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Reflections From 8 Years as the WA Policy Manager

If you're reading this, you've likely heard that I was recently promoted to become the new Surfrider West Coast Regional Director starting on November 3rd. With this transition, there is a recruitment process being initiated to fill the Washington Policy Manager position. If you're interested in learning more or know of someone who would be a good fit, please see the position announcement and feel free to reach out to Liz or I with any questions.

It has been an amazing honor & privilege to have had the opportunity to be the WA Policy Manager over the past 8 years. From the statewide campaigns & coastal victories, to the chapter meetings & leadership conferences, to the times testifying in the state legislature & leading WA chapter members on Capitol Hill...I've enjoyed it all, and it's really been the shared passion for our coast & the friendships with all of you as chapter leaders and partners that has made it so much fun! Below are a few highlights from the last 8 years, with a few shout outs to co-workers, chapter leaders, and mentors who have provided inspiration and shared in the stoke along the way.

It feels like just yesterday...

I was crossing the Columbia River with my car packed to the brim and boards stacked high, departing my beloved home waters in Oregon after spending pretty much my entire 34 years growing up there until that point. Personal side note, my wife and I had just gotten married 2 weeks before, and I was moving in with her parents while she finished up her work in Oregon and we decided where we wanted to live. While I had spent a little bit of time visiting Washington over the years, everything was a new adventure to me, and it made some of the epic drives that much more fun. Arriving in WA, I was welcomed by my well established co-workers Brice (WA Field Manager) and Casey (Pacific Coast Program Coordinator). These guys were great to work with and helped me have a smooth transition into the role of policy manager.

Casey, Brice & I after enjoying a fun WA staff "board meeting" in Westport.

After arriving in WA, one of my first tasks was to coordinate and complete the Washington Coast Recreational Use Study in an effort to get a baseline on the various ocean and coastal recreational uses happening along the coast, and quantify its economic contribution as part of the state's marine spatial planning initiative. This groundbreaking effort was the first of its kind for the WA coast, and confirmed our predictions: coastal recreation provides significant economic and social benefits to coastal communities and the state, including direct expenditures as well as social benefits such as wellness and enjoyment. The study went on to serve as a cornerstone of our engagement in various public policy conversations such as oil terminal development, ocean renewable energy, and coastal hazards and economic resilience. It also played an important role in finalizing the State of Washington's Marine Spatial Plan for the outer coast. The epic 8 year planning effort resulted in a clear framework for how to consider newly proposed ocean uses while preserving and protecting the marine ecosystem and the various human uses off the Washington coast for future generations.

The 2014 Clean Water Classic was one for the ages...Photo: Matt Marino

One of my favorite battles over the years was standing up to big oil in defense of our ocean ecosystem and coastal quality of life that we value so much. Whether it was opposing development of the largest oil terminal in North America proposed in Vancouver, the various unenlightened proposals for Grays Harbor, or leading the resistance against the previous federal administration in their plans to open up 90% of America's coastline to offshore oil and gas drilling, we ensured that the voice of coastal recreation enthusiasts was a strong part of the Thin Green Line in defense of our ocean, waves, and beaches. One of the coolest experiences was being invited on a hike led by WA Attorney General Bob Ferguson to "Save Our Coast" in opposition to offshore drilling along the wilderness section of the Olympic Coast National Park, just as former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas had done along the very same section of coast exactly 60 years before.

Offshore Drilling Opposition Press Conference participants from Left to Right: Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Gus Gates (WA Surfrider Policy Manager & MC), Gina James (Quinault Indian Nation), Larry Thevik (WA Dungeness Crab Fishermen's Association), Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Washington Public Lands Commissioner Hillary Franz, Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler, Chad Bowechop (Makah Tribe). Photo credit: Marcela Gara, Resource Media.

Some of my more memorable days on the job have been getting to go up in the air with volunteer pilots from LightHawk who donated the use of their airplane for conservation. A couple of times, when the stars magically aligned and the weather gods shined down on Washington, I was fortunate enough to fly over a few sections of our amazing coastline coinciding with King Tide events in our efforts to help raise awareness about future sea level rise and its impacts on coastal communities. These efforts are part of our larger, growing body of work around our Coast & Climate initiative and the need for planning and action, including our advocacy as the ocean recreation representative on the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council towards Coastal Hazard & Economic Resilience recommendations.

Westhaven State Park, Half Moon Bay & the Westport Marina are all vulnerable to sea level rise and increasing storm severity.
Photo credit: Gus Gates, aerial support provided by LightHawk.

