Puget Sound Science - A Human-Centered Approach

Puget Sound Science - A Human-Centered Approach

We are all the end users of science for the Puget Sound. No amount of money or science alone is going to protect and restore the Puget Sound. But, people changing their behavior will. Design the right tools that connect people to what they care about in to the Puget Sound each day and people will change. Design thinking starts with learning what they care about.

Making history in Puget Sound and in our kitchen!

“High five to Christy from CEQ! This is better than a fourth quarter Seahawks drive!” -Chairman Mel Sheldon, Tulalip Tribes

“Save the salmon and we save the Orca... In saving the Orca, we save ourselves.” -U.S. Congressman, Denny Heck 

By Jessie Israel, Director, Puget Sound Conservation
Photo by Zoe Van Duivenbode

Puget Sound is a national treasure. We have orcas off our downtown shorelines, tribal histories that date back thousands of years, salmon running in our urban streams, right in the midst of one of the fastest growing regions in the country.

We were proud to host a news conference with our local, state, federal, and tribal partners about White House efforts to take the next step in saving this national treasure.  As he stood in our conference room, looking out at the Sound in all its beauty, Governor Inslee said, “Today’s announcements mark an important step on the path to restoring the health of Puget Sound, the recovery of our salmon species and fulfilling our nation’s commitment to Washington’s tribes.” 

As one of America’s largest estuaries, Puget Sound is of national and tribal treaty significance.  Recovery efforts are starting to yield results, but damage still outpaces recovery.

President Obama and Congress acknowledge that recovery in Puget Sound is still possible, and provide funding commensurate with that awarded to other estuary programs, such as Chesapeake Bay or the Great Lakes.

We are gratified to see this announcement, which elevates Puget Sound recovery as a national priority and will improve alignment among federal, tribal, state, local and non-governmental actions for salmon, for Puget Sound, and for Tribal treaty rights.

White House News Release: Taking Action to Protect the Puget Sound Watershed 

Governor Inslee News Release: White House, Washington state and federal leaders announce new initiatives for Puget Sound recovery

KING: Puget Sound recovery effort gets a 'historic' $600M boost

Seattle Times/AP: Obama Administration steps up efforts to protect Puget Sound

KUOW: Puget Sound In Line for Environmental Health Boost

Northwest Public Radio: New Federal Action Plan for Puget Sound Restoration

Seattle PI: Obama Administration steps up to the plate on cleaning up Puget Sound 

KOMO: Feds step up efforts to protect Puget Sound marine life

KNKX: New Federal action plan for Puget Sound restoration leverages tribal treaty rights

          CEQ: Taking action to protect the Puget Sound watershed

Honored guests joined TNC team at our Washington Field Office for today’s news conference:

• Jay Inslee, Washington State Governor

• Mel Sheldon, Tulalip Tribes Chairman

•  Leonard Forsman, Suquamish Tribe Chairman

•  Denny Heck, U.S. Congressman

•  Derek Kilmer, U.S. Congressman

•  Christy Goldfuss, White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Director

•  Col. John G. Buck, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

•  Dennis McLerran, Regional Administrator EPA

•  Barry Thom, Regional Administrator NOAA                         

•  Martha Kongsgaard, Chair, Puget Sound Leadership Council

Our approach to recovery here is unique: we have aligned the Tribes, federal agencies, state and local governments, and multiple NGOs to agree on approaches to recovery.  Increased federal action and support will accelerate this good work.

