South Sounders show they value natural spaces

The strength of Thurston County’s support for land conservation revealed itself last week at the annual fundraising breakfast for the Capitol Land Trust. More than 500 people gave their time and money to help preserve important natural spaces in the South Sound.

It was a striking testament to the environmental ethic of Thurston County residents.

The large public showing of citizens and elected officials was also an affirmation of the land trust’s non-confrontation approach to acquiring lands. Since 1989, the nonprofit has been working out conservation easements from people who want their land preserved, as well as accepting land donations and, of course, paying fair market value for critical areas.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Capitol Land Trust has protected more than 20 miles of shoreline along Puget Sound and permanently conserved nearly 6,000 acres of natural habitat.

The land trust’s executive director, Eric Erler, deserves credit for building the partnerships and community support that has fueled the nonprofit’s growth. Gov. Jay Inslee presented Erler with the state Department of Ecology’s annual environmental excellence award at the breakfast.

Recent legacy gifts to the land trust are also indicative of the growing support for conserving lands. The trust received $270,000 – its largest gift ever – from the estate of the late Jane Willits, who is the sister of Olympia’s Ward Willits, a conservation leader and estate trustee. An equal amount was given to the Nisqually Land Trust.

The Jane Willits gift was extraordinary, but symbolic of the South Sound’s community of visionary conservationists. These are people who understand that preserving fish and wildlife habitat for future generations is good for the economy, as well as for the environment.

And they know that the more land we conserve, the better chance we have of protecting and preserving what makes the Southern Puget Sound region unique and special.

But Inslee gave an ominous warning when he told the breakfast crowd last week it would be a shame to preserve all this land, only to lose it to the effects of climate change. Sea-level rise, ocean acidification, changes in rainfall, and temperature will have a profound impact on the land we preserve.

The work of the Capitol Land Trust is critically important. But taking meaningful and proactive steps to reduce our carbon footprint is equally important if we are to sustain those gifts.