President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act last week on a blustery afternoon in the other Washington. We’ve been digging into what this big, bipartisan infrastructure package means for this Washington since the bill was making its way through the Senate over the summer, and our staff and partners are busily planning for putting the incoming funding to good use on the ground – and in the water – for healthier, more resilient communities.
Now that it’s been signed into law, how might the infrastructure funding show up in your neighborhood?
A healthier Puget Sound, cleaner waters and help for salmon
Rep. Derek Kilmer, whose district includes Washington’s Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas, said that federal investments in recovering and restoring Puget Sound are critical to the environmental and economic future of our region.
Senator Cantwell and Rep. Kilmer led the effort to create the National Culvert Removal, Replacement and Restoration Grant Program, included and funded at $1 billion in the infrastructure bill to help transportation agencies fix fish passage barriers that impact salmon. This is an especially big deal for Washington state, where addressing the culvert issue and improving salmon habitat are urgent needs. A bipartisan group of Pacific Northwest members supported the creation of this new program to help recover salmon in our region.
Healthier estuaries and other ecosystems are more resilient to climate-change-related extreme weather events like floods, king tides, drought and wildfire. In addition to the benefits to people that come with cleaner water and the better functioning ecosystems covered above, the bill includes $491 million for Habitat Restoration and Community Resilience Grants and $492 million for the National Ocean and Coastal Security Fund Grants, according to Sen. Cantwell’s office.
AN Even bigger Deal for climate is on the way
The Build Back Better Act passed the House of Representatives just a few days after President Biden signed the Infrastructure package into law. Learn more about Build Back Better and its $555 billion in climate investments as the bill heads to the Senate for consideration.
Also included is nearly $7.5 billion in investments for agencies including the USDA Forest Service and Department of Interior to help Washington and other fire-prone states prepare for and become more resilient to wildfires, including several new funding programs to accelerate forest restoration, improve watershed conditions, implement prescribed fire, and increase reforestation. Thanks to Rep. Kim Schrier’s leadership, the bill funds the Legacy Roads and Trails Program at $250 million, a big boost for maintaining and decommissioning roads to improve watershed health.
Cleaner air and more transportation options
The infrastructure law includes $1.79 billion in funding for public transit in Washington, expanding your options for cleaner, more energy efficient ways to get where you need to go.
cleaning up Washington’s transportation sector
There’s still a lot of work to do on transportation in Washington state as we look for cleaner, healthier ways to get around and protecting our air, water and habitat in a growing region. With funding from the 2021 Climate Commitment Act designated for carbon emissions reduction and no time to waste to recover our iconic salmon, we’ll be advocating for smart transportation policy in this Washington during the upcoming 2022 legislative session.
You may remember, from the multi-year effort to join our West Coast neighbors and enact a Clean Fuel Standard, that transportation is the most significant source of climate-changing emissions in our state. We expect more than $70 million in infrastructure funding to go toward expanding the electric vehicle charging network in Washington, and billions more to go into grant programs like the Low-No Emission Grant program, which supports projects like electrifying municipal bus fleets (like King County Metro’s), and the Capital Investment Grant program, which funds other low- and no-emissions transit projects like the Link Light Rail. All of this adds up to more options for cleaner ways to get around and less polluted, more breathable air.
As big as the infrastructure bill is, the climate crisis is bigger: there’s still a lot more we need to do to ensure a livable future for generations to come – and a lot more we can do at the national level. That’s why we’re continuing to advocate for Build Back Better as it awaits consideration in the Senate, which includes even more substantial investments in addressing and adapting to climate change.
The Nature Conservancy is working on a new and creative forest restoration project on Cle Elum Ridge, called the “How Go Unit,” within the Central Cascades Forest. This “selective thinning” project will reduce fire risk, create healthy forests and support recreational access and natural habitat.
