volunteer spotlight

November Volunteer Spotlight: Al Frasch

Al (left) holding an exceptionally tenacious scotch broom plant they conquered at our Livingston Bay preserve in 2015. Photo by Joelene Boyd

Al (left) holding an exceptionally tenacious scotch broom plant they conquered at our Livingston Bay preserve in 2015. Photo by Joelene Boyd

When I started in my job as Volunteer Coordinator almost 3 years ago one of my first goals was to meet all of our active volunteers. Many introductions were made by email which took a while for me to actually connect with some of these volunteers in person. For about 2 years I would receive an email every few months from one dedicated volunteer, summarizing the hours he had spent pulling scotch broom at our Ebey’s Landing Preserve on Whidbey Island. I was impressed by his hard work and determination to reduce the amount invasive scotch broom at the preserve. Al Frasch work on at Ebey's Landing was entirely self-motivated as I had not reached out to him or directed him to do participate in this work. He saw an issue, took matters into his own hands and did his part to help protect Ebey's Landing native landscape.

Now Ebey’s Landing is almost free of invasive Scotch Broom, and we have Al Frasch to thank. This is why we are highlighting Al in our November Volunteer Spotlight! Get to know Al in the interview below and read about his experience as a TNC volunteer. 

The Nature Conservancy: What is your volunteer role?  How long have you been volunteering with The Nature Conservancy?  Do you volunteer anywhere else?

Al Frasch: In 2005, I was on a volunteer scotch broom pulling day up on Ebey’s Bluff on Whidbey Island. We were picking everything we could find from new shoots an inch high to three foot bushes. This was the second of my times doing this, with the volunteer times being two years apart. Well, I foolishly said ‘well to do any good, someone should come out several times a year to make sure that none of the plants ever go to seed again.’ I was looked at by the leader of the Conservancy volunteer group with the ‘well why don’t you do it?’ I was stuck! And since then, I have been out several times a year - monthly at first, three times a year lately. The problem has been reduced to the point where I am able to do the “job” in a couple of hours where it was once much longer. 

I have volunteered for many TNC activities when I can. The most fun has been the many times that I have had the privilege of going out to Yellow Island - such a beautiful place! The limiting factor is that coming from Whidbey Island, it is a bit of a hassle just to get to some of the volunteer locations. I have done the 2 hour each way trip to Livingston Bay on three occasions, and have had a great time!

TNC: Where are you from?  How long have you been living in Washington?

AF: I am a born and bred Washingtonian and have lived here for all but 4 1/2 of my 67 years.

TNC: Anything about your career or schooling you would like to share?

AF: After graduating as a proud Husky from the UW, I had the pleasure of being a middle school and high school mathematics teacher for 30 years and retired from Cascade High School in the Everett School District.

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

AF: After retiring, I looked for an organization to volunteer for that represented my own views of how to make this world a better place. The first activity was a planting of native flowers on Ebey’s Bluff. I worked very hard and was hooked.

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

AF: Don’t know if it will happen, but I certainly hope that our nation will wake up to the fact that we must confront the role that humans are having in the degradation of our environment and the changing climate. For some of our politicians to act as though global warming does not exist is short-sighted and on the same level as the tobacco companies who denied the effects of tobacco products so as to continue to make profits.

TNC: What's your favorite thing to do when you're not volunteering?

AF: I am an avid model railroader, with a very large layout in the basement and do volunteering at the local, state and national level to help promote the hobby as a great retirement activity. My train layout is known regionally and nationally, which is quite rewarding.

TNC: How does volunteering make you feel?

AF: Tired. But, seriously, I feel very good to see that pile of scotch broom that was pulled and knowing that I am making a difference. Also, I am asked by many people who are walking the Ebey’s Bluff trail - if you haven’t been there, do it! - what am I doing and what is that strange tool? The weed wrench does look a little weird, but after explaining what I am doing, it is nice to have almost everyone say ‘thank you’ for my efforts.

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

AF: Yellow Island! Anything that I am asked to do, from planting to cutting weeds to stacking wood from the tree cutting once. 

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

AF: Warmer, more crowded, but, hopefully, with both curves past the inflection point and under control. 

TNC: Who is your environmental hero?

AF: Al Gore, the 43rd President. . . er, oops . . . anyway, because he has at least helped to highlight the problem we have with mankind’s heating of the world.

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

AF: Besides a hundred to hundred and fifty kids each day to do their homework? No, I try to inform people as to the facts and let them decide. In this post-factual climate, this is getting harder.

TNC: Is there anything you would like to see The Nature Conservancy doing that we are not already doing?

