Pierce Conservation District makes every day Earth Day
You don’t have to dig deep in Pierce County to find the link between conservation and economic growth.
Pictured above: PCD Board Chair Jeanette Dorner (front), Tacoma Deputy Mayor Kristina Walker, U.S. Congressman Derek Kilmer and Pierce County Councilmember Ryan Mello pitch in to remove pavement from an empty parking lot at Peck Athletic Fields to make way for a rain garden, trees and pollinator plants.
Pierce Conservation District (PCD) works with landowners and public agencies to protect natural resources that are essential to the local economy and the region’s quality of life – from invasive species removal to placing native plants to water quality work.
“Everything we do comes down to economics,” said PCD Executive Director Dana Coggon. “After all, conservation districts were literally built to save the soil and continue to grow food.”
Deep community roots
Pierce Conservation District was established in 1949 as part of a nationwide response to the devastation caused by the Dust Bowl. The ecological and agricultural disaster prompted the federal government to create a national policy for the control and prevention of soil erosion. Today, there are more than 3,000 conservation districts in counties across the country, including 45 in the state of Washington.
Pierce Conservation District’s mission is to “equitably support community-driven solutions to our most pressing local environmental challenges.” A non-regulatory government agency, it provides an array of services to meet the needs of people, properties and natural resources, including technical expertise around project planning, permitting and construction. The district also offers grant funding and free or low-cost services that make water, soil, air, landscapes and habitats healthier for all.
The PCD’s six core programs include:
- Farm planning and agricultural assistance. Staff work alongside agricultural producers and farm owners and operators to implement best practices that improve soil and water quality and help improve crop production and livestock management.
- Water quality improvement. From lakes and rivers to wetlands and streams, water is one of the region’s most valuable resources. The District teams with citizen volunteers to monitor the health of Pierce County waterways, alert agencies to problems and inspire community action to improve water quality.
- Climate resiliency and wildfire preparation. The District supports rural Pierce County communities in transition to clean and renewable energy sources, which preserves natural resources while reducing costs and carbon emissions. It also works closely with partners to prepare communities for wildfire risks.
- Habitat improvement. The District comes together with private and public landowners to implement projects that enhance and restore habitats. A recent example is the South Prairie Creek Preserve. Efforts to preserve important wildlife and salmon habitat included the removal of 7.32 acres of invasive species and planting 12,353 trees. Nearly 100 volunteers completed more than 400 hours of work.
- Harvest program. People deserve access to fresh, healthy and affordable produce. The District supports a network of more than 90 community food projects across Pierce County, bringing people together, educating youth, and offering a way to give to the community by helping those in need.
- Environmental education. With a focus on connecting youth with their local environment, the District partners with area schools to offer in-class learning and meaningful field experiences around natural resources.
The Pierce Conservation District’s mission and challenges in the community are more than any one organization can take on alone. Partnerships are at the heart everything the PCD does.
“We know what we’re good at, and we also know we can’t do everything on our own,” Coggon said. “Collaboration magnifies the impact we all have to build thriving ecosystems and resilient communities.”
Just a few of those partners include:
- Tacoma Tree Foundation. PCD joins forces with this nonprofit to connect homeowners, cities, nonprofits and businesses with trees and native plants. In March, PCD, the South End Neighborhood Council and Tacoma Tree Foundation planted nearly 40 trees near Tacoma’s 72nd Street Fred Meyer.
- Cities of Puyallup and Tacoma. The District is closely involved with stormwater management efforts in the two cities. Even small projects make a big impact. PCD provides mini grants for the placement of rain gardens in Tacoma to address stormwater runoff. “Every drop of water counts, and how it gets into the Sound matters,” Coggon said. “This inner-city project is an opportunity for folks to be connected to a much larger ecology health system.”
- Puyallup Tribe of Indians. Among other projects, the District works with indigenous leaders to identify streams for habitat restoration. “Salmon are the ancestors, and we get to help the ancestors survive and thrive,” Coggon said. “It’s more than bringing back the shorelines of the creeks for salmon, it’s also about revitalizing the culture.”
- Tacoma Public Schools (TPS). A collaboration between Pierce Conservation District, TPS, Puyallup Tribe and the Foss Waterway Seaport brings salmon tanks into 5th-grade classrooms across Tacoma. Students raise the salmon from eggs provided by the Tribe and release them at Swan Creek Park. To date, more than 1,000 students have participated in Salmon in the Classroom. Plans are in the works to expand the program to other school districts.
Making connections, inspiring others
Coggon, the first female executive director in PCD history, took the wheel in February 2022 after 15 years as director of the Kitsap County Noxious Weed Control Board. (Yes, she was called the “weed czar”.) She arrived not only with a bushel of know-how, but a passion for connecting people to the places they love and inspiring others to value Pierce County’s natural wonders.
Those are critical assets as conserving natural resources for future generations becomes increasingly challenging. She credits an amazing staff and community partners for continuing the District’s decades-long mission and commitment, especially amid the current economic climate.
“As a conservation district, we’ve done a fantastic job of growing our footprint,” she said. “My hope for the organization is that we continue to be innovative.”
Read the Pierce Conservation District 2022 Annual Report to learn more about the District’s work and the “friends” who make it possible. You can also sign up for the agency’s newsletter to keep apprised of events and workshops.
Looking for a great way to celebrate Earth Day April 22? Join a Pierce Conservation District Earth Day Work Party at a habitat stewardship site in Fircrest or Puyallup.