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Zee resigns as head of San Juan Islands Conservation District

Ron Zee had his hands full navigating unchartered territory for the San Juan Islands Conservation District the past two years.

But with the district now on a steady course, he decided the time has come to chase down a dream. Following a two-year tenure as district manager, Zee recently handed in his resignation and on May 30 left behind the agency and the many hats he wore.

During two years at the helm, Zee kept the district's signature programs intact and added several new ones despite grappling with turnover of the district's entire full-time staff early on. Currently, the district has four full-time staff, manager included, and two part-time employees.

"My first year we had a complete staff change," he said. "We have three strong program managers now and I think the district is poised for continued success in its support of local natural resources."

Under Zee's leadership, the district helped launch, and now coordinates, the county's Agricultural Resources Committee. Similar to the long-standing county Marine Resources Committee in function and form, the ARC advocates on behalf of local farmers and recommends changes in local policies which would benefit agricultural producers.

As district manager, Zee served as chairman of the agricultural advisory group and as a member of the San Juan Initiative's policy group. His departure leaves a hole within the ranks of those two committees as well as the district.

Established in 1964, the conservation district offers incentives and technical assistance in conserving and protecting natural resources, like soil, water and wetlands. Its programs include forest and farm planning, Garry Oak restoration, low-impact development, soil surveys, ground-water monitoring, and the protection and restoration of wetlands. It's a non-regulatory agency which derives the bulk of its financial support through grants and state funding.

As for the dream, Zee said it remains a work in progress and a public unveiling will have to wait. However, he said, it should be ready for display and discussion sometime in the near future.

"I'm following my bliss," Zee said. "It's something that I've wanted to do for a long time and I'm not getting any younger."

Though under wraps for now, County Councilman Kevin Ranker last week hinted at the nature of Zee's latest endeavor. According to Ranker, Zee — who managed Ranker's 2003 election campaign — and others are forming a locally-based "think tank" which would focus on conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources.

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