AF: TNC needs to create more “custodians” of areas like I do on Ebey’s Bluff. I think that my 10+ years have shown the positive effect of having someone local to go out several times a year to work on their own time. Much more flexible for the individual and they can get a better handle on the situation than a group coming out every couple of years. I know very precisely where to look and how far down that darn hillside I need to go. Now if those seeds weren’t viable for so many years!

TNC: Keep up the great work Al! We definitely want to recruit more volunteers like you. And we would love to see that model train setup!

September Volunteer Spotlight: Ellenda Wulfestieg

Ellenda Wulfestieg at Chuckanut Island 

The Nature Conservancy is fortunate to have 100’s of volunteers who support our mission, doing on the ground restoration, outreach, office administration, photography, research, and anything imaginable that adds to our success.

Of our many volunteers, Ellenda stands out because she volunteers for events all over the state, she volunteers frequently in a variety of roles, and is willing to come out to volunteer at a moment’s notice! This is why we are featuring her as our Volunteer Spotlight for September.


Recently we asked Ellenda to tell us more about herself and why she volunteers. Below is what she had to say. We certainly enjoyed learning more about one of our most enthusiastic supporters, and we hope you will too!

Why did I join The Nature Conservancy?  It’s a no brainer, I love nature and want to help protect and preserve it as long as I can.  My love of the outdoors goes back to childhood.  I am from a family (I have brothers) that went camping and back packing every summer.  We started out with blankets pinned together as tents in the early 1950s camping on the beaches of California, moved up to heavy canvas tents for the Sierras in the late 50s, and into nylon lean-tos, pup tents, and backpacks for the high Sierras in the 60s.  My grandmother bought a mountain and a half in Southern California in 1950 and when we weren’t camping or backpacking, we were spending summers and holidays at grandma’s; climbing in the mountains, making trails, and learning about the animals and plants. 

As well as joining The Nature Conservancy I have also joined other conservation NGOs such as The Ocean Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council, but I only volunteer my time for TNC, for work parties and as an Ambassador because I believe that TNC actually gets things done.  I love the fact that TNC is worldwide, that they employ scientists, that they work with other agencies, and mostly that they have a long, long range view of conservation as well as a we-can-do-this-right-now attitude.

Why did I become active with TNC?  My husband was bed ridden for 10 years so I was pretty much house-bound and when he passed away I wanted to get out into the world again.  I thought to myself, what a better way than to volunteer my time to organizations I believe in.  I first volunteered at a spay and neuter clinic but it was inside and I wanted to get outside into the nature that I had missed for 10 years.  I picked TNC because of the interesting projects that I could get involved in that would both get me outside and would teach me things.  I loved all the work crews I volunteered for so much that I decided to volunteer to become an Ambassador for TNC.  Being an Ambassador has been a kick.  You meet some VERY interesting people, some have even become friends.  You get to have fun while teaching people what TNC is all about.  I will be very interested to see how many, if any, of the people who showed so much interest and excitement about joining TNC work parties actually show up next year.  I hope a lot of them.

What have been my most interesting experiences with TNC?  I have enjoyed all of my work crew experiences.  I loved the first work crew I volunteered for, planting trees at Fisher Slough.  I was up in Bellingham visiting my niece and decided to take her 3 girls, ages 4, 6, and 8, with me.  We had a great time.  They all carried the tree starts to plant while I dug the holes, fun fun.  I also loved pulling ivy on Chuckanut Island, so much so that I donated my Expedition watch to the island.  Somewhere in the middle of the island while climbing under and over logs in search of evil ivy my watch was torn off my wrist.  I didn’t even feel anything when it happened, but I hope the trees and animals appreciate the soft ticking sound it will make for the next couple of years and I hope it doesn’t stimulate evil ivy growth.  I’m taking my new watch off for the next ivy pull. 

As an Ambassador I think that I enjoyed the WTA@50 event the most.  Yes we got soaked in the rain, yes it was chilly/cold, yes the turnout wasn’t as large as we expected, yes one of the tents blew over and broke two legs, but the people who attended and the organizations that were represented were very in tune with the mission of TNC.   I enjoyed talking with them and learning about the things they are interested in.  I’ve enjoyed all of my Ambassadorial events except one; it was just boring because of the location where they put us and because the attendees were not interested in learning about TNC or anything else that day.

Who am I?  I was christened Ellen but being 5’10” at age12 and taller than all the boys, I decided that Ellen was too short a name for me, so for years I tried adding prefixes and suffixes until I finally decided on Ellenda.  I am a psychologist and archaeologist by education and have been an Ethnographic Conservator for the Museum of the American Indian (now part of the Smithsonian), a journeyman electrician, a refinery maintenance foreman and superintendent, the president of an import company in Venezuela, an English as a Second Language instructor for adults, and now an employee of the Educational Testing Service scoring SAT and TOEIC exams. 