One of the things that I love about working with Surfrider volunteers and chapter leaders is their passion for the coast. Whether its braving the elements to orchestrate a remote beach cleanup, or suiting up and heading to the capitol to tell their story about how important state and federal coastal programs and funding are for their communities, its this dedication to the mission that has been the greatest inspiration to me over the years. One of the coolest things has been the "scaling up" of our collective work in our efforts to address plastic pollution. When I first arrived, the South Sound Chapter was leading a campaign in the City of Tacoma to pass a reusable bag ordinance to eliminate single use plastic check-out bags. After this coastal victory, it wasn't long before the time was right to go after a statewide plastic bag ban. Building upon the momentum from the bag ban, along with our partners, we were able to utilize our beach cleanup data to address one of the main culprits of plastic pollution on our beaches and pass legislation banning certain types of expanded polystyrene and creating the first statewide comprehensive opt in for utensils, straws, cup lids, and condiments.

Washington Chapter Leaders participating in the 2020 Environmental Priorites Coalition Enviro Lobby Day in Olympia.

There are so many people that I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to for all of their support. A few key people have played an outsized role over the years as leaders, mentors, and friends that I would like to acknowledge and thank for all of the inspiration that they have provided me. The first person that I met on an early trip to the Olympic Peninsula was Arnold Schouten. I could tell right away from the stories that Arnold shared with me that he was full of wisdom and valuable insight. Arnold has graciously shared this knowledge with me over the years, over countless phone conversations, walks in the woods around his property, and drives along the coast, talking about the challenges of access on the Olympic Peninsula and the importance of building strong relationships. In 2016, Surfrider Foundation and our board of directors honored Arnold with our Coastal Impact Wavemaker award.

Arnold & Debbie Schouten receiving the Coastal Impact Wavemaker Award in 2016

A man who needs no introduction to the Washington Surfrider community is none other than Kevin Ranker. As the first regional staff member outside of Southern California, throughout the mythical region that he likes to refer to as the "Wookshire," all of us as staff working in Cascadia are following in Kevin's footsteps and continuing to benefit from his vision and legacy of supporting the Surfrider mission. Kevin played an instrumental role in helping me get appointed as the ocean recreation rep on the Marine Resources Advisory Council (MRAC) focusing on ocean acidification, and introducing me to numerous legislators who played a key role in helping pass meaningful ocean conservation legislation. In my experience of over 14 years working on ocean and coastal policy, I have yet to meet a more charismatic and passionate ocean and coastal champion.

Former WA State Senator Kevin Ranker introducing statewide legislation to eliminate single use plastic bags at the Seattle Aquarium.

Speaking of MRAC, I am forever grateful for the leadership of Martha Kongsgaard who has also been a big supporter of our work and a friend & mentor to me. Martha was the chair of the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council and is also the chair of the Marine Resources Advisory Council. Like a beacon of light, Martha has kept the State of Washington focused and moving forward in addressing the challenges of ocean acidification, and she's made attending all day council meetings fun and informative.

A true mountain girl, Martha enjoying the beauty of Washington's alpine environment

When I first arrived in Washington, Ken Campbell was the chair of the South Sound Chapter and leading the campaign towards a bag ban in Tacoma, amongst several other endeavors. Ken led our WA chapter leaders in the early years of our Coastal Recreation Hill Days in D.C. and instilled in me the importance of making it an annual routine to show up and advocate for the issues and funding that are so important to Washington. Ken is known for some of his epic paddles throughout the Salish Sea and outer coast of WA, as well as plastic surveys in remote areas of SE Alaska with numerous chapter leaders. I was fortunate enough to have been able to tag along with him on a memorable kayak adventure through the San Juan Islands.

Ken Campbell on the left, along with his son Micah in the center, leading WA Chapter members in a Coastal Recreation Hill Day meeting with Senator Maria Cantwell.

The person who has undoubtedly had the largest impact on me during my tenure has been Kay Treakle. Sadly, Kay passed away in 2020, but her wisdom, inspiration, and legacy carry on with me everyday. Kay was a huge supporter of our work, not only through her support with the Harder Foundation, but as a friend and mentor to many Surfrider staff over the years who shared their tributes of Kay after her passing. In her final days, Kay shared a poignant essay on the injustices of one of Tacoma's dirtiest polluters and their role in her illness, an important read for anyone working to hold polluters accountable for their impacts on our health and our communities.

Kay Treakle, Point Defiance

A MASSIVE shout out to Liz is definitely in order! She came on board in the early days of the pandemic, before things got weird, but her can-do attitude, coupled with an awesome sense of humor and infectious passion for all things ocean and coastal, has been like a booster shot in the arm when I needed it most. Thank you for holding things down while I stepped back for a bit after the arrival of our 2nd child, and all of the kicking of ass that you continue to do today and moving forward!

Liz ALWAYS sends it

Last but definitely not least, huge thanks to all of the chapter leaders, members, and volunteers for all of your amazing support - this powerful activist network would not exist without you and all of your tireless energy! It has been such a pleasure getting to know you all, watching your leadership skills continue to grow, and earning those coastal victories together. I am looking forward to many more good times at future chapter leadership conferences and events with you all in the future. Cheers!!

Cascadia Chapter Leadership Conference 2018, Lake Crescent, WA