We’ve had a Strategic Year in the Puyallup!

One of the most exciting initiatives in the watershed is the realization of the Puyallup Watershed Initiative (PWI) of The Russell Family Foundation. 2014 was a year of strategic planning: identifying 10-year visions, one-year plans and one-year budgets -- and getting those budgets funded! It is incredibly valuable to invest in the capacity, growth and coordination of all local stakeholders for a more resilient watershed.

For those of you who don’t know, the PWI is organized around “Communities of Interest” (or COI). The Pierce Conservation District is particularly focused on where open space, water quality improvement, salmon habitat, watershed planning, food production and food security intersect. We are heavily invested in the “Agriculture” and “Just and Healthy Food” COIs.

In the Agricultural COI, a planning effort is being funded to clarify the near-term priorities for agricultural land conservation and to scale up the rate of conservation. We’ve currently been doing 1-2 projects every other year representing 50-100 conserved acres each. While this is admirable, it is not adequate to keep up with the rate of land conversion. We need this planning effort to equip us to better meet this challenge.

Economic viability of local farmers is the other key priority for this COI. Farmers have significant pressure to sell and they must stay economically competitive to have a reason to hold on to their land. The PWI is funding a much needed update to the agriculture infrastructure study that addresses what farmers need to be viable for the long term.

The focus for the Just and Healthy Food System COI one-year plan awards is on food security and hyper local community scale food projects with an emphasis on understanding and undoing institutional racism as it relates to food security and the presence (or lack thereof) in communities of color. 

We’ve got a lot to look forward to in 2015

The Conservation District has programs in four main areas: 1) habitat improvement and environmental education, 2) water quality and monitoring, 3) agricultural assistance and farm planning and 4) urban agriculture and local food access. These all have near and long-term priorities, but it’s worth mentioning a few we are particularly excited about.

First, we are actively wrapping up a huge Japanese knotweed eradication project– from Mt. Rainier to the Nisqually Delta.  Japanese knotweed grows in large monocultures exacerbating soil erosion and choking out native habitat along waterways – it’s incredibly tough to control. Next we’re turning attention to replanting these areas along the Nisqually that we have cleared and also launching a similarly aggressive, landscape-scale strategy in the Puyallup South Prairie Creek system.

Second, we are engaged with partners doing major habitat improvement in South Prairie Creek. This creek has the biggest presence of endangered Chinook salmon in the watershed and we are designing an improvement area that will create off-channel habitat significant for juvenile and spawning salmon and will plant literally thousands of trees to cool and clean the water. We’ll be finalizing the design and construction dollars in 2015 and construction is slated to begin in 2016.

Third, we’re working with Pierce County and the Puyallup and Muckelshoot Tribes on a $10 million Department of Ecology grant leveraging Floodplains by Design approach.  This approach is multi-beneficial, harnessing flood plain health for fish, people, wildlife and agriculture. This investment would focus on 3 main areas: advancing key setback levee projects, improving agriculture and conserving working lands in the floodplain, and understanding the potential impacts of climate change through monitoring and evaluation. We’re waiting for the governor to put it in his budget and, if awarded, it will be available July 2015 to make these catalytic investments.

The communities and tribes we work with are amazing partners

A core value of the District is getting the community deeply invested in this work. It’s not just about our good paid staff who work on projects, but having communities steward and own this work. The Stream Team represents our core volunteers and we couldn’t do it without them. These amazing community members get their boots dirty and spend their weekends making our watershed healthier. From Clarks Creek to Ohop Creek, Minter Creek to Chambers Creek, we’re recovering landscapes weekend by weekend, dirty boot by dirty boot. We’re really proud of these efforts and it is a real honor to work with communities and tribes to improve the health of our ecosystem and river systems.

We have a lot to be grateful for and to look forward to in our open space efforts. We’re excited to be part of the ROSS as we advance local and regional conversation goals to make a real difference together!

For more information about the Pierce Conservation District, visit:

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