Whatcom Conservation District Board Supervisor Election: Candidate Information

Thank you for your interest in the Whatcom Conservation District Board Supervisor Election!  We contacted the three candidates and asked them to respond to the following questions:

  1. What background, experience, and skills do you bring to support the Whatcom Conservation District in its mission to assist land managers with their conservation choices?
  2. What do you think are the most pressing challenges facing farmers in their stewardship choices and how will you work with the District to address those challenges?
  3. What do you think are the best approaches to protecting and restoring habitat, instream flows and water quality for salmon, steelhead, shellfish, and other organisms?
  4. Describe your connections with the agricultural community in Whatcom County and how you will use those connections to support the District in their outreach efforts.
  5. What will be your top three priorities if elected?

Two candidates answered the call, and their responses are provided in their entirety below.  While we shall not be endorsing a candidate, we hope that these responses and the additional information linked below will inform your voting.  You may vote in person at the District’s office at 6975 Hannegan Road, Lynden, on 3/14/17, 9 am-6 pm.  If you received a ballot, you may deliver it to the District’s office by 6pm on election day, or mail it so it will be postmarked on day of election or sooner. Good luck to you!

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS (Alphabetical by Last Name)

Heather Christianson

1. What background, experience, and skills do you bring to support the Whatcom Conservation District in its mission to assist land managers with their conservation choices?

Most of the work of the Whatcom Conservation District is accomplished through Federal and State grants. I have extensive knowledge in grant management having worked in both grantmaking and grant requesting organizations. I understand the importance of good grant management from both sides, and the necessity for thorough proposal reviews and measurable outcomes reporting to ensure proper and effective use of funding. I will help the Conservation District continue to work toward accomplishing their mission, and search for additional sources of revenue and programs to expand their work toward achieving their vision of a Whatcom County with healthy soils, water and air.

In addition, I have an in-depth understanding of board services. I currently serve on the Executive Board of the Whatcom County Democrats and chair the Finance Committee. I have also worked with many non-profit boards in a professional capacity. I strongly believe in the role of a board member as an advocate for the organization and its constituents. In that capacity, I believe it is important to help spread the message of the organization to networks beyond their reach. I have strong experience in advocacy having volunteered with local non-profits like Community to Community and with my union, Public School Employees. Through the role of advocate in the community, I will also be an active listener to the community, and will bring those thoughts to the table as a representative of this community in conservations strategies for a positive impact on Whatcom County’s water systems, natural resources, and wildlife habitats.

I also bring a wealth of diverse experience in event management from planning fundraisers to poetry slams to youth soccer tournaments, in program planning and implementation under funding constraints, in bridge-building between diverse communities, and in financial oversite and guidance. If elected to the Board of Supervisors, I will be able to offer my expertise to the staff for their various event and program work.

2.  What do you think are the most pressing challenges facing farmers in their stewardship choices and how will you work with the District to address those challenges?

The Whatcom Conservation District is in a unique position to be a partner with farmers in helping with stewardship choices. They offer cost-share programs that encourage farmers to adopt conservation strategies. These cost-sharing and financial assistance programs help tackle the very first barrier facing farmers, which is how to implement conservation strategies without having a negative impact on an often unreliable bottom line. Many factors have an influence on yearly profits for farmers and planning for lean years can be a top priority over implementing conservation programs. With the District’s funding, these financial barriers are mitigated to encourage farmer participation. In addition, finding the time to develop and implement these programs can be challenging. With the District’s staff of experts available to help farmers with their plans, the District is able to help overcome that challenge as well. As a non-regulatory entity, farmers can feel comfortable approaching the District for their services. And through the District’s outreach efforts, such as the Small Farmer Expo and the Farm Speaker Series, the District takes every opportunity to educate farmers on available conservation programs and provide financial incentives to implement those strategies. If elected, I will advocate for the continuation of these programs as well as search for further opportunities to expand the District’s impact in Whatcom County.

3.  What do you think are the best approaches to protecting and restoring habitat, instream flows and water quality for salmon, steelhead, shellfish, and other organisms?

There are many approaches to protecting and restoring habitat, instream flows and water quality for salmon, steelhead, shellfish and other organisms. These programs include watershed management, water quality protection and restoration, estuary and floodplain habitat restoration, shoreline protection, efficient irrigation systems, proper manure storage facilities, streambank restoration, manure application risk management systems, and many more. The Whatcom Conservation District, as well as the Washington State Conservation Commission, offer several programs to assist land managers in their conservation strategies to help in these efforts. The best approaches are the ones that land owners are willing to follow through with and opt-in to be part of the solution. Our district offers expertise, planning assistance and cost sharing programs that include fish barrier removal, livestock waste management, streambank stabilization, and salmon habitat conservation. Often these programs aren’t sought out until a problem has been identified. Through my service on the board, I will help the District to motivate land owners and land managers to be proactive in utilizing these programs throughout Whatcom County. The best approaches involve partnerships so that many stakeholders are involved and help keep each other accountable in our roles to protect and improve our natural resources. Our district has been a strong partner in this process, including winning an Environmental Excellence Award last November. Unfortunately, I believe we have reached a critical juncture in which not one strategy will be the best solution. That is why I will be an advocate for expanding the programs and impact of the Conservation District. While their current programs and partnerships have had a positive impact on our water systems, I don’t believe we can allow for the status quo to continue. Significant progress needs to be made now before the damage is too great to be restored or recovered.

4. Describe your connections with the agricultural community in Whatcom County and how you will use those connections to support the District in their outreach efforts.