Key take home points from today’s event:

  • The federal government is taking new action to protect and restore the Puget Sound watershed, through the establishment of a Federal Puget Sound Task Force and a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) directing federal agency restoration activities in the region.
  • White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and federal agencies are announcing new federal funding commitments to improve estuary health and contribute to salmon recovery:
    • A $248 million investment from EPA, the State of Washington and Puget Sound tribal governments, over the next five years, which will go toward improving estuary health.  EPA is contributing $124 million through the National Estuary Program, matched with an additional $124 million from the State.
    • Two completed habitat studies by the Army Corps and partners with recommended funding. The first, the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project, recommends approximately $450 million in large-scale estuary and coastal habitat restoration. The second, the Skokomish River Basin Restoration Project, recommends a $20 million project to open over 40 miles of habitat along the Skokomish River.
    • An additional $100 million commitment by the Army Corps of Engineers to improve fish passage at Mud Mountain Dam, located on the White River, with an initial $30 million included in the President’s FY2017 budget to begin construction.  

A Critical Ingredient to Washington's Hops

Hops in Yakima Valley grow well thanks to irrigation from the forests of the Cascade Mountains. 

Hops in Yakima Valley grow well thanks to irrigation from the forests of the Cascade Mountains. 

Written by Kara Karboski, Kristen Taggart & Ryan Anderson, Washington RC&D Council
Photographed by Heather Hadsel

Washington State is a land shaped by fire and water. Mighty rivers have formed our landscapes and help to support wildlife, power our homes and cities, and water our farms. Likewise, fire has existed in the forests, prairies, and shrub-steppe of our state for thousands of years as an important agent of change and rejuvenation.

Toward the Yakima Valley, the Naches and Yakima Rivers flow out of the Cascade Mountain’s forested slopes in central Washington State and into the Columbia River. The Yakima River is one of the most productive watersheds of the Columbia. Unique folds in Columbia basin basalt (LAVA!) combined with gravel and sediment  created vast floodplains that once were, and soon will be again, critical habitat for upwards of a million adult salmon returning to the Yakima Valley throughout each year.

CelebrateForests and Beer with OktoberForest

The water that runs from the snow and forests of the Cascades has become a vital economic driver in modern times. The valley’s sun, soil, and irrigation supply, along with its hard working community, have created a hop industry that supplies approximately 70% of the nation’s hops. That means 70% of our beer is dependent on reliable, clean water that originates in the forests of the eastern Cascades.

September and early October bring familiar and odorous reminders that Yakima is “Hop Town, USA.” Crews cut hop vines off of trellises and haul them to various processing facilities while the familiar smell of beer’s most distinct flavoring agent – hops – drifts through town. Occasional whiffs of smoke from prescribed fires blow through town as well. These autumnal smells are both important to the beer industry and to the forest. Beer needs clean water that has been filtered and stored in healthy forests. The dry forests of the eastern Cascades need occasional low-severity fires to protect them from devastating fires and to preserve their necessary function of providing clean water.

But our forests are unhealthy. Natural fires, started by lightning during the dry months, used to dance their way across the eastern forests of Washington. These low- to moderate-severity fires are necessary for the health of the forests and served to burn through the vegetation on the forest floor returning nutrients to the soil, naturally thinning the forests, opening up the understory for new plant growth, and creating important habitat for wildlife. Periodic fires like these reduced the available build up of fuels for the next fire, continuing the cycle of low- to moderate-severity fires.

We have been very effective at fighting fires to protect forest resources and communities. This has resulted in the suppression of natural fire which would otherwise reduce the buildup of dead vegetation. With higher fuel loads, fires burn hotter and faster. And these fires are much more difficult and costly to fight. These megafires are consuming resources – economic, environmental and human – at an unacceptable rate.

Megafires can affect water supplies in devastating ways. Without vegetation to slow down the movement of water, it can move large volumes of soil, ash, and other sediment. Although sediment movement, landslides, and debris flows are all normal processes in the Cascade Mountains, they can occur at super-natural scales if our forests suffer burns that are also super-natural.  During Washington’s Carlton Complex Fire, for example, massive debris flows destroyed infrastructure such as irrigation systems, roadways, and buildings.  When debris flows like this occur above reservoirs or water intake structures, capacity of those systems can be lost for long periods of time or indefinitely.  This is on top of the water quality lost due to more silt running into waterways.  These events change the clarity of water, its taste and odor, and can result in other adverse effects on water.