The How Go Unit is a 340-acre experimental site near the towns of Roslyn, Cle Elum and Ronald and is part of the nearly 38,000 acres of Central Cascades Forest land managed by The Nature Conservancy. TNC is ensuring that its forestry practices conserve wildlife habitat, restore watersheds and increase community resilience—the Forest Stewardship Council has certified TNC’s forestry work at the How Go Unit (FSC certification is the highest industry standard for sustainable timber harvest).
“This is really cutting-edge forestry work,” Darcy Batura, forest partnerships manager of The Nature Conservancy, said. “We’re ensuring that we’re meeting the highest standards for sustainability and we believe this project is a model for forest management that can be applied to small-scale forests in Washington and throughout the Western United States.”
Batura is a resident of Roslyn, and she said that these small mountain communities have suffered recently as a result of wildfire. TNC is working to avoid future wildfire disasters by helping to build community capacity to restore the forest and build resilience to climate change impacts like wildfire.
Fire is a natural ecological process. However, fire suppression and exclusion over the last century have made forests dense and susceptible to wildfire. Pests, disease, drought and climate change are exacerbating the problems. Prescribed burning helps to clean up forest floors and nourish the soil. With more open space, trees gain more access to sunlight, nutrients and can grow larger and more resilient to fire.
“We have not had natural, low-intensity fire on this landscape for over a hundred years,” Kyle Smith, forest manager of The Nature Conservancy of Washington, said. “The thinning and prescribed fire helps to mimic the natural processes…so when we have a fire, it doesn’t kill all the trees due to the lower severity. They are smaller ground fires and more natural.”
Selective tree thinning is a start for restoring forests to historical conditions. By only removing selected small-diameter trees and leaving some larger trees with diverse spacing (clumps, openings and individual large trees) foresters are reducing the density of the trees and returning the forest to a more natural state. A “masticator” machine is also used to “chew up” small brush and further reduce the fuels that could possibly stoke a large wildfire.
In the coming years, TNC and partners will use prescribed fire to make the forest healthier while reducing the fuels that would cause a large wildfire and improve the safety of the nearby communities.
At the “How Go Unit,” foresters create an inventory about the forest, including acres, species, tree height, etc. Based on the information, a prescription is made and sent to contractors for selective cutting.
Herman Flamenco, conservation forester for The Nature Conservancy, spends days on site to observe and evaluate conditions of the forest for making prescriptions. While reducing forest density, the prescription ensures to maintain special features on the land. For example, a snag, which is a large dead tree, will be left uncut and serve as a potential shelter for animals.
When making these decisions, foresters and managers put both forestry knowledge and creativity into consideration. Flamenco believes there is much to learn from these innovative practices.
“It is a lot like art and science combined,” Smith said.
With the ongoing project, TNC prioritizes hiring local loggers, contractors and workers. The goal is to support the local natural resource economy. As the land is restored to its natural state, communities and smaller businesses can benefit from an increase in tourism and recreational use. However, in the short term, this work relies on patience and collaboration from the snowmobilers, skiers, hikers and mountain bikers who enjoy this land. Residents have been supportive and have followed signs to avoid the treatment site. TNC works to balance active forest restoration with recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.
“We’re committed to keeping this private land open to recreational use,” Katie Pofahl, community relations manager for The Nature Conservancy said. “And it’s really important that these users pay attention to the occasional closures caused by logging and prescribed burns for their safety and the success of this critical forest restoration work.”
For example, this winter, the How Go thinning work will close Alliance Road, a seasonal snowmobile and hiking trail. Logging trucks on snow and ice make this an unsafe area for winter recreation.
“By protecting and restoring our forest, ” Batura said, “We are maintaining the region’s natural heritage and bringing value to the nearby communities through access to recreation, clean water, safety from wildfire and jobs.”
By Amber Parmenter, Puget Sound Stewardship Coordinator
The mighty Skagit River supports all of Washington’s native salmon and trout species, including about 60 percent of the state’s wild Chinook salmon. It’s upriver sloughs and backwater areas provide important freshwater spawning and rearing habitat for anadromous fish like salmon and steelhead. Two of TNC’s preserves along the Skagit are involved in a multi-phase restoration project being implemented by Skagit River System Cooperative (natural resource management for the Sauk-Suiattle and Swinomish Tribes) along with land owned by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Seattle City Light.