Where have I lived?  After high school I decided not to live longer than 4 years in any one spot and my mom was all for that because she loved to travel, but didn’t want to go by herself. With me living in different parts of the States and the world, she could visit me and I’d show her around.  I’ve lived in Los Angeles, Berkeley, New York, New Orleans, and Houston.  Overseas I have lived in England, Germany, Mexico, Aruba, Curacao, Venezuela and Costa Rica.  I have traveled around many European countries, spent time in the Amazon rainforest as well as the Costa Rican rainforest.  I still love traveling and am planning a long trip to Scotland and Ireland with my granddaughter in 2020.

If you enjoyed reading about Ellenda’s experience as a volunteer, and would like to get involved, please visit our volunteer page to learn more!

August Volunteer Spotlight: Brandon Wolther

For our August Volunteer Spotlight, we reached out to a volunteer whose land ethic really inspires us. Brandon’s volunteer story is somewhat unique compared to some of our other volunteers. We appreciate the importance he places on family, the awareness and respect he has for where his food comes from and it’s impact (he hunts and grows most of it himself), and his involvement in the local community.

Here’s what Brandon has to say about his experience volunteering with The Nature Conservancy. Thank you Brandon, for your service and your flattering words in this interview! We agree, it’s lots of people coming together doing small things that makes a big difference!

My name is Brandon Wolther.  I am first and foremost a father.  I am a chiropractor and I have grown to really like The Nature Conservancy.  Unlike many of you who will probably be reading this blog, I did not join up with The Nature Conservancy because I was really impressed with something they did or something they represented.  I am part of the hunter stewardship program. 

I was introduced to them after returning from a two year mission in Nicaragua.  When I returned my dad said that there were going to be some areas where we used to hunt that I couldn’t join them because I hadn’t put in “volunteer hours”.  The following year, even though I was studying out of state, I made it back for a weekend and have been helping out a couple of weekends ever since. It was a real struggle at first. Schooling lasted almost 8 years and considering I had to travel from eastern Idaho and later from Portland, Oregon, it was sometimes a real drag.  We put in a lot of fence, cleaned up garbage, sprayed noxious weeds and that is hard work up in the Moses Coulee rocks.  The first thing I did appreciate was that it brought the family together a couple days beyond the hunting season.  That was a major part of why I came home each year for mule deer hunting, it is our family reunion.  That is when we all get together and enjoy a week together.  That week means the world to me.  Nature Conservancy volunteer time was just something I had to do. 

Now I’ve moved back and live in Quincy, Washington.  I’ve been here for 4 years now and I’ve come to enjoy the time I’ve spent with the Nature Conservancy.  I’ve met some great people, like Chuck, Liz and Lauren, and made some good friends on my outings.  This year I was able to take my 8 year old son along with me.  He learned some valuable lessons, I can’t say he worked hard, but he stuck with it.  He helped out with a seminar in 100 degree heat and searched for pygmy rabbit burrows.  The excitement he has for the outdoors is what gives me the most hope for the future.  You should have seen him light up when he saw the rabbits in the breeding station.  What I have grown to love about the Nature Conservancy is that it truly strives to conserve.  It is a nature group that still allows managed hunting.  It protects vast amounts of ground but does not condescend on neighboring ranchers, even though they may be overgrazing.  Instead they try to help and teach them.  They take advantage of the ground they have to do studies and to help all those who live in the area to learn how they can do things more efficiently.  I could go into depth here but I’ll leave it at I’ve been very impressed. 

In my world time is a very valuable thing.  I am the father of five and the husband of the most amazing woman on the face of the planet.  (She’ll never read this so you know I really mean that.)  I am the Branch President of the Spanish Branch of our church (kind of the equivalent of a pastor or priest for those who may not know what that is).  I sit on several committees here in town for different groups.  I run a chiropractic clinic completely on my own.  And if that isn’t enough we’ve got 10 acres where we grow, raise, freeze, can, dry, etc. more food than most can even imagine.  I’ve learned sleep is overrated, that’s why I’m up late writing up this interview J.  If family wasn’t important to me I never would have learned about the Nature Conservancy.  If the Nature Conservancy hadn’t become important to me I wouldn’t make the time to still be involved with it.

This year I had a couple of unique opportunities.  One was to attend a seminar given up at the falls.  I have seen so much of this desert country, but that seminar brought the country to life.  Every year I spend a week putting the miles behind me traipsing through the sage brush.  I have seen some amazing things.  Just last year I had an experience where we had hunted hard, I’d seen chucker, sage grouse, jack rabbits, cotton tails, and birds galore not to mention deer.  A beauty of a buck came up out of the brush, I pulled up and watched.  I had that buck dead to rights and I let him walk away.  There are some moments that are bigger than we are.  During that seminar my eyes were open in another way to the beauties of what made the land the way it is up there.  It was absolutely amazing.  The place I watched that buck walk away was only a few miles from that seminar.  Before anyone gets any crazy conversion ideas I will also say that the freezer was not empty at the end of the season.