If our forests are not treated, through mechanical thinning or planned and coordinated burns called prescribed fire, a highly destructive fire could cause a disruption of our clean, reliable water, impacting our hop production, drinking water, and brewing industries and create major expenses for water users.

Healthy forests and the reliable water they produce are not just for beer, but for the benefit of all downstream communities. Some communities are recognizing the risk from uncharacteristically large and destructive fires and the potential impacts these fires would have on their clean water supply. In New Mexico, a community in the Santa Fe Watershed recognizes the value of healthy forests for providing clean water. This type of investment is also seen in the Rio Grande Water Fund. Communities are recognizing the risks and are protecting their watersheds with investments from utilities and other funders that depend on healthy forests.

In our state, the Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network is working to connect communities that live in fire prone areas so that they can learn from one another, share resources, and support each other when fires affect them. Understanding the impacts of fires on our water resources is one piece of this complex issue, and communities are coming up with local solutions that work best for them.

The Yakima Valley is blessed with hops and beer, forests and fish. Both fire and water play an important role in supporting these natural resources. We can protect these resources and our communities by recognizing the role fire plays, both good and bad, and by addressing these risks for the benefit of all.

Read about our work in Yakima Valley

Learn more at OKtoberForest.org

Stilled by the Streams: September Photo of the Month

Written & Photographed by Katherine Scheulen, Northwest Photographer

This particular photo is meant to evoke calmness, the almost meditative state you feel when gazing at any creek, river or stream.  The dusky light, the smoky water, the stillness of an evening where only rushing water roars in your ears.

I really wanted some bluish, low, dusky lighting, so my girlfriend and I waited until evening to wander out to the Old Robe Canyon trail along the Mountain Loop Highway. I wanted to pick somewhere with a good steady flow of water and a trail that wouldn’t be too strenuous to hike back in the dark. Robe is a well-built trail that fit the bill. I set up my Nikon D3300 on a tripod looking out toward the Stillaguamish River, framing it with a few close rocks and a point of rock jutting out into the water. Set the aperture to f/16 with a long exposure since I really wanted the water to look glassy and almost smoky, a good contrast to the jagged roughness of the rock.  I had my girlfriend actually press the shutter for me as I scrambled out onto the point. Having one person in the shot to show the scale of the landscape is a great tool I enjoy using. The only trouble was getting me to hold still long enough for the shot!

Landscape photography attracts me in many ways, but especially as a device telling a story about wild places.  I grew up in western Washington, the daughter of a mountaineer and an avid recycler backing the 80’s when recycling wasn’t just a given. Conservation and leave no trace ethics are practically in my blood.  I cherish and respect our public lands. My hope is always that my photography reflects those feelings, whether it be an intimate look at an individual leaf in its perfectly niche design or a huge panorama to shrink ego and lift the spirit.

Seattle is her home, and she is a native Washingtonian. Katherine has been hiking since a very young age with her father, who was an avid mountaineer in the 80’s and 90’s.  Recently, she has started to do a bit of backpacking too and can’t wait for her next adventures. Follow her adventures on instagram: @hiker_katherine

Jared Rivera: A Doris Duke Conservation Scholar

Written & Photographed by Kat Morgan, Puget Sound Community Partnerships Manager

On a chilly morning in the North Sound, 20 semi-sleep deprived undergraduates from across the country (there were some fireworks and late nights at their campsite the previous night) stood in our Mount Vernon office parking lot learning about who The Nature Conservancy is, and our work in Washington, particularly Puget Sound. These were the 2016 cohort of Doris Duke Conservation Scholars, a program sponsored by the University of Washington. This two year program is designed to help foster and ultimately increase diversity in the conservation workforce. These were the first-year students – freshmen and sophomores - participating in this 8-week field program in Washington. They visited conservation projects and professionals around Puget Sound, learned about current conservation needs and issues, and about the people doing this work. We toured our Mount Vernon office to give them a sense of what it might be like to work for The Nature Conservancy, and then headed to one of our flagship project sites – Port Susan Bay. Most students knew the Conservancy purchased and conserved lands. Only one knew that we actively managed those lands, or that we supported and implemented large-scale, landscape changing projects beyond our own ownership.

