Protecting the islands, one global issue at a time | Women in Business special

Protecting the islands has grown beyond problems occurring within the borders of the county. Friends of the San Juans are looking forward to see how they can tackle global issues that also impact the San Juans.

“Rising sea levels due to global warming are one of the issues we are taking a look at,” said Friends of the San Juans Executive Director Stephanie Buffum.

Friends began 37 years ago as a small group of islanders concerned about the San Juan County Growth Management Act and Comprehensive Plan. They wanted to make sure laws enacted were written well. The original group, made up of volunteers, members and an executive director, now has a staff of eight, seven of whom are women.

For the last 16 years, Stephanie Buffum has been the executive director, and Tina Whitman has been the science director. Shannon Davis has written their grants for approximately 10 years, and Katie Fleming, who has devoted her life and career to sustainable community development and environmental education, has been on board as community engagement director for the last several years as well.

“We have a very incredible, stable staff right now,” Buffum said proudly.

These five women are also mothers, striving to make a better community, and world for their children. To help make the future brighter for the next generations, Friends are not limiting their projects to strictly local ones.

For example, Friends has been working with Canadian organizations to put some joint maritime protections together to deal with the annual increase of international vessel traffic.

“All vessel traffic from Canada will be increasing. Cargo ships, tankers, everything,” said Buffum, “so we need to have some joint protections in place.”

Locally, affordable housing and creating more economic diversity in the islands will also be on their agenda.

“People don’t realize this, but we were one of the first members of the Economic Development Council,” Buffum said, emphasizing the importance of having a strong and diverse economy.

Environmental issues are becoming more challenging, and as a result Friends has made a presence statewide, nation-wide and now, with vessel traffic, internationally.

Friends actively worked to prevent the proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point, which is currently dead in the water after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the federal permit last May. Recently, Friends celebrated when Shell made its announcement Oct. 6 that it was pulling out of the Anacortes oil train proposal. Making sure there are local oil spill preventions in place is another project on the Friends’ 2017 agenda.

“We are always looking for volunteers,” Buffum said. She encourages the public to stop by and see who they are and what they do during one of the Friends’ open houses during the months of Oct. and Nov., every Monday from 1-2 p.m. Their office is located at 650 Mullis St. Suite 201, almost directly across the street from Market Place.

For more information, visit their website at