Fifty years from now the world will be whatever we make of it.  Each decision we make affects the future.  If we choose to make it better it will be better.  If we look for the bad we will find it however if we look for the good it is no further away from us.   The media loves to bombard us with all of the bad things that are going on around us.  This is one of the things I like about spending more time doing and less time listening.  While serving we are making a difference.  Our projects may seem small but they make a difference.  Each small difference in a positive direction builds upon the last and betters the world around us.  That is what we do with The Nature Conservancy, small projects with big goals.  It is awesome to see the native vegetation so full and the areas free of trash, or to find endangered bunnies surviving in the wild.  It is inspiring to come out and find other people from all walks of life trying to make a difference too.

I love that we can work together, a group that builds and protects nature, and hunters who help keep the balance so that less is wasted over the winter, freezers are filled, and truly healthy meats are put on the table (there’s the chiropractor in me popping out again).  Some think we have different views.  Originally I was one of those.  Now I see that our views are not so far apart, thanks to Chuck.  So much in life is about balance.  The stewardship program provides beautiful country, some of the most beautiful habitat I’ve seen in a long time.  We put a lot of long hours in to build that.  Good habitat improves the herds and hence the hunting.  Proper management ensures that all species can thrive.  Though it’s true that nature can balance itself we too are a part of this nature.  Maybe we are in part responsible for the decline of the Pygmy Rabbits, maybe we’re not.  What I do know is that if it weren’t for a lot of people’s efforts they would no longer exist now.  It is our duty to care for this world the best we can.  I’m glad to provide another helping hand to a program with the bigger picture in mind.  I hope that we can continue to involve others and provide more opportunities for learning and serving. Maybe then one more person will come and bring their child along, creating the legacy of the next 20 years.  May we continue to work together to create something bigger than we are to make a difference.

July Volunteer Spotlight: Donna LaCasse

For our July volunteer spotlight, we are featuring a volunteer with a unique story who Has reliably been coming to events all over the state, traveling and camping with her feline companion, and is also a Master Hunter and Master Birder.

Donna LaCasse has been volunteering with The Nature Conservancy since 2014 when her husband passed away suddenly, and she decided to throw herself into service as a way to work through her grief. Since then she’s been highly involved with The Nature Conservancy and many other environmental organizations, and is willing to take trips halfway across the state to help out on our preserves.

The Nature Conservancy: What is your volunteer role?  How long have you been volunteering with The Nature Conservancy?  Do you volunteer anywhere else?

Donna LaCasse: I volunteer at Port Susan Bay and other Conservancy preserves throughout the state, traveling with my cat Stonewall Jackson. I volunteer at Puget Sound Bird Survey, Coastal Survey, USGS breeding bird survey, Vaux swift migration counts, and with the Great Old Broads for Wilderness.

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

Donna LaCasse: I was born in WA but have lived in other states.

TNC: Anything about your career or schooling you would like to share?

Donna: Currently retired, college grad and worked in hospital labs in chemistry during my career. 

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

Donna: Been a volunteer throughout my children’s school years...then after my hubby’s sudden death started working more closely with the various groups associated with Audubon and the environment.

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

Donna: What gives me hope for the future is education of children and adults on the situation of our planet.

TNC: What's your favorite thing to do when you're not volunteering?

Donna: I am avid hiker and gardener and have completed entire PCT, but in many hikes.

TNC: How does volunteering make you feel?

Donna: Volunteering makes me feel like everyone can make a difference if they give of themselves and their time...and hopefully I am making a small difference.

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

Donna: I love helping with pygmy rabbits and this year with the Broads on sage grouse habitat problems.

TNC: Who is your environmental hero?

Rachel Carson--Silent Spring-- hero. (We agree Donna!) 

June Volunteer Spotlight: Susan Bernstein

For our June Volunteer spotlight, we’d like to introduce you to a volunteer who’s seen all of our preserves… but hasn’t necessarily visited all of them in person! Susan Bernstein has been volunteering every Tuesday with our Marketing team on photo management for over a year. 

Read below to learn more about how she supports our visual story-telling and why she volunteers!

The Nature Conservancy:  What is your volunteer role?  Do you volunteer anywhere else?

Susan Bernstein: For over a year now I’ve been helping to move the Washington chapter’s image archive to a cloud-based service (the Photo Vault). The goal is to make a curated collection of interesting and useful photos, mostly taken for The Conservancy by professional and volunteer photographers, available to and easily searchable by staff.

