women in science

Packing Passion: Community Sits at Heart of Floodplain Planning

Written by Jeanine Stewart, Volunteer writer

In the political world of environmental activism, so often the tendency is to side with one issue at all costs, destroying any and all interests that get in the way. 

That’s not the case for The Nature Conservancy’s Puget Sound community relations manager Heather Cole, who joined last October.  She works with communities to find environmentally sound solutions to Puget Sound major river systems.

The major question she’s tasked with? How to help communities in Puget Sound develop floodplain management visions  – minimizing flood risk in areas prone to flooding while also improving ecosystem benefit, such as improving salmon habitat and water quality – that take into account the often-conflicting interests of a diverse list of stakeholders.

“Local jurisdictions, , tribes, farmers, diking districts, for example – they all have competing values for how they want to manage the same piece of land,” Cole said. “The question is, how do we integrate all those multiple values of the local community?”

Read more about the Conservancy’s work in floodplains here.

Rapid population growth necessitates swift movement on these discussions. The Puget Sound region’s population will likely grow 8 percent between 2014 and 2020, and 28 percent by 2040, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council.

This puts pressure on local jurisdictions to allow more construction. Meanwhile, farmers face a daily struggle to make a living from the same land. And the region’s iconic salmon need habitat and clean water. All these needs must be balanced with those of flood safety, Cole explains.  

She’s now hard at work on the first step of balancing these interests, identifying the barriers that get in the way of conservation planning by collaborating with all the parties involved, including local leaders.

Working through conflicting interests to find common ground is Cole’s specialty. She brings nearly a decade of experience working for the state of Washington on natural resource issues, doing research, planning and community development. She also received a master’s in international development and environmental analysis in Australia.

Cole sees each group’s interests as a key piece of the puzzle rather than barriers to a tunnel-vision view of the solution.

“Coming from a natural resources perspective and working in the natural resources field for a number of years, you come to realize that these issues can’t be solved with a technical silver bullet,” Cole said. “We have to understand the people landscape. People are part of the problem, and they are part of the solution.”

This simple and clear-headed approach is a calming reprieve from the complex and lofty goals Cole has her eyes on.

Asked to summarize her work, she says it focuses on “integrated floodplain management where local groups can find agreement on strategies and actions for our rivers that have multiple benefits, such as improving flood safety, agriculture preservation and restoring floodplain connections that support endangered species like salmon; while also bringing in climate change information so that we are making wise investments today that will survive in a changing climate fifty to a hundred years from now.”

Meet Joelene Boyd


Meet Joelene Boyd

Joelene is our Stewardship Coordinator for the Puget Sound Program. If you have been to our many preserves and restoration projects in the Sound, you might recognize her!

Get to know her a little better!

Where are you originally from?
That questions a little difficult to answer. I’m an Army brat born near Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
I live in a pretty special place already, between Cascade Mountain Range and the shores of Puget Sound. However, I love sagebrush country; the open skies, the unexpected beauty of wild flowers, and oh yeah, the sun.

What is your favorite part of nature?
The vastness and unexpectedness of it.

Favorite hobby?
Reading, hiking, jogging, road biking. But most of all I just really enjoy spending time with my family and seeing things through the eyes of my toddler son.

Favorite food?
Wild mushrooms! I’ve foraged quite a few; morels, chanterelles, king boletes…


Meet Debra Crespin!

Our fantastic Associate Director of Philanthropy!

Deb was born in the Bronx, but grew up in the suburbs of California. Eventually she escaped to Northern California before moving to Vermont and now Seattle! That’s a lot of traveling, something she loves to do!

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

I’d split my time: a few months on San Juan Island, a few months in rural Vermont, and the rest in Seattle. Then, of course, I’d travel a lot – everywhere else!

What is your favorite part of nature?

I love forests and high mountain landscapes.

Favorite hobby?


Favorite food?

Anything Mexican

In one simple and plain sentence, what do you do?

I build relationships with donors who have a passion for conservation, connecting them to our work, and working to secure their philanthropic investment.


Meet Meghan Wagner

She’s our Campaign Manager who inspires others to transform nature through the power of giving. Read her story:

As a lifelong resident of WA state, I am passionate about the outdoors. My most cherished and beloved memories are with my family learning and exploring the water and land of our beautiful local natural resources. At an early age, I was taught that our collective future is intrinsically linked with the ways we respect and protect nature, and I have been a committed advocate in both my personal and volunteer pursuits to this cause.

I have experienced firsthand how nature can inspire and enrich lives and I bring this level of dedication and passion to the mission of The Nature Conservancy.

This is a quote from my good friend, Sarah Brooks (Associate Director, Methow Conservancy):

“I believe, deep in my soul, that one of the most noble and amazing things you can do in your life is to find a cause you care deeply about and invite others to join you in transforming the world. I believe asking – fundraising – is an incredible privilege.

I believe asking others to give is like being a really good matchmaker – you have the rare opportunity to give another person a chance to express what they value by giving to a cause that will make life better. That moment – when a person realizes they can make a difference – is magic and to be a catalyst of that is nothing short of stunning. Done with joy, respect, and humility, “asking” can be one of the most meaningful and powerful things you will ever do.”