This summer, SRSC completed phase one of the project! This phase included the removal of old steelhead hatchery infrastructure and removal of rearing pond dikes, opening flow to a portion of Barnaby Reach that has been blocked since the early 1960’s. I went out to see the construction in progress and was struck by just how much work was being done in the area. It looked like a completely different place as the construction crew erased the old infrastructure.
After the construction work, mats and wattles were set out to prevent sediment-laden runoff and we entered the sit and wait period. It will take some time for the site to re-vegetate and settle back into its old ways of being.
In early November, we received an update from SRSC’s research scientist on the project. Coho had started to spawn in the east end of the slough! When salmon spawn, the female dislodges gravel with her tail to dig a small hollow for egg-laying. This creates a visible “clean” spot in the gravel bed called a redd. Observers documented adult salmon on two separate surveys and photographed a nice clear redd. SRSC researchers are eager to get out and assess the condition of the slough after the intense flooding earlier this month.
It was nice of the salmon to show us almost immediately that this habitat was needed and that they were going to use it. But, seriously this is really encouraging. Stay tuned for more updates on this incredibly important salmon work in the upper Skagit.
We here at TNC in Washington are honored and excited to share with you a new partnership with Black in Marine Science (BIMS)—a premier nonprofit organization incorporated here in Washington that celebrates Black marine scientists, spreads environmental awareness, and inspires the next generation of scientific thought leaders.
This partnership is led by the vision and leadership of Dr. Tiara Moore, an environmental ecologist that, in addition to being the founder and CEO of Black in Marine Science, is also a member of our team here at TNC. Her work here is an integral part of helping us conserve and steward the lands and waters upon which all life depends. She recently transitioned into a new role as Black in Marine Science Program Lead to steward this new partnership between the two organizations—stay tuned for a two-part Q&A that dives deep into her journey, BIMS, and what’s ahead.
All this week—Black in Marine Science Week—there have been many panels, workshops, and keynotes, all of which have been free and streamed to the BIMSTV YouTube channel.
Below is a conversation with Dr. Tiara Moore about Black in Marine Science, a nonprofit organization incorporated in Washington, of which she is the founder and CEO. Dr. Moore is also an employee of The Nature Conservancy in Washington, where she recently transitioned into a new role as Black in Marine Science Program Lead to change the game, change the face(s) of conservation, and steward a new partnership between the two organizations. The conversation has been lightly edited for brevity and flow.
Tell me about yourself?
I’m Dr. Tiara Moore. Originally, I’m from Greenwood, South Carolina, so I’ve got a little bit of a southern accent. People usually ask me how I got into science—I went into undergrad with a pre-med track thinking I’d be a pediatrician; but I realized it wasn’t for me and I changed what I was doing. I took this tropical ecology class, which, I only took it because they were going to Costa Rica for spring break [laughing]. So I went to Costa Rica, and we were on this boat collecting samples, doing experiments, and it was really fun. There were these senior scientists there, and that’s how I learned about marine science and how science could be a career. From there, I went on to make it my life’s work—I got my masters then my Ph.D. and did research all over the world.
How did you end up at TNC?
My background is in marine ecology and marine science. I was interested in whole ecosystems and biodiversity and how things were interacting, so I started using environmental DNA, or eDNA, as a tool to understand that. With eDNA, you can take a small sample of water or soil, extract the DNA, and get a census of the ecosystem and what organisms have been there. So I had picked up this eDNA tool as part of my work while I was finishing up my Ph.D. at UCLA.
Then, I was at a conference where I was talking about eDNA and I met Phil Levin [Lead Scientist here at TNC in Washington]. He asked me if I could use this eDNA tool in a forest. I said, “Yeah, I’m sure you could…” and we talked through the methods, but then he asked me, “Well, could you do it?”
