We're adapting as the coronavirus pandemic presents new challenges to conservation, along with new opportunities.
Land trusts have always been unique, hybrid organizations—private nonprofits that operate within the realms of real estate, land management, and community engagement. Many land trusters split time between desk work and fieldwork. Some might even wield a laptop and a chainsaw in the same day (with proper PPE and training of course). More than a month into our strange new reality, it’s no surprise that Columbia Land Trust is navigating some unique challenges prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Since well before Stay at Home orders were issued by Oregon and Washington, we’ve been following the guidance of public health professionals by having our staff work remotely and canceling all in-person gatherings. As always, and especially now, the health of our staff, partners, supporters, and our communities comes first and foremost in our decision-making.
At the same time, our mission to conserve and care for the lands, waters, and wildlife of the Columbia River region remains in front of us. During these tumultuous times, we’re working to find ways to continue work both from our desks and on the land, where possible.
We are establishing who can go out and how we are able to conduct business responsibly while maintaining social distancing and other guidelines from public health officials. “We are figuring out what’s considered essential business and how we can keep things on track because funding and negotiations are time-sensitive,” says Cherie Kearney, forestry conservation director for the Land Trust. “For our due diligence processes, we’re hiring environmental firms, appraisers, and cultural surveys and all those things happen in the field.”
The Land Trust has moved all meetings between staff, board members, and our partners to video chat programs and we are taking action to ensure the safety of our community in every way possible. We’re also retooling on the fly to convert some in-person gatherings into online events. Together, we are finding new and creative ways to stay in touch with our partners and also care for our lands during this crisis. Some changes have been seamless and some have been more challenging. For example, because our service area includes Oregon and Washington, we need to thoroughly understand the restrictions of both states’ Stay at Home orders.
“It’s causing delays in work plans and could have impacts on restoration project schedules,” says stewardship director Ian Sinks. “Annual monitoring has been able to continue in Oregon, but not Washington. Because we have been completing work according to the coronavirus restrictions, we are paying more for contractors and staff to travel individually and take the additional steps to protect themselves. Worth the cost of course, but another factor.” While in some cases, lands are doing just fine on their own, our land stewards also hold the line on the health and restoration of many lands through active management.
The Land Trust has been able to continue work on critical items such as weed control, tree planting, and securing properties. As our land stewards head out into the field, they practice social distancing and other guidelines that have been recommended.
“We’re all in different stages of difficulty,” says Kearney. “I’ve also found that there’s a sense of shared community during my calls and meetings with partners and how we are all working to support our organizations.”
As we continue to face the challenges that the coronavirus pandemic brings, we also appreciate some silver linings. With more people staying home, nature and wildlife are experiencing a quiet and peaceful time. Bears, deer, and other wildlife are crossing trails and roads with less disturbance and wildflowers are continuing to bloom as they do every spring. Many people are connecting and re-connecting with nature close to home.
As we see nature and wildlife thrive in this downtime, we encourage you to take some time for yourself too. Amidst the stress, our staff have taken time to to connect, laugh, and share and inspiration and art with one another through our digital platforms. It is important we take care of each other and our own immediate needs and it is also important that we don’t lose sight of our values around the health of the Earth. We will get through this pandemic as a planet, as a region, and as a land trust. We will learn and grow from the hardships we face during this time. We will keep perspective and be grateful that we can continue to work and that we have homes in which to shelter. We are grateful to the healthcare workers, farmworkers, grocers, sanitation workers, and others who risk their own health to serve our communities.
We also know that climate change and biodiversity loss are not on hold during this pandemic. Caring for the Earth is a value that must persist as well. Your continuous support for conservation and stewardship is invaluable and allows us to care for our vital lands and waters in the Pacific Northwest. It is important now more than ever that we move our missions forward. Resilience is in our nature.
We want you in our Land Trust community to know that we are here to help in any way we can. Our physical offices are closed, but the Land Trust is moving forward. We will observe the Governors’ orders and any other rules issued, and we will follow the guidance of the public health community as this situation continues to unfold. In the meantime, we will share views from conserved lands through our social media channels, until such time as we are are able to visit them together again (follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter if you don’t already). Thank you for your support today and every day.
You can read more about what we are doing to help slow the spread of coronavirus here.