2020 Update from our Executive Director
Conservation Northwest / Nov 18, 2020 / Members, Work Updates
In a year of historic adversity, we forged ahead. Help us accomplish more for a wilder Northwest in 2021!
By Mitch Friedman, Executive Director
Wow. 2020 has been quite the wild year, hasn’t it? A global pandemic, historic wildfires, hurricanes and glacial melt–harbingers of rapid climate change, the largest protests for racial justice since the 1960s, and another acrimonious presidential election. Through it all I’ve been moved by the incredible support from so many of you who have stuck with us during trying times.
I’ve also been inspired by the resolve of our amazing staff, who despite epic disruptions and uncertainties, have forged ahead with some impressive gains for Northwest wildlife and wildlands.
While we hope events will calm, we still face a challenging year ahead; one that also comes with ample opportunities. That’s why I hope you’ll make a year-end gift today to help launch us into 2021.
As usual, there’s too much good stuff to report on in a single two-page letter.
For starters, one project I’m especially proud of is on Highway 97 near Omak, where we’ve completed Phase One of our Safe Passage 97 work. With a mile of protective fencing strung and the wildlife crossing under Janis Bridge fully renovated, we’re already seeing the benefits as mule deer, bobcats, turkeys and other wildlife utilize the crossing daily to move under the highway, and far fewer vehicle collisions with deer occur now that they’re remaining safely out of harm’s way.
On the wet side of the state, I’m thrilled by the launch of our Cascades to Olympics program, where we’re working on an ambitious, landscape-level scale (the way we like it!) connecting two of our state’s great mountain ecosystems.
As part of a powerful coalition including the Quinault Nation, Chehalis Tribe and other local groups, we scored an early win when Governor Inslee came out against a proposed dam on the Chehalis River. While the dam idea isn’t dead yet, this moves us closer to a solution that won’t prove disastrous for aquatic species like coho salmon and hundreds of acres of prime forest habitat.
Meanwhile we’ve identified places where our work can directly help wildlife that must cross I-5 and two state highways. These opportunities offer big payoff just by removing thick brush from beneath bridges, making these spaces traversable for wildlife like deer, elk and black bears. This is a key early step in our strategy to improve connectivity across southwest Washington’s vast and increasingly developed landscape.
Our new Forest Field staffer, Michael Liu, previously the Forest Service district ranger for the Methow Valley, has gotten right to work monitoring forest restoration projects like the Mission Project south of Twisp, working with the DNR to reduce wildfire risks in state forests, and protecting riparian areas near Tonasket.
In the Central Cascades, our field staffer Laurel Baum is fully engaged in the Forest Service’s Snoquera Project north of Mount Rainier with efforts to remove old culverts for better fish passage, decommission roads to improve watershed health, and restore degraded forestland back to historic wild-forest conditions.
In northeast Washington wolf country, our Jay Shepherd continues the often thankless but essential work of keeping the peace between wolves and livestock. Jay oversees a small army of 15-20 range riders. Their efforts are paying off as so far we’ve seen virtually no wolf conflict where these riders have deployed. At over 145, Washington’s wolf count is at an all-time high since recovery began a decade ago.
Elsewhere across Washington:
- We raised a massive response to a proposal gone rogue in the Nooksack River Watershed of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. We’re resolved and confident that the proposed massive clear-cut will evolve into a beneficial action of thinning overly dense stands and removing roads.
- Jay Kehne is working with contractors to remove obsolete fencing to improve habitat connectivity for a variety of species in the Quilomene and Whiskey Dick wildlife areas east of Ellensburg.
- We caught site of a fisher using an I-90 underpass and wolverines have returned to Mount Rainier.
Despite all these positive developments, there’s much more left to do as we work against the clock to save vulnerable species affected by this year’s tragic wildfires and improve the resilience of damaged ecosystems in the face of climate change.
In a few short days, the Cold Springs and Pearl Hill wildfires wiped out half our state’s endangered pygmy rabbits and thousands of acres of shrub-steppe habitat critical for sharp-tailed grouse, pronghorn antelope and mule deer.
With our local partners, we’re already at ground zero losing no time preparing to replant native species like water birch and bitterbrush and making sure that as fences are rebuilt they are safer for wildlife. Your support makes these efforts possible helping these sensitive areas to recover more quickly.
In 2021, we hope to be before the Washington Supreme Court to re-interpret the state Constitution to allow the DNR to manage our public lands beneficially for all the people, not just fiduciary trusts. And as the next U.S. Congress considers massive spending bills to improve our nation’s infrastructure, we will be lobbying hard to win sizable shares for restoring public lands and constructing new wildlife crossings.
2020 has been a testament to the incredible tenacity and commitment of our staff, supporters and partners, showing that thirty years of fighting for a wilder Northwest won’t be uprooted by a single year of adversity.
But we’re not out of the proverbial woods yet, not by a long shot. In the face of mounting environmental threats and lasting economic uncertainties, we need your support as much as ever. Please consider a generous year-end gift to help ensure our wildlife and wildlands continue to have a thriving future.
For the Wild,
Mitch Friedman, Executive Director