After hearing about the needs for restoring floodplain systems across Puget Sound, they had lots of questions about how you work with communities to do this work. What kinds of outreach were required, and how did you go about it? We talked about how each community has different needs, and you approach each community differently depending on the circumstances and people involved. They nodded their heads when we talked about the similarities – in each community, you ask questions and listen. You listen a lot - to understand what is needed, what is important to the people who live in that place, and you work together to find space for all those needs in a project.

We toured the Port Susan Bay restoration project site at low tide, when all the restored tidal channels and estuarine marsh were visible and visited the flood return structure, installed to address local flood issues as part of the project. Migrating shorebirds moved around the shallow pools left by the tide. The students marveled at the remoteness of the site, even though houses are visible all around, and the subtle energy, where at a distance everything appears very still, but when you get closer, you see song and shore birds flitting round the marsh, rushes moving in the breeze, and raptors on the wing looking for lunch.

As we wrapped up the tour, we turned the tables and I asked questions of this group of future conservation professionals. Jared Rivera is one of the Doris Duke scholars. He studies environmental engineering at UCLA. As a Native American, Jared is very interested in the intersection of social justice and conservation, in making sure Native American communities are engaged in problem-solving and decision-making around natural resources. Jared appreciates the interdisciplinary teams the Conservancy puts together to tackle conservation problems, and one day, when he finishes his environmental engineering degree, is interested in a seat at the table.


Name: Jared Rivera

Hometown: Murrieta, Southern California. Going to college at UCLA.

Murrieta is located in the center of the Los Angeles San Diego mega region of 20 Million people. After interstate 15 was built in the 1980’s, suburban developments started being constructed. Today, Murrieta is known as a commuter town and the largest employer is the school. I know this area though. I have family on Camano Island. It’s really interesting to hear about your projects here.  

Childhood Dream/what did you want to be when you grow up?:

Until I was 17, I wanted to join the Marines. Then my ideas changed. I had an AP bio teacher who taught us about ecology and took us on field trips to the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies. I was fascinated by a project they were working on of sustainable algae fields for biomass production. I applied for a student study program at the Wrigley Institute and was accepted.

What about our work do you find most inspiring? What is most surprising?

The Levees at the Port Susan Project. The fact your conservation organization isn’t afraid to make changes to the environment, and to build infrastructure if it will help you accomplish your goals. Humans have already meddled with nature to mess it up. The only way to fix it is to keep meddling.

What would you most like to see The Nature Conservancy work on that you didn’t hear about today?

I would like to see The Nature Conservancy become more involved in social justice issues. Particularly as a Native American, I would like to see more indigenous communities included in the problem-solving and decisions around our natural resources.

 What would make you want to work for us?

I am really excited about the interdisciplinary approach you described bringing experts from all different fields together to problem-solve, to have a seat at the table, particularly involving social justice issues. 

A River Revolution: From 0 to 56 in four years

Written by Bob Carey, Strategic Partnerships Director
Maps by Erica Simek-Sloniker, Visual Communications

Floodplains by Design, a public-private partnership aimed at revolutionizing river management across Washington, came together in 2012 with the goal of making our communities safer and rivers healthier.  It started as a concept:  get the leaders of programs and interest groups that influence coastal and riverine floodplains out of their silos, have them work together to figure out how to manage these landscape in a collaborative, integrated fashion, and we’ll collectively do a better job of delivering society’s goals of reduced flooding, stronger salmon runs, clean water, economic development and a high quality of life. 

