Looking Back 40 Years with the San Juan Preservation Trust and Friends of the San Juans

  • Fri Apr 12th, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

Submitted by San Juan Preservation Trust

Two of most enduring and consequential nonprofit organizations in the San Juan Islands — Friends of the San Juans and the San Juan Preservation Trust — were both founded in 1979. They were established independently of each other by different people, yet they both emerged in response to the same trends that were unfolding in the San Juan Islands.

In the 1950s, the islands began to experience rapid growth. From 1960–1990, the county’s population rose a staggering 350 percent. This growth fragmented the landscape, threatening the natural beauty and way of life of the archipelago. Wildlife habitat, open meadows, forested mountainsides, wetlands and natural shorelines began to disappear.

In the mid-1970s, neither San Juan County nor the state had sufficient resources to address the urgent need for land preservation and land-use planning. Friends of the San Juans’ first major effort was to help the county adopt its first Comprehensive Land-Use Plan. Today, Friends’ scientific and legal expertise, as well as its advocacy on behalf of the natural environment, continue to help inform the county’s current comprehensive plan update.

Friends of the San Juans has grown into an organization that fosters wild and healthy shorelines, promotes thriving and sustainable communities, conserves forests, farmlands, freshwater and prairie habitats and ensures the health of the marine ecosystem. Their work impacts the Salish Sea with innovative public-private partnerships, applied science, legal advocacy and community-based initiatives to protect the land, water and sea for those of us here today and for future generations. Current projects include restoring forage fish and salmon habitat, engaging in actions to protect Southern resident orcas and working with partners to protect our shared waters from commercial vessel impacts and oil spills.

Friends’ mission of protecting and restoring the San Juan Islands and the Salish Sea for people and nature requires a team effort. Its staff of policy experts, scientists, educators and an attorney, are leveraged by a strong team of consultants, interns, volunteers and a dedicated board of directors. To protect the region’s cultural, ecological and economic resources, they collaborate with citizens; nonprofit organizations in Washington and British Columbia; regional and local business leaders; and local, regional, state, provincial, Tribal, U.S. and Canadian governments.

As for the San Juan Preservation Trust, its founders and early supporters in the late 1970s embarked on a distinctly different path to island protection. They wanted to find ways for private property owners to preserve their land voluntarily, independent of government regulations. Recent state legislation made it possible for nonprofit organizations to hold conservation easements, which are legal documents that private landowners may use to voluntarily protect conservation-worthy features of their land (such as open spaces, iconic views, forests and natural shoreline) that benefit the public.

To put this legislation to work in preserving these islands’ extraordinary beauty and unique way of life, the San Juan preservation trust became the first conservation land trust in the state of Washington. It was 40 years ago and remains today, a pioneering organization at the forefront of private land conservation in the United States.

Together with its landowner partners and 3,000 member-supporters, the preservation trust has permanently protected more than 300 properties, 45 miles of shoreline, 27 miles of trails and 18,000 acres on 20 islands. The preservation trust also engages its members and the wider public with events, outings and publications designed to deepen and expand awareness of the need for, and benefits of, land conservation in the islands.

Although the preservation trust and Friends of the San Juans have different missions and approaches to fulfilling them, they’re both fundamentally committed to “protecting what you love” in our islands. To this end, they have combined forces on several occasions. One of these was the massive, countywide effort to preserve Turtleback Mountain as a public nature preserve in 2005–2006. Currently, Friends and SJPT are collaborating to protect documented forage fish spawning sites, feeder bluffs and pocket beaches through conservation easements with private landowners.

Friends of the San Juans is organizing special anniversary gatherings this fall throughout the islands to celebrate 40 years of protecting and restoring the San Juan Islands and Salish Sea for people and nature. Visit https://sanjuans.org/ for more information.

The San Juan Preservation Trust is celebrating its 40th anniversary throughout the year as it introduces its new mission and strategic plan, which elevate the importance of reaching out to our communities to “connect people to nature, to each other and to the Preservation Trust.” Visit https://sjpt.org/ for more information.