By Dan Calvert
Dan Calvert, Puget Sound Partnership Senior Ecosystem Recovery Coordinator, spoke at the August 2019 retirement breakfast for Monte Marti, manager of the Snohomish Conservation District. His remarks offer an overview of just one of the important ways that Monte contributed to Puget Sound recovery during his tenure at the conservation district. Dan also offers hope and inspiration for the continuation of collaborative efforts into the future.
For just under 4 years now I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with Monte and the Snohomish Sustainable Lands Strategy, or SLS. I work with many programs and partners around Puget Sound, but I have to say I’ve found working with the Snohomish SLS to be one of the most personally and professionally fulfilling and rewarding aspects of my job. I’m going to try hard and not make this about Monte, but as I’m sure you all know his energy and enthusiasm are inspirational and contagious. Working with him has had a profound impact on me and reshaped what I think is possible. I want to spend some time today talking about the SLS specifically, and the Puget Sound Fish, Farm & Flood groups more generally.
One aspect of Fish Farm & Flood groups like SLS that I find so compelling is that they create the opportunity for different groups and individuals to interact face to face, develop relationships, and have hard conversations — but in a safe environment. In this day and age, it’s an increasingly rare opportunity for people to be able to step out of their comfort zone and gain a better understanding of where others are coming from, what their priorities are, with a focus on moving toward collective uplift. This is what Monte is all about, this is a core piece of his values.
I want to highlight two important groups that are part of SLS — the agricultural community and the tribes — particularly the Tulalip Tribes and Stillaguamish Tribe, which have historically participated in the Snohomish SLS. Members of the agricultural community and the tribes haven’t always agreed on everything. But both groups have put aside their past history based on the recognition that they have shared goals and objectives, and that they can be stronger working together. Fish, Farm & Flood groups provide a forum for these different interest groups to talk with one another and work to identify and recognize shared challenges and concerns. Very importantly, these conversations help to build trust and relationships, and to recognize shared values. These groups collaborate to develop solutions to challenging, wicked problems that can hopefully bring collective wins to the groups sitting at the table.
I won’t sugar coat it, this isn’t easy, it’s not always smooth. There are warts in the process and bumps in the road. The outcomes are often far from perfect, but it’s a unique framework helping us move toward mutually developed goals, with a focus on collective wins for everyone who is sitting at the table. It’s making things happen that wouldn’t otherwise.
There are some parallels and similarities between my agency, the Puget Sound Partnership, and Fish, Farm & Flood groups. We both rely on voluntary cooperation and a willingness to sit at the table. We can’t force anyone to participate, but, importantly, if you don’t come to the table you can’t be part of the solution. It’s easy to criticize and point out flaws, but it’s a lot harder to find a better alternative pathway. Once you engage and start to become involved, you start to understand that it’s very challenging, but also very rewarding work.
A big part of my interest in this topic stems from the fact that I underwent what I perceive to be a significant change in my attitude and values since coming to the Partnership. A few years back I had the opportunity to interview several farmers and talk to them about what they do. I’m not a farmer, but I do love the food they grow! So these interviews gave me the opportunity to get a sense for the connections between farmers and their land, the work they do, and the culture of agriculture. Being a farmer is a really hard job. To be successful you have to be an expert ecologist, economist, understand systems thinking — so many things. I have huge respect for anyone that can make it as a farmer. I also learned that farmers have a connection to their land that I don’t think many people understand. The Puget Sound ecosystem recovery community could do a better job recognizing this, and incorporating it into the work we do.
I want to mention an example of a collective win. SLS has been successful in an incredibly competitive funding environment. This is partly a result of the collective expertise of the group, but also a reflection of the power and political capital different interest groups can generate through collaboration. During this last legislative session representatives from the Dairy Industry lobbied to get a project put forth by the Stillaguamish Tribe be included in the Floodplains by Design funding. I think that’s pretty amazing, and it only happened because ag and tribes worked together to develop a project proposal. This wouldn’t have been possible without the buy-in and support of the groups participating in SLS.
I don’t need to remind anyone about our increasingly polarized political climate. I think part of where we are in our nation today stems from the fact that, whether we realize it or not, people are inherently tribal. We intentionally, and sometimes unintentionally seek people who think like us, look like use, and share common values. Something that I think emerges in the Snohomish SLS and other Fish, Farm & Flood groups is that we all share more values than we realize. If we’re willing to set aside pre-conceived notions and historical legacies, we can really make things happen.
I’m an eternal optimist, I can’t help it. I think you have to be if you’re in this line of work. But I genuinely believe we should all pay attention to what’s happening with SLS and other Fish, Farm & Flood groups. There’s tremendous potential. If we can continue to coordinate and harness the political and social capital of tribal and agricultural groups there’s no stopping us. Together we can identify shared priorities and bring more political will to bear on issues we are all concerned about. Monte may be retiring, but his energy and passion will continue to be part of the fabric of SLS and an inspiration to me.