Floodplain managers of various sorts – county flood managers, tribal fisheries biologists, agricultural drainage districts, conservationists, etc. – embraced the concept, having seen the folly of trying to “control rivers” and the inefficiency of trying to manage only one cog in a complex social and environmental landscape.  In 4 short years the concept has evolved into a broad partnership – a “movement” in the words of one local partner.  The “movement” has benefitted from strong support from the state legislature which has given $80M to the Washington Department of Ecology for the new state Floodplains by Design grant program. 

Erica Simek Sloniker, Cartographer and Visual Communications specialist for The Nature Conservancy, has produced a map series that documents the evolution from concept to movement.  The initial 9 Floodplains by Design demonstration projects were funded by the state legislature in 2013.  2014 brought 13 more and 2015 another 7.  Earlier this year, the Department of Ecology received 56 proposals for the next round of funding – an indication of the strong interest in joining this river revolution. 

For more information visit www.floodplainsbydesign.org .

The Fir Island Farm Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Floodplains: Revisited

Written & Photographed by Robin Stanton, Media Relations Manager

I revisited two Floodplains by Designs sites on the Puyallup River – the Calistoga Reach project in the town of Orting, and the South Fork project a few miles north and downriver from there.

These were both projects designed to re-connect the Puyallup River with its historic floodplain, provide more salmon habitat, and reduce the threat of flooding to people.

The Calistoga Reach project was completed in November of 2014—a week later the river hit a flood stage that previously had sent thousands of people fleeing from their homes. This time, Building Official Ken Wolfe said, “We didn’t have to deploy even one sandbag.” The river rose again in 2015, and again the town stayed dry.

Today, you can see the reclaimed natural areas that in times of flood give the river room to rise, and also offer refuge to juvenile salmon and other wildlife and walking paths for people.

The South Fork project is a new side channel for the river, again giving the water places to go when the volume is high, along with great salmon habitat. It’s being completed in stages, and by the time it’s finished, it will be a mile-long side channel, the longest on the Puyallup River. Engineers Jeffrey Davidson and David Davis helped me scramble all over the site, Pointing out new channels created by the river, engineered logjams that are evolving as the river runs through, and new gravel bars and sediment deposits brought down from Mount Rainier by the power of the river. Salmon are using the site, and they’ve seen black bear and deer out there as well.

It's remarkable to see how nature can come back and revive when you give it a chance!

Act Locally, Share Globally

Written by Bob Carey, Strategic Partnerships Director
Photographs by Flickr Creative Commons

Just a few short hours north of Seattle and set in the vast beauty of British Columbia, the Conservancy's Floodplains by Design program was the featured topic at a Canadian Water Resource Association workshop in Surrey. More than 30 WATER resource management leaders overwhelmingly responded positively when, at the close, their president asked if they were inspired by this work happening just south of the border.  Their response was just as positive when asked if they’d like to see such a program in British Colombia and on the Fraser River. 

The gathering of representatives from BC’s major cities, the BC government, the Fraser River Basin Council and environmental and academic groups represent those on the forefront of managing the Fraser River – the largest river in both BC and the Salish Sea, and the watershed with the highest flood risks in Canada.  The strong affirmation that the “Floodplains by Design” approach makes sense and is applicable across the border made me proud to be part of a team leading the charge in making the region’s rivers more resilient for people and nature.

Restoring nature to address societies most pressing challenges is a prominent theme in the Conservancy's global conservation agenda.  Our Floodplains by Design work in Washington is one of the best success stories of accomplishing this at a meaningful scale.  Having secured $80M in new funding and helped catalyze 30 projects across the state, in which the restoration of nature and reduction of community risks are being pursued hand-in-hand, it’s clear that the approach can deliver tangible benefits to people and nature. That is why the invitations to share our story are numerous.

In addition to myriad audiences in Washington, over the last couple years our WATER team members have shared the Floodplains by Design story with a variety of national and international audiences, including: China Coastal Wetland Conservation Network (China), Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference (Vancouver, BC), American Planning Association (Phoenix), Association of State Floodplain Managers (Atlanta, Seattle), National Academy of Sciences (Washington DC), North American Water Learning Exchange (Pensacola, Phoenix) and the NW Floodplain Management Association (Post Falls, ID).

