Kate first joined TNC as Assistant Director of the Washington and Alaska field office in 1984. She was employee #10 at the once-combined chapters. Leading up to the position, Kate had practiced environmental law but found herself looking for something different.
“There were no environmental laws in the United States until Congress passed The Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts in the 1970s,” she said. “Working in a law firm, my clients were mostly concerned with evading protections or responsibility for their impacts.”
From her perspective, “In the 1980s, the practice of environmental law was being used to blunt the laws’ effectiveness, and that wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
Kate searched for a role within a large, effective conservation organization, and became assistant director of TNC for the Washington and Alaska chapters in 1984. In that role, she helped to double its membership, increase its board capacity, and support land acquisitions and preservation efforts. Moving on from her staff role, Kate served on the Ohio, Alaska—and, most recently—the Washington Board of Trustees.
“The Conservancy is consistently effective in its approach,” Kate explained when asked what drew her to the organization for so long. “With environmental issues becoming more front and center, both globally and in the minds of individuals, the Conservancy has continued to evolve to meet the challenge where they can have the highest impact. That’s what’s kept me engaged, and every time I’ve stepped away and come back, I find that they have actively led the field and moved to where the environmental issues are most critical.”
Her views mirror the growing concerns of the American public as planetary well-being comes into stark focus. Pew research from 2023 reveals that two-thirds of all Americans support the expansion of renewable energy, and the same amount believe businesses and corporations must take greater responsibility in reducing the effects of climate change.
Kate highlighted the Floodplains by Design program, a “tremendous innovation” by TNC in Washington that funded projects in 15 counties across the state. This initiative aims to restore the floodplains of Puget Sound, an area with dry land intersected by flood-prone rivers. By prioritizing the protection of salmon, diverse wildlife, and nearby communities from devastating floods, TNC’s collaboration with various counties has proven to be a remarkable achievement in designing solutions that benefit nearby residents, rivers, trails, farms, and shellfish beds.
“We work far more effectively at the systems level,” Kate said of the project’s success, which has protected over 3,000 homes from flood risk, preserved 500 acres of land for long-term agricultural use, and restored over 70 miles of river and species habitat. “We engage in policy, which is critical because that’s where the action is happening, and we take innovative approaches to hard-to-solve problems.”
While on TNC in Washington’s Board of Trustees, Kate served as vice chair, board chair, and chair of the Philanthropy Committee. While on that committee, she helped the Rock Our World 5-year fundraising campaign, which surpassed its fundraising goals by 15%. While Kate was the board chair, the staff and board worked together to create the Washington Equity Statement. This was a ground-breaking effort in the Conservancy to deeply commit to diversity and inclusion in addressing environmental challenges.
Although not every initiative Kate participated in at TNC in Washington yielded the desired outcome, even perceived failures provide unique opportunities for growth and learning. During her tenure as Board Chair, TNC fought to pass Washington Initiative 1631, which ultimately did not pass. That failure laid the ground for the successful fight to pass the Climate Commitment Act in 2021.
“One of the lessons we learned from the loss of 1631, the first effort to put a price on carbon in Washington State, was that we need everyone to be at the table,” Kate said. “We are going to have to make […] painful compromises, but it’s worth it to pass a suite of laws like the Climate Commitment Act (CCA), currently the most progressive in the United States. We wouldn’t have succeeded without nearly every environmental organization and group in Washington working together to make it happen.” The CCA legislation makes polluters pay for carbon pollution while maintaining a cap set by Washington state. Coupled with Federal investments, the generated revenue is funneled into climate resilience funds for Indigenous peoples and communities exposed to the worst effects of climate change, investment in clean energy, and preserving healthy lands and waters.