Over the years I’ve volunteered with other Nature Conservancy groups, including Eastern Conservation Science and the Global Marine Team.

TNC: Where are you from?  How long have you been living in Seattle?

SB: I’m from Montreal, and have dual Canadian and American citizenship. My husband and I moved to Seattle from the Boston area in 2005 in order to live in the west, where we had always loved to travel. What a great move!

TNC: Anything about your career or schooling you would like to share?

SB: For many years I enjoyed a stimulating career with one of the Internet’s originators in Cambridge, Massachusetts, doing programming, product development, and consulting in network and educational technologies. My undergraduate days were spent at McGill University, graduate years at Columbia. I began my professional life as an educational research psychologist.

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

SB: Originally, I was seduced by the beautiful ecoregional maps made by the science team back east, and volunteered to help. At the time I was really interested in land conservation. As I learned more about biodiversity, freshwater, and oceans, I continued to find ways to work with The Conservancy. Here in Seattle, being able to focus on Washington State interests me.

TNC:  What's your favorite thing to do when you're not volunteering?

SB: My husband and I like to take road trips. When we moved here, we decided that we’d visit every one of Washington’s 39 counties, which I think we’ve finally accomplished. We hike, discover geological features, visit wineries and power generators and university campuses, learn a lot, have fun.

TNC: How does volunteering make you feel?

SB: Useful. I really appreciate opportunities to use and extend my skills and knowledge to support conservation. Interacting with folks in the Seattle office is stimulating, as is learning more about Conservancy projects in Washington.

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

SB: I’m not sure I could pick a favorite. Ramsey Canyon Preserve in southern Arizona is a treasure. Closer to home, I love hiking the Bluff Trail at Ebey’s Landing in any season.


May Volunteer Spotlight: Hannah Letinich

The month of May is a time when trees are leafing out, flowers are blossoming, and birds are migrating north – a great time to be a photographer in Washington State, so it is fitting that we are highlighting our lead volunteer photographer, Hannah Letinich, for our May volunteer spotlight!

Hannah has been volunteering with TNC a little over a year and just recently went from volunteer photographer to lead volunteer photographer. She coordinates and bottom-lines assignments with fellow volunteer photographers and videographers, ensures staff photography needs are being met, and provides guidance and direction on assignments in addition to photographing special events, volunteer work parties and other fun projects.

Aside from volunteering with The Nature Conservancy, Hannah has been involved in photography most of her life and studies multi media production at The Evergreen State College with a focus on Sustainability and Justice. Through her volunteer work with TNC she has been growing as a wildlife and documentary photographer.

Learn more about Hannah in her interview below, and check out some of the assignments she’s worked on for us.

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

Hannah Letinich: I am inspired by the success of TNC, the people I encounter and photograph who are creating change and awareness in order to preserve the amazing places on the planet.

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

Hannah: I see hope in the younger generations, they are learning how to be more respectful of nature and are more aware of their impact.

TNC: What's your favorite thing to do when you're not volunteering?

Hannah: When I'm not photographing I'm communications manager at Mountain to Sound Outfitters and my favorite past time is paddling my 18 foot wooden canoe with my Fiancé Todd.

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

Hannah: I have no idea, but let's make it great!

TNC: Who is your environmental hero?

Hannah: My Dad Rob Letinich, he lived on a wooden sailboat, ate and shopped local, was conscious of his impact on the Earth and helped others see the benefit in being sustainable.

TNC: Is there anything you would like to see The Nature Conservancy doing that we are not already doing?

Hannah: I am very excited about the volunteer photography program in Washington, I hope it grows moving forward to help build imagery that will help promote the preservation of Washington's wild places!    

April Volunteer Spotlight: Susie Saalwaechter

In celebration of Earth Month, we’d like to highlight the work of one of our most loyal volunteers, who we are proud to say is being honored by Governor Jay Inslee with the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award in the category of “environment” on April 11th.  Check out our interview with Susie below, and we invite you to join us at Safeco Stadium on April 11th, for the Mariner’s Salute to Volunteers where Susie will be acknowledged along with other outstanding volunteers in the community.

Thank you for all of your hard work Susie! 

TNC: What is your volunteer role?

Susie Saalwaechter: I am a Conservation Ambassador Team Leader.  I am responsible for planning, coordinating, supplying, and recruiting volunteers for 20-25 community outreach events each year.

TNC: How long have you been volunteering with The Nature Conservancy?

Susie: It’s three years now.

TNC: Do you volunteer anywhere else?

Susie: Yes.  I am also Co-President of the Newport Band Parents Association, which is a booster club for the band program at Newport High School In Bellevue, Washington.  Our son attends Newport, and is in the band.