And [laughing] I mean, I was a marine scientist, we were at a marine science conference, so I was wondering, “Why are you asking me about a forest??” [laughing]. But I was a Ph.D. student, I was finishing up, I was looking for a job. He saw that eDNA was a tool, and I had the skills with it, and he was wondering if the tool could be used in a different ecosystem. So I ended up doing my post-doc in partnership with the University of Washington and TNC trying to understanding the biodiversity of the restoration efforts in the Ellsworth forest using eDNA.
What’s BIMS, how did it come into existence?
Black in Marine Science—BIMS! BIMS is a nonprofit organization that’s aimed at uplifting, celebrating, and inspiring people, and looking at how we can build up and change the face of the environmental field.
BIMS came from a lot of different things. It really started because of 2020. 2020 was… [oooohh]… 2020 was very interesting for me as a Black woman, for the whole country as living, breathing human beings. So, how do I start? I think there’s a story of how BIMS started publicly, but also the story of why I was ready to lead BIMS. There’s two different versions.
So, how BIMS started publicly. There was George Floyd and the racial awakening that not only occurred across the country, but also specifically in STEM. Then there was also the situation that happened with a Black birder in Central Park and the white woman that called the police. One thing that came from that was a group of Black birders on social media got together to create Black Birders Week to turn the myth around and say, “Hey, you shouldn’t call the police on Black people when they’re outside birding. Black people bird.” So a whole week was dedicated to Black people birding. From that event, from August to about October of 2020, there were all these weeks of outreach—Black in Botany, Black in Physics, Black in Neuroscience. The whole goal was similar to Black Birders Week, to say, “Here are all these STEM fields, Black people aren’t seen to be in those fields—they’re seen as predators as we saw in the George Floyd situation—but actually, no, we’re scientists, we’re botanists, we’re neuroscientists.”
All that was happening, and I was excited about it, but I wasn’t seeing a Black in marine science week. I tweeted about it and it got a huge response. People were like, “Oh, yeah, there’s Black people doing marine science?? Tell us more!” And when you tweet something, you have to become a leader for it, so I took it on and we created a whole week of outreach last year to highlight Black folks in marine science. It was an awesome, big week last year—so big, in fact, that we decided to turn it into a nonprofit.
Personally, the reason I was able to step up and lead Black in Marine Science, was because of my personal experiences as a Black woman, at the Ph.D. level, and on the science team here—I’ll be transparent. When I was in graduate school, I definitely had some racially charged experiences, but me being naive, I thought it was just something that happened in grad school, that it’s a thing that happens just to students. There were comments about, “Oh, you’re just on a diversity scholarship.” Comments like that. So that was very rough, where you’re at this place like UCLA where it’s super prestigious and people only think you’re there because of a diversity scholarship. So that was my background, where I was used to this weird kind of abuse, but I figured once I got my Ph.D., it’d be “I’m Dr. Moore, I belong here.”
Then I moved to Seattle. First of all, there weren’t any Black people in sight. In my neighborhood it was weird—we had key fobs for our building, and I had neighbors closing the door on me, even when I had my key fob out. People calling in and reporting, “Oh, there’s someone in the mail room” when it was just me getting my mail. Stuff like that.
Some experiences on the team were rough, too. I felt excluded. Things happened that weren’t understood or seen—I was the only Black woman on the team. I was encouraged to report stuff, but then nothing came of it because I was the only one reporting it. I’m a scientist, so if you’d told me from the beginning that n = 1 wasn’t going to be enough, we could’ve stopped the conversation there and never reported anything. Because it was an n of 1, it was seen as “there’s no racism here.” That was really rough, Dr. Moore and still experiencing stuff like that. At that point, I wanted to walk away.