There are many great things about working for The Nature Conservancy, among them – the ability to innovate, the ability to scale up our work, and the ability to export beyond our borders. 

It’s a recipe for making real change in the world.

Celebrating Earth Month & Clean Water in Puget Sound

Written and Photographed by Stephanie Williams, Project Coordinator

Earth Month is already over! It feels like it rushed by as fast as stormwater over a downtown Seattle sidewalk. In order to draw out Earth Month and make it last, The Nature Conservancy participated in two recent launch events that will lead to slowing down that same urban stormwater, allowing it to pass more slowly over trees, plants and soil so it’s cleaner and healthier for Puget Sound and its communities.

King County's One Million Trees Campaign launch on April 14th and the City of Seattle's Equity and Environment Agenda Announcement on April 22nd marked the beginning of The Nature Conservancy’s increased collaboration with local communities to improve water quality in the region. 

King County's One Million Trees Campaign Launch

King County has ambitiously committed to planting 1 million trees between now and 2020 as part of their larger Strategic Climate Action Plan. They smartly partnered with The Nature Conservancy to help get the job done. Although it would have been easier and cheaper to plant all the trees in existing forests and rural areas, our Puget Sound Conservation Director, Jessie Israel, got King County decision-makers enthusiastic about putting a good portion of those trees back into our cities.

After County Executive, Dow Constantine, reminded the multi-generational audience at White Center Heights Park of the gravity of climate change and the importance of partnerships to get big jobs like these done, Jessie spoke about how planting trees connects to our Nature Conservancy work with WATER and CITIES.

Addressing the dozens of wide-eyed primary school children sitting cross-legged on the ground in front of her, Jessie explained that nature in cities is the remedy for stormwater that runs through dirty streets and off parking lots, polluted by oil and chemicals and then ends up in our streams and rivers. She created the imagery of trees acting as a giant umbrella that protects the community and ensures the water coming down from the sky is slowed and cleaner when it reaches Puget Sound.

Planting and maintaining urban trees helps to value our land in cities that is already covered in nature so that it doesn’t get paved over - making stormwater impacts worse. Trees give us habitat corridors, keep our stream banks strong, help us to preserve intact ecosystem function in urban forested park lands like we have right here. As these trees grow up and get bigger, their canopy will grab water that falls as rain, intercepting it, and helping us to solve the stormwater problem, to solve our Puget Sound problem, a little at a time. Each tree we plant of this million trees will get us closer.

One of our major partners for stormwater projects was also present to celebrate the start of this campaign. Steve Shestag, Boeing’s Director of Environment, Health, and Safety, followed Jessie's remarks by adding, "It's events like this and groups like [The Nature Conservancy and others] that do an amazing job to inspire us at Boeing Company to go out and do great things not just for technology and science, but for the environment."

Using their golden shovels, the County Executive, Jessie, Steve and some eager kids took turns packing soil around a young douglas fir to kick off this five-year campaign.

It may seem that tree planting is cliché and outdated. This event, the beginning of a project of epic proportions, was a reminder of how planting trees is still very relevant and a crucial part of tackling stormwater issues and improving the livability of urban neighborhoods.

Seattle's Equity and Environment Action Agenda

A week later, on Earth Day, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray revealed his new Equity and Environment Agenda, developed by over 800 local community participants. Standing in front of the greenish gray water of the Duwamish and surrounded by local community leaders, Mayor Murray passionately spoke about how environmental degradation and poor water quality disproportionately affects low income areas and communities of color. "Seattle’s environmental progress and benefits must be shared by all residents no matter their race, immigration status, or income level." His blueprints for action include offering low-priced fruits and vegetables to families enrolled in the city's preschool program, environmental positions for city's youth summer employment program and having a full time environmental justice advisory committee, among others.