TNC: Where are you from?

Susie: I was originally born in Japan, then moved to the US when I was very young.  My family settled in the Chicago area.  I’ve lived in the Midwest, the East Coast, and now the West Coast.  We’ve been in Seattle for 8 years.

TNC: Anything about your career or schooling you would like to share?

Susie: I am trained as an aerospace engineer, and worked on Air Force and Army programs during my first career.

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

Susie: I was looking for a non-profit where I could help protect nature.

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

Susie: Many people do say that the future can be bleak, based on the immensity and scope of environmental problems.  And there are good reasons to feel that way.  Yet I am very hopeful and optimistic because there are so many ordinary people, organizations, and companies that are doing their part to help the environment.  There is a tremendous amount of grass roots effort that is underway for the benefit of nature.  Its extraordinary how people all over the world, not just in Seattle or Washington, but people all over the world are making changes, big and small, to the way they live.  They have actively chosen to live differently because of our impact on the Earth.  The rapid growth in clean energy, the huge popularity of electric cars, the sheer numbers of people who recycle; these are significant changes.  The media don’t report on this, and when they do, it’s not the top story.  But quietly and below the radar, people everywhere are slowly making the change to a greener economy.  In addition, companies worldwide announce they are adopting some kind of green policy every day.  So yes, the bad news is climate change is here, but the good news is people everywhere are starting to embrace green solutions.  The Nature Conservancy, like other similar non-profits, is contributing to those solutions.

TNC: What's your favorite thing to do when you're not volunteering?

Susie: Enjoying nature, of course.  Usually in the form of travel.

TNC: How does volunteering make you feel?

Susie: It’s like getting paid to do your hobby!  Except you don’t get paid.  It truly is like doing your favorite hobby.  If you volunteer for something you really enjoy and believe in, it’s incredibly fun.  I do have a passion for a healthy planet.  That passion usually starts locally with a desire to protect places that you love, but then you quickly realize that protection is a regional, national, and global objective because it’s all connected.  And guess what?  TNC is about protection.

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

Susie: The pygmy rabbit restoration project is amazing.  Who doesn’t love rabbits that fit in the palm of your hand?  How cool is that?  I really enjoyed it.  Outreach is also very rewarding.  You get to meet all kinds of people who care about nature.  Plus we get to be outdoors!

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

Susie: I think we are in the midst of exponential change worldwide.  When I think about what life was like 50 years ago, and how it compares to today, it will be just as different 50 years into the future.  I would like to see far more versatile public transportation that encourages greater use over single-passenger car travel that dominates today’s transportation mode.

TNC: Who is your environmental hero?

Susie: There are many but my top three are John Muir, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Elon Musk.

TNC: What is your spirit animal and why?

Susie: I took one of those tests, and it came up with an owl.  It said that it can see beyond illusion.  However I was also born in the year of the Tiger, so there you go.

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

Susie: No, not that I know of anyway!

TNC: Is there anything you would like to see The Nature Conservancy doing that we are not already doing?

Susie: I would like to see the Washington chapter play a more prominent role in combating water pollution in Puget Sound.  I read in a recent Seattle Times story that juvenile salmon in the Pacific Northwest have been found with high levels of drugs, medications, and personal care products in their tissues, among the highest in the nation.  Read more.




March Volunteer Spotlight: Apoorva Chandra

For this month’s volunteer spotlight, we want to introduce you to Apoorva Chandra! 

Apoorva is being recognized for her commitment to volunteerism, and decidedly un-diva like attitude.  She is willing to help out however is needed, no matter what the task, and is always very thorough.  She has even been known to stay after the office closes to see a project to completion!  While many of our volunteers stick to one role, Apoorva is flexible!  On Mondays she helps out with the everyday administrative tasks at the front desk and on Wednesdays she works on the volunteer database, entering volunteer hours and new applications, and occasionally she joins the Ambassador crew at community events.  Her most recent project was to digitalize old paper files to help us prepare for the office move!  Aside from her willingness to support our work in any way necessary, Apoorva stands out in her eagerness to learn and grow as a volunteer. 

Here’s the inside peek into what makes her tick!

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

Apoorva Chandra: I am from the state of Haryana in India. I moved to Texas from India to go to college in 2008.  Afterwards, I moved to New Jersey for graduate school.  I was visiting family here in Washington in the summer of 2015 when I saw the TNC office in Downtown Seattle. I have always wanted to live in different parts of the country, so I moved here and started volunteering as I look for full time jobs.  I love it here in Seattle!   

TNC: Anything about your career or schooling you would like to share?

