by JULIA VOURI
Stewardship Network Coordinator
Few things draw more passion from San Juan County residents than threats to the pristine environment of their archipelago. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Stewardship Network of the San Juans, which was formed in 1994 to meet those challenges.
The coalition was founded when a group of conservation-minded islanders posed a simple question:
“Wouldn’t it be great if all of the stewardship organizations in the county could gather together regularly to network, share information and resources, and collaborate on projects?” said Shona Aitken, one of the Network’s founders and Education Coordinator for Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. “We wanted to learn what everyone else was doing, because our combined mission was the same: caring for our home.”
That was the beginning of a coalition of public and private conservation-based organizations and individuals dedicated to promoting a stewardship ethic in the San Juans. The current membership includes two dozen members representing Lopez, Orcas and San Juan. Membership dues are not mandatory, but by donation only.
Current members are the The Whale Museum, Friends of the San Juans, San Juan Nature Institute, San Juan County Conservation District, San Juan County Marine Resources Committee, Salish Sea Press, Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Islands’ Oil Spill Association, Agricultural Resources Committee of San Juan Island, The Sea Doc Society, The Nature Conservancy, The San Juan Preservation Trust, Port of Friday Harbor, San Juan Visitors Bureau, Friday Harbor Film Festival, San Juan County Land Bank, San Juan County Marine Resources Committee, San Juan County Parks, San Juan Island National Historical Park, University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs, Friends of Lime Kiln Society, Keepers of the Patos Light, Bureau of Land Management, The Madrona Institute, Lime Kiln Point State Park, Puget Sound Partnership, and San Juan County Lead Entity Program for Salmon Recovery.
The first collaborative effort was a Stewardship Fair held at Camp Orkila on Orcas Island in 1999, made possible by a $30,000 Public Involvement in Education grant.
“This was the first time that all the islands came together,” said Shann Weston of the Salish Sea Press, and one of the Network’s earliest members. “Over 130 people came from San Juan, Lopez, Orcas, Shaw, Stuart and Waldron to participate in six sessions on marine conservation, public use, education and volunteerism, watershed/land conservation, human wildlife interactions, and government/infrastructure.”
The fair’s coordinator was current Washington State Sen. Kevin Ranker, who later became the Stewardship Network coordinator. “What happened was incredible,” he said. “Businesses and nonprofit organizations found they had much in common as they discussed shared goals, values, and opportunities. Since that first gathering, conversations have continued in powerful and productive ways.”
Under Ranker’s leadership a directory for the Network was created, and members began to meet regularly, led by a steering committee whose co-chairs included Aitken, Weston and Julie Knight of Islands’ Oil Spill Association.
The Network currently sponsors three major activities/events annually: Earth Day has been celebrated each April since 2008, rotating among Lopez, Orcas and San Juan islands.
“Good Steward Awards” are nominated by members of the community and presented each year to recognize individuals and organizations that have been exemplary stewards in the islands. (Go to www.stewardshipsanjuans.org for a list of award categories and winners.)
Over the last five years, the Network has organized the “Green Village” at the San Juan County Fair. Through displays and demonstrations, the Village emphasizes and promotes the many aspects of conservation opportunities in the San Juans.
The Stewardship Network has also endorsed the recent establishment of the San Juan Island Conservation Corps and the Orcas Youth Conservation. Together with the Lopez Island Conservation Corps, youth conservations corps are now active on all three islands during the summer, engaging island youth in stewardship of our public lands.
Over the years, funding has become available to the Stewardship Network for conservation-oriented projects. Most recently the Puget Sound Partnership (PSP)—which is charged with the cleanup of Puget Sound—has provided small grants to ECO Net, a collaborative network of 12 Puget Sound counties that promotes environmental education, communication and outreach to help engage the public in the recovery of the Puget Sound ecosystem.
In 2008, the PSP designated the Stewardship Network as the ECO Net touchstone for San Juan County, with the fiscal responsibility of receiving and spending grant monies rotating among different members of the Network.
Fiscal sponsors are allowed to charge indirect costs to administer funds, generally 10 to 15 percent, to cover grant accounting and reporting. For example, The Madrona Institute received $1,323 to administer the two grants totaling $14,114 for the two years it served as fiscal sponsor. The San Juan Islands Conservation District is the current Network sponsor.
Puget Sound Partnership funding has allowed the Stewardship Network to hire a part-time coordinator—currently Julia Vouri – to serve the combined interests and responsibilities of the Network and ECO Net. Vouri facilitates monthly meetings, publicizes and coordinates events, maintains communications, and fulfills other grant deliverables.