I live in the small farmhouse my grandfather built with his father in 1933, and where I spent most afternoons working with my grandparents on their farm. Currently, we harvest an annual organic hay crop on our farmlands which is used as feed by various farmers in our community. This deeply personal and historical connection to Whatcom County contributes to my dedication to preserving what we value most about living in such a beautiful, community-minded area. The economic interests of our farmers are vital to our community’s health, as are the environmental conservation measures that help preserve what we love about our County. The outreach efforts of the District are important in educating farmers, as well as the general public, in what efforts we can all make to have a positive impact on the health of our water systems, natural resources, and wildlife habitats. While it is the farming community that is most significantly served by the District, the District offers programs for all land owners and land managers in Whatcom County, from in-school educational programs to land owner programs such as soil testing and firewise programs. I have comprehensive experience in outreach efforts and strategies through other nonprofit work and if elected, will bring that experience to the Board of Supervisors as an active member in our community.

5. What will be your top three priorities if elected?

Among my priorities, if elected, will include being a progressive voice for Whatcom County on the Conservation Board. I will be an advocate for our environment and for the best conservation practices that will have a significant impact on protecting and restoring our natural resources. Our farming economy is vital to our overall economy, but I will bring an open mind and fresh perspective for new ideas in the conservation field. A top priority will be to advocate for the best programs that utilize taxpayer dollars to have the highest impact on conservation in Whatcom County. For example, and another priority, will be the Conservation District’s role in water quantity for Whatcom County. While the District’s long ranch plan includes working to encourage widespread adoption of water conservation practices on working farms and ranches, I believe these practices will be essential in tackling Whatcom County’s ongoing and growing issue of water quantity. I will advocate that the District prioritize these programs, many of which are available through the Washington State Conservation Commission’s water conservation programs such as the Irrigation Efficiencies Grant Program which offers financial incentives for upgrading to more efficient, water-saving irrigation systems. This will be essential to ensuring available water for all users in the system as well as protecting salmon habitats in our river. I will also prioritize advocating for the District to explore innovative approaches to conservation. I appreciate the District’s lagoon pasteurization pilot project, which makes potable water from liquid manure, and I look forward to further exploring the viability of such programs for Whatcom County. If elected to the Board of Supervisors, I will bring an eager energy to exploring new programs and creative solutions for farmers and land managers in their conservation strategies. It is imperative that we make significant strides now to protect and restore the quality of our water systems, natural resources, and wildlife habitats, without having a detrimental impact on the viability or economic prosperity of our important farming community.

Suzzi Snydar

1.What background, experience, and skills do you bring to support the Whatcom Conservation District in its mission to assist land managers with their conservation choices?

As a woman involved actively in the Agriculture Community for over 20 years, I have hands on knowledge of farming the land as well as working closely with the Conservation District through the services they provide land owners. I have found it a productive ,amicable working relationship . The staff at the Conservation District are extremely knowledgeable in their area of expertise. I work well with others and have been involved in Whatcom County Farm Bureau as well as the Portage Bay Partnership. As the “stewardship” and “Manure Manager” for our family farm I have worked closely with the Conservation District , Department of Ecology and USDA. I am an Advocate for the work they do for our community. I have volunteered with countless groups and service organizations throughout the years . I have managed several businesses through out the years , and have overseen large groups of employees and volunteers .

2.What do you think are the most pressing challenges facing farmers in their stewardship choices and how will you work with the District to address those challenges? 

Ask three producers in the Agriculture community and you will get three different answers. For our farm I would Say the perpetual hoop jumping . Let me explain my answer in general terms . Four years ago (approximately) we were working towards a solution of an issue we had on our farm . Conservation District was spearheading the efforts and going through the process of the solution coming to fruition on our farm. The Conservation District Employees had a magnificent solution . Many government agencies were on board and had given their approval and support of the solution. Conservation District, Dept. of Ecology, USDA, Whatcom County. And then after many hours invested in getting to this solution — A single Government Agency says — NO. A singular Agency had the ability to completely keep the solution from being put into place.

So challenging to be part of the process working towards a great solution and have it all be for naught. The layers and layers of regulations across many different agencies that in many industries is repetitive and redundant. It is important that land owners understand that the Conservation District is there for them. They are effective and have access to great tools and clear science .

Late this spring we will begin a large project on our farm that the Conservation District , USDA and Ecology have all been part of . We are excited to break ground and see their hard work and planning on a project come to life.

3.What do you think are the best approaches to protecting and restoring habitat, instream flows and water quality for salmon, steelhead, shellfish, and other organisms?  

It is not my job to define these practices independently . As I am sure you are aware this is a complex and complicated issue that has been  tweaked by special interest groups and there is  significant misinformation in the press on these issues.  As a supervisor  I see my position as one  to allow the paid staff for the District to utilize their knowledge in these practices as they identify solutions and practices to be put into place by land owners. In my role as a Supervisor I will support their efforts ,ask questions ,and coordinate assistance as needed from other Agency’s and groups.

4. Describe your connections with the agricultural community in Whatcom County and how you will use those connections to support the District in their outreach efforts.

As a vocal advocate for Agriculture , it is my desire to raise awareness to land owners of the voluntary,incentive -based programs available that increase their stewardship of their land and natural resources. Our family farm is a signer and partner in the Portage Bay Partnership, this alone models that working together towards resolutions we can accomplish solutions for many . We are involved in Custom Harvesting forage for many farmers in our county. This puts me in contact with many farmers on a continual basis. As a rural land owner I and business owner I frequently interact with citizens who own parcels of land that could be served by conservation district if they needed services or advice on how to steward their land.

5. What will be your top three priorities if elected?

  • Advocate for Best Management Practices for our County. We in Whatcom County have been blessed with beautiful plentiful resources , that provide food, fiber and energy, It is my desire to protect their contributions to the local economy.
  • Encourage and work toward no net loss of farm land in Whatcom County.
  • BE a positive voice for the work that the Conservation District does.