers, we raised our mugs and glasses in a toast to the beautiful day, our remarkable feast and the fact that nature feeds us – on Easter, on Earth Day and all year.