Nature Conservancy team members were eager to be present at Duwamish Waterway Park as the Mayor rolled out his plan to incorporate strong economic justice policy to affect change. The announcement of this agenda opens up more opportunities for The Nature Conservancy to partner on urban clean water initiatives in these very important communities.

Shelina Lol, a bright-eyed 16-year sophomore at Chief Sealth High School spoke about what this equity and environment initiative means for her as a multi-lingual immigrant from Fiji and also for her South Park community. With frustration and heartbreak in her voice, she spoke about not being able to safely play in the river and despite contamination risks, many of her neighbors still fish in the Duwamish because they can’t afford other sources of food.

Despite the disadvantages they face, Shelina and her fellow Duwamish Valley Youth Corps members have already done projects like installing raingardens, to improve water quality in their area. The City of Seattle's Equity and Environment Action Agenda means raingardens are just the beginning for improving water quality in marginalized communities. The Nature Conservancy is proud to be part of this inclusive movement that will help make clean water for all Puget Sound communities a real possibility. We are excited by the initiative demonstrated by the Mayor and City of Seattle because it aligns with our organizational priorities to accelerate action on stormwater, water quality issues and environmental justice.

Earth Month is over but The Nature Conservancy is energized by these two new opportunities to continue connect people with clean water!

Watch our stormwater video to learn more about how water quality is affecting Puget Sound

Sign up for our upcoming Depave volunteer event in Tacoma

Heading North – Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference, Here We Come!

Written by Jenny Baker, Senior Restoration Manager
With Contributions by Julie Morse Senior Ecologist; Jodie Toft, Senior Marine Ecologist

The 12th offering of Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference is just around the corner and a cadre of us from TNC are ready to head north and dive in. Next week, over 1,000 indigenous knowledge-holders, scientists, policy-makers, students and other stakeholders from the US and Canada will collect in Vancouver, B.C. for 3 knowledge-packed days. The conference is a wonderful opportunity for interdisciplinary and transboundary collaboration and networking for those of us dedicated to the protection and recovery of the Salish Sea region.

The team is excited to share our work in the Salish Sea through three presentations and a poster. In the Toward Coordinated Resilience Planning Where People and Ecosystems are Being Squeezed by Climate Change session, a range of speakers will explore the complexity of addressing climate change in systems where past and current land use influence how climate change will affect people and nature, and some of the considerations that are needed as we plan for the future. We have two talks in this session. We will talk about our work to incorporate climate change considerations into floodplains project funding and marine shoreline planning, and our work to identify projects that have benefits for flooding, farms and fish in the Skagit river delta.

In the Local Stories and Results session, we will describe monitoring results from TNC’s Port Susan Bay project in an Ignite presentation, sure to be an informative and engaging crowd-pleaser. And we will present a poster titled New Tools for a United Front to highlightseveral new ideas and projects that TNC is working on. These include: TNC’s and the University of Washington’s “Outside Our Doors” publication, which synthesizes 40 years of research on benefits of nature in cities; tools for exploring flood risk and coastal resilience; a spatial assessment that answers the question how much agricultural best management practice implementation is needed and where is the best place to put it to get the strongest environmental outcomes; and the effects of polluted stormwater on coho salmon and promising solutions for treatment.

In addition to sharing our work and hearing from others, we look forward to the inaugural Billy Frank Jr. plenary, the keynote by Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut and the world’s first neurologist in space, the art show, a reception at the Vancouver Aquarium and the First Nations/Tribal Dinner.

For me, this will be my third time attending this conference.  Every year I find it recharges and inspires me.  All day for three days, there’s non-stop presentations, poster sessions and great conversations over coffee with my colleagues, many that I’ve known for years but don’t see on a daily basis. Our work is often messy, and so complicated that I often get lost in the details… but this conference always reminds me of the big picture and how lucky I am to live and work in the beautiful Salish Sea.

Look for tweets from the team next week as we share highlights from the meeting!

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