Land trust grows with region's generosity

February 20, 2011 

"Laws change; people die; the land remains." -- Abraham Lincoln

If it keeps growing like this, what space in South Sound will be big enough to host next year's Capitol Land Trust Conservation Breakfast, the annual fundraising event for the nonprofit group dedicated to preserving essential natural areas and working lands in Southwest Washington?

That was the question kicked around lightheartedly the other morning in Saint Martin’s University’s Marcus Pavilion in Lacey when some 425 people gathered to pay their respects and write some checks – more than $45,000 worth – to help further the land trust’s work.

The first conservation breakfast, in 2005, drew about 120 people to the Ramada Inn in Olympia. Last year, South Sound’s favorite land-conservation group attracted about 240 people to the Worthington Center at Saint Martin’s, making it clear it was time to move into the gym.

As the numbers grow, the diversity of the crowd grows too. Environmentalists, bankers, lawyers, politicians – there were 37 past and present elected officials in attendance this year – business owners, government employees, senior citizens and others all are attracted to the way the land trust protects precious habitat dwindling in the face of population growth and development: The land trust pays fair market value or simply accepts land donations and conservation easements from people who want their property preserved.

The land trust’s nonconfrontational way of doing business has led to the protection of some 13 miles of Puget Sound shoreline and nearly 4,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat, farms and forests since it formed in 1989. An additional 2,000 acres are in the works, along with 10 more miles of shoreline by 2013.

Conserving natural areas is much more than a feel-good proposition. It’s at the heart of ecological economics, explained David Batker, executive director of Earth Economics and the keynote speaker.

Simply put, Batker made a convincing case that the food, recreation, water supply, flood control and other ecological services that natural areas provide are undervalued in our economy and often neglected as possible remedies to environmental problems.

Put another way, it’s a lot cheaper to leave wetlands alone so they can soak up and purify stormwater than it is to build expensive stormwater-retention ponds, pipelines and treatment plants.

“Built capital falls apart; natural capital is self-sustaining,” he said.

Land trust board President Pene Speaks, whose day job is managing the state Department of Natural Resources’ 133,000 acres of conservation lands, made an interesting point: Climate-change models predict that the Puget Sound region will be slower to feel the ill effects of global warming compared with many other areas in the world.

It means Puget Sound will become a more critical refuge for not just people, but plants and animals.

Speaks was one of the four people honored as 2011 conservationists of the year for their work on behalf of the land trust and South Sound special places.

“There is no stronger advocate for conservation lands at DNR than Pene,” said her boss, state Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark.

Also recognized was Xinh Dwelley, the generous culinary magician who never hesitates to donate her considerable talents to Capitol Land Trust benefits, including the summer gala fundraiser. If you’ve never eaten her curried mussels or geoduck ceviche, you owe yourself a trip to her restaurant in Shelton: Xinh’s Clam and Oyster House.

Last but not least, Ralph and Karen Munro, longtime members and supporters of the land trust and conservation efforts in the Eld Inlet watershed, were honored.

As many know, Ralph Munro, former secretary of state, still is recovering from heart surgery two months ago. But he was in good form at the breakfast, cracking one of his typical, off-color jokes during opening remarks and urging people to give generously to the land trust cause.

Land trust Executive Director Eric Erler took the occasion to announce a name change for McLane Point, a peninsula of forested shoreline that juts out into lower Eld Inlet near the Munro farm, which also is protected by a conservation easement.

The McLane Point Preserve is 25 acres of shoreline, tideflats and forest, bisected by a salmon-bearing stream. In 2002, it was the first marine property to receive state Salmon Recovery Funding Board money.

Let the record show, it’s now called Munro Point.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

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