Protecting the island- the Environmental Stewardship Department becomes official

From the large visiting whales to the tiny pollinators and the sweeping views all around the island, San Juan County Council voted unanimously to invest in the local environment with the Environmental Stewardship Department.

Environmental Stewardship was selected as the department name to reinforce commitment from all residents to act as stewards of the island.

Kendra Smith, director of the new department said, “It sends a message to the broader community that we have been investing in the environment. We are here to protect the environment. Honestly, none of this work can be delivered solely by the county, it has to be community-supported efforts and with their engagement and help in delivering the work.”

Smith said becoming an independent department has not changed what they do, but has given them a stronger stance within the local government.

County council member Cindy Wolf said, “The citizens of the San Juan Islands wanted there to be a very serious emphasis on environmental stewardship and wanted that department to have equal standing with the other departments and equal consideration when it came to budgeting and authority.”

Several different programs are carried out by the Environmental Stewardship Department, including the new Climate and Sustainability Program, Clean Water Project, and Solid Waste, Marine Resources, and Cultural Resources. Each program has its own advisory committee to help guide the work.

Currently, the Climate and Sustainability Program is focusing on two primary tasks, the Tourism management Plan and the Climate Action Plan. Meanwhile, the department continues core work to improve clean water, manage recycling and waste, and advance work to protect the marine environment.

“Our drive here is to produce a real plan with goals and tasks to reduce carbon footprint in the county and to leave the earth better,” Wolf said.

The Climate and Sustainability advisory committee members have not yet been appointed. All applicants to the committee were interviewed by department staff and recommendations have been submitted to the County Council. Council is expected to confirm committee appointments at the April 5 council meeting.

Committee members will work together to advise on policy, help set priorities, and harness the momentum of existing work to help steer the County’s climate action plan, said Angela Broderick, Climate and Sustainability Coordinator.

“Each individual will bring their unique background and expertise, and the committee will work to gather a diversity of perspectives as it looks through the lens of climate impacts,” she added. “Citizen engagement will be a key piece of this work. We will share opportunities and initiatives which allow citizens to be a part of the solution.”

Environmental Stewardship hosts community events including the upcoming Great Island Cleanup held on Apr. 23, so that islanders can get involved. There will also be a hazardous waste roundup event in June to help people get rid of their hazardous waste safely and encourage them to refrain from accumulating more hazardous waste. Other programs include tree planting throughout the year, Plastic Free Salish Sea, and boater outreach with the whale warning flags and Be Whale Wise campaign to inform boaters about how to protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales.

The Environmental Stewardship Guide, a critical outreach piece for visitors and residents alike, features stewardship tips to be water-wise, leave no trace and help keep the peace for wildlife and more. It can be viewed at Physical copies can also be found at the local library.

“It’s not just a county department of scientists doing their thing,” said Smith. “But more a collective effort and how we help the community to accelerate this work, to support it and accelerated for the benefit of everybody and all the species and creatures that live here alongside us.”

Those interested can check out to see what environmental progress the county has made.