Apoorva: I decided to go for a career in the non-profit sector after starting to volunteer at The Nature conservancy  :-) 

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

Apoorva: An environmental science course during graduate school. TNC and the work it does came up during a class discussion, and I was inspired by its motto: "protecting nature, preserving life. "

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

Apoorva: The Environmental Crisis is being recognized at a global level, and that is the first step in the mission to save the planet and this makes me hopeful. 

TNC: How does volunteering make you feel? 

Apoorva: It makes me feel good because I am becoming an environment conscious, recycling and composting individual. 

TNC: Who is your environmental hero?

Apoorva: Rachel Carson, because she wrote the book Silent Spring, which was an eye opener. 


February Volunteer Spotlight: Erin Costello

For this month’s volunteer spotlight we are happy to recognize our Data Ninja Erin Costello!  Erin supports both the Philanthropy and Marketing teams in our Seattle office at least once a week.

Philanthropy Operations Specialist Dan Hoon especially values Erin’s contributions. 

This is what he had to say about her:

“The time and quality of work that Erin has donated to the Philanthropy team is invaluable. Her hard work has meant that we are able to be a more proficient team, which would not be possible without her.  There is not enough I could say in praising Erin for the work she does and the great help she is to the Philanthropy team and the Washington Chapter.”

Erin was delighted to hear that she was chosen for this month’s spotlight.   This is what she had to say about volunteering with The Nature Conservancy:

“In my role as "Data Ninja" I organize and edit files in the database as well as the hard copies. Lately I have been converting lots of paper files to digital in anticipation of the office move. I have been volunteering with The Nature Conservancy for one year now.

I grew up in beautiful Hood River, Oregon then moved to Seattle 6 years ago to attend the University of Washington. There I studied Oceanography and Marine Biology. I plan on attending graduate school for Environmental Science with a focus in Hydrology.

I was inspired to volunteer by a love of the outdoors and an interest in environmental non-profits. I hope to pursue a career in conservation and The Nature Conservancy has been a great introduction to this profession.

When I am not volunteering you can find me climbing, skiing, or snuggling with my fluffy little dog named Squirt.

I am excited about all of The Nature Conservancy's projects, but especially by the Emerald Edge due to its international aspects.”

You rock Erin!

The Nature Conservancy is grateful for the support of Erin and all of our volunteers!  Keep up the good work,  it really makes a difference!

2015 Volunteers of the Year!

Written by Lauren Miheli, Volunteer Coordinator

This year two volunteers made an amazing impact at our Ellsworth Creek preserve in southwest Washington, doing any task necessary, whether it be simple or challenging, and helping out as much as possible to restore this former industrial forest to a healthy condition.

Their contributions included removing invasive tansy ragwort, planting native Sitka spruce and hemlock trees, collecting litter, building a rain garden and making repairs to the forestry research shed.  Because of their effort and their enthusiasm and commitment to our mission, Tricia Sears and Julian Lawrence have been named The Nature Conservancy in Washington’s Volunteers of the Year!

Both Tricia and Julian have been volunteering on the Ellsworth Creek Project since 2009.  They’ve joined almost every group restoration party we’ve organized, and have also taken the initiative to tackle smaller and more time intensive tasks on their own, sometimes camping out to complete a project over a weekend or several days, as they did when they built a rain garden at the shed. They have a great attitude, and work in even the wettest weather conditions with smiles on their faces. In the 4 years they’ve been volunteering with us they’ve contributed a combined total of 305 hours!

An interesting fact about our Washington Volunteers of the Year is that they live in Portland!  We know that there are many great volunteer opportunities in Portland and with TNC Oregon, so we really appreciate Tricia and Julian’s commitment to Ellsworth Creek and their willingness to cross the Columbia River to come volunteer for us!

The Nature Conservancy in Washington is grateful to have over 1000 volunteers who work on our projects throughout the state, and exceptional volunteers like Tricia and Julian who contribute 100s of hours and years of service to conservation.  Congratulations to Tricia and Julian, as well as our other Volunteer of the Year nominees, Caitlyn O’Connor, Mary Ann Redeker, Erin Costello, and Stephanie Williams.  


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!

November Volunteer Spotlight: Caitlyn O'Connor

Despite having only been actively volunteering with us for three months, Caitlyn has made a strong impression on our staff and board of trustees. She is often still in the office working on her projects after all staff members have gone home. We'd like to acknowledge her willingness to jump right in and work hard by recognizing her with November's Volunteer Spotlight! Nice work Caitlyn!

Caitlyn is our Volunteer Trustee Coordinator, and is also assisting our Puget Sound Program Director Jessie Israel with social science research that connects the dots between investments in natural infrastructure and its impacts on people, economy and our communities. A West Coast native, Caitlyn grew up in Los Angeles, went to school in Victoria, Canada, worked for a start-up in San Francisco and is currently in Seattle pursuing her dream of working with a non-profit to make a difference in the community. She moved to Seattle in April and has been in love ever since.  

