By Mitch Friedman, Executive Director
This piece is the transcript of Mitch's address at our 2017 annual Hope for a Wild Future auction and dinner.
America feels different than when we met here a year ago. Jenny just stated our mission, which hasn’t changed much since I started this racket in 1989. As the world changes we need to reflect on our role within new circumstances.
In ‘89, I saw a need for big picture conservation strategies based on improved scientific understanding of nature. Keeping the Northwest wild requires us to not only protect large wild areas in the North and South Cascades, Olympics, Rockies, and the Coast Ranges of British Columbia, but to link them together with habitat corridors so wildlife populations spread amongst those cores areas can be shored up by one another.
As climate change switched from a scenario to a present reality, we recognized that our approach had additional relevance: Healthy landscapes are more resilient to change, giving the species within them a better chance at adaptation and survival.
Along the way, we’ve made far more progress than I had ever dreamed we would. Our day-to-day work involves things you don’t often hear about, such as vastly better forestry on public lands where we engage, and countless miles of logging road either closed or never built. We’ve worked across southern BC for a quarter century, doing great things for mountain caribou, grizzly bears and lynx.
Focusing now on Washington, I think of our biggest wins: Saving the Loomis wildlands; reconnecting the Cascades across the I-90 corridor; keeping peace between ranchers and our recovering wolves; returning fishers to the Olympics, South Cascades, and next winter to the North Cascades; protecting thousands of acres of vital Okanogan grassland.
Here’s something each of these has in common: They all are in counties colored red on the electoral map. Yes, we’ve also accomplished much in blue counties, like the parks around Lake Whatcom. (With your help tonight, we’ll also finally secure the core of Blanchard Mountain.) But most of our work is in areas as conservative as almost anywhere in the American West. Outside the northern I-5 corridor, Washington, our home, is one more red state.
There are many problems that affect us here in Seattle that we can solve here in Seattle or through the power of DC. But wildlands and carnivores are mostly in places where the bumper stickers are different than here.
Conservation NW has a record of success in those places because we have a record of - and a philosophy of - engagement in those places. We have boots on the ground. We drink bad beer. We are aware that we have real leverage through things like national public opinion and environmental laws. But sometimes soft power can be more effective.
There are conservation groups from whom you’ll hear much stronger and more satisfying rhetoric. There’s a role for dialing up rage and fueling identity. Been there; done that. Honestly, it’s a great way to raise money. But you’re not going to hear that stuff from us. Amidst all the shouting, we’d rather take it down a notch. Through listening, we gain understanding. We find it more useful to empathize than to polarize. Instead of culture war, we focus on where we share common values.
Americans share a love of our natural heritage and of the freedom of mind and body that open landscapes engender. There’s room enough in the West for people to work and prosper without sacrificing the wild. Together we are finding solutions by which we accomplish our goals, including big trees, clean rivers, and a healthy, connected, wild landscape on which roam our most majestic critters.
That is how we keep the Northwest wild.