Luckily, I had met some other Black folks in marine science throughout my career. And at one point, I was talking to one of my really good friends about our experiences—they were at a prestigious school, and here I was at a prestigious nonprofit, and she was having similar stuff going on. Here we were, two Black doctors, getting into spaces that claim they want people who look like us to get into, and then we’re getting treated like we don’t belong there.
Me seeing that, seeing pure sadness in others’ eyes, and having similar experiences, it was like, “Okay, are we going to walk away, or are we going to take up space?” That’s where I was, personally, to start BIMS. I knew places could be better.
I was able to build BIMS the way I did because I’d completely disengaged—by stepping away to prioritize my wellbeing, I was able to build community and BIMS. After BIMS was built, hope came back. And there came clout with it, too. So I was feeling more fulfilled from the BIMS work.
It was also around the time my post-doc was ending, so I was looking around at different jobs. At these places I was considering, I went to staff pages, and they were all generally white—there were very few brown faces. I kept getting discouraged. Did I want to go through all this again? Is this what the outlook looks like to be a scientist?
Then I won this award, Black Voices for Black Justice. They gave me $50,000 to do whatever I wanted to do. That’s when I made the decision to not apply for any jobs—I was gonna finish my post-doc, ride out, and see what I could do with BIMS and the money I’d just gotten. To me, in my streets, $50K is a lot. I was asked, “How long do you think that’s going to last?” and I was like, “I’d rather starve than continue like this.” That’s how transparent I had to be.
I love the relationship that’s been built since—if not for the realness in those conversations, I don’t think the partnership [between BIMS and TNC] would have come to fruition. I wanted to take a leap with BIMS and build it. I get so much joy from the BIMS organization and community. The community is there, the community wants more content and more programming for us, and I need to figure out how to do that. Applying for jobs wasn’t going to work for me. I didn’t want letters of recommendation for jobs. I do believe that Phil was the first one to suggest the BIMS and TNC partnership; basically, how could we work inside and with TNC to build some type of partnership with BIMS. It evolved a bit from what I originally thought—where there could be a grant to BIMS from TNC, but I’d still leave TNC—but it turned into more, where I’m still a TNC employee supporting BIMS. I do believe there’s a true belief in BIMS as an organization—BIMS is poppin’, we have done a lot of good work, and I think there is some true support [from TNC].
What’s your relationship to BIMS?
BIMS is my baby! I’m the founder and CEO. My goal is to meet the mission of BIMS—to celebrate Black marine scientists, spread environmental awareness, and inspire the next generation of scientific thought leaders. And, ultimately, change the face(s) of who people see as scientists.
Honestly, it was a heartbreak around the world the way that George Floyd was treated. What was so revealing for me is that that’s just the way that Black people are seen—as folks that don’t belong in these spaces and are seen as predators. At the end of the day, if I walk outside, it isn’t “Oh! There goes Dr. Moore. She has a Ph.D.!” No. It’s, “She’s just another Black person, let’s go kneel on her neck.” Because I go outside with my hoodie on, in my sweats and my Crocs—all of a sudden, I didn’t go to UCLA, I haven’t won all these awards, I haven’t done all this stuff.
To have experienced it first-hand, when you “earn” a seat at the table but then it’s like “Nah baby-girl, this seat ain’t for you. You thought.” It was so heartbreaking. So that’s what we really want to change. To say hey, we can be these other things, we can belong in these spaces. It’s about changing the culture of science, and especially in conservation and environmental science. I think you see more Black folks in medical fields than you do in conservation and marine science, so it’s time for all that to change.
What’s TNC’s relationship with BIMS?
It’s two-fold. It’s through me, because I am a TNC employee. But I also think it is an opportunity for TNC to support a grassroots organization—it’s an opportunity for us (TNC) to put resources into the communities we say we want to support, resources to really see people and nature thrive. I think it needs to be targeted efforts for Black communities, because we know they’ve been impacted for long, we know that practices specifically at TNC have harmed Black people. I think it’s time for us to really put our money where our mouth is, to say, “Hey, what can we do to really enrich these communities?”