At the University of Victoria, she co-founded BOSS (Sociology Student Society) and was a research assistant for Dr. Vahabzadeh while he was studying the power of social movements and the influence they have on individuals to be active or passive in the transition. 

We asked Caitlyn to tell us about why she volunteers with The Nature Conservancy and is passionate about nature, and here's what she had to say:

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

Caitlyn O'Connor: I want to work for TNC because their values align with mine. They are science-driven, hold deep experience and have proven results across the globe. They care about our rapidly changing climate which is straining our natural systems on which all life depends. 

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

CO: People, our ability to make a difference, that we can come together and collaborate to advance a movement.  

TNC: What's your favorite thing to do when you're not volunteering?

CO: Plan my next adventure, which is currently Iceland, and drink coffee; preferably at the same time.  

TNC: How does volunteering make you feel?

CO: It feels great to be around people with similar interest, to help others and enact change. It gives me a sense of pride and identity of doing good and helping others. It gives me a positive view of my life and my future goals.  

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

CO: My favorite project is Cities. Making it possible for nature and cities to coexist through the development of green infrastructure and natural solutions to pollution.

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

CO: I don't know since Back to the Future is now completely in the past. 

TNC: Who is your environmental hero?

CO: Each and every one of us who does their best to protect our planet. 

TNC: What is your spirit animal and why?

CO: I am a butterfly, owl, and tiger according to this survey. The butterfly is a symbol of powerful transformations and currently, I have changed my location and direction of my career. The owl is about seeing beyond the veil of deception and illusion, solving mysteries of life. My favorite thing about Sociology is researching and presenting the "hypocrisy" of our society. And lastly, to move cities, change careers, and investigate the hidden, the spirit of a tiger – willpower, personal strength, and courage – polishes off my personality. So yup, I think this quiz is fairly accurate.  

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

CO: Yes, but most of the time it is for their/our good. When I was 18, my best friend and I decided to travel Europe, London to Rome, with no itinerary and no hostel booked for the six weeks. Let's say, the stories started on our first night. We almost slept on a bench because every hostel was booked for Wimbledon. Oooops.  

TNC: Is there anything you would like to see The Nature Conservancy doing that we are not already doing?

CO: I would like to see The Nature Conservancy demand more from the government to enact change. 


October Volunteer Spotlight: Alicia Watras

Alicia Watras has been heavily involved as a volunteer with The Nature Conservancy in Washington ever since she signed up in July 2014 and almost immediately joined us at our first annual Passport to Port Susan Bay event.  Since then she has been actively supporting our mission in a variety of ways, including as an active member of the Conservation Ambassadors, a regular Gratitude Team caller, and by contributing to a host of office projects and work parties on our preserves.

Aside from her passion for conservation Alicia holds an MBA from the University of Washington and is an avid rock climber. 

We recently asked Alicia to give us her thoughts on volunteering with The Nature Conservancy, and here's what she had to say:

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

Alicia Watras: The global, science-based, and collaborative approach that TNC takes for protection of biodiversity, healthy environments for people and animal, and maintaining some wild lands inspired me to volunteer some of my energy and time to help further the cause.

Various volunteering opportunities I have enjoyed include restoration projects led by environmental scientists, spreading awareness about TNC and environmental issues through tabling at special events, and office work in the Seattle location. Examples:

  • Planting cottonwood in Fisherman Slough where there was an overview of the history of the project and the objectives of our volunteer efforts
  • Representing TNC and taking part in the Big Tent Event in Olympia
  • Taking notes for an in-person meeting of different, international Reef Resilience TNC scientists and coordinators

I enjoy projects where I can see progress occurring or –as the progress achieved is not tangible in some cases or in early stages of enormously-scoped projects- at least see a practical efforts in action!

TNC:  What's your favorite thing to do when you're not volunteering?

AW:  Backpacking in National Parks.

TNC:  Who is your environmental hero?

AW:  One is Jane Goodall. Among others include the many TNC employees and volunteers that I have met!

TNC:  Is there anything you would like to see The Nature Conservancy doing that we are not already doing?

AW:  In the PNW: a monumental, organized, collaborative effort to remove English Ivy and other invasive plant species. I volunteered at Chuckanut Island removing ivy and hope to volunteer for the same event next year in the aim to eventually free the island of ivy so that indigenous plant species can recover and also support the animal life there. There are many other places in Washington where I would like to help remove ivy and help a greater variety of plant life get a chance at growing. I would love to be part of a cross-organizational, multi-decade-long, concerted effort across the PNW to control the continuing spread of ivy.

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