A letter from our Director:
In the past year and a half, the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership navigated through two big shifts. We adapted our work in response to a global health pandemic and I was brought on as the second-ever Executive Director in the organization’s 26-year history. These changes allowed the Estuary Partnership to reorient and rethink not only what we do but also how we do it.
After a year-long process of reorienting and rethinking, I am proud to share the new mission statement of the Estuary Partnership and our new three-year Strategic Direction.
Updated mission statement:
To restore and care for the waters and ecosystems of the lower Columbia River, for current and future generations of fish, wildlife, and people.
The Estuary Partnership’s previous mission statement – To preserve and enhance the water quality of the estuary to support its biological and human communities – served the organization exceptionally well for more than two decades. To date, over 29,823 acres of lower Columbia River estuary habitat has been restored or protected, we have provided more than 427,000 hours of environmental education to 89,800 students, and we have engaged 14,340 volunteers in stewardship activities.
While we have a lot to be proud of, the challenges facing the lower Columbia River estuary are growing. We are grappling with how to rectify the exclusion of the diverse communities who depend on a healthy Columbia River. And climate change is warming waters, stressing salmon, causing harmful algal blooms and threatening coastal communities. These difficult realities informed our new mission statement and the strategic direction.
Our new mission statement and Strategic Direction will also influence us as we update our Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan – the EPA-mandated governing document that guides all our work.
I invite you to read our Strategic Direction. Please reach out with feedback and questions; we are eager to hear what you think and to work with you to restore and care for the lower Columbia River estuary.
E. Elaine Placido, DPA., Executive Director
The waters and tributaries of the lower Columbia River are the lifeblood of our region. The 146 river miles from Bonneville Dam to the Pacific Ocean nourish fish in the transition from fresh water to salt water, flow through wild places, create homes for many native species, and irrigate productive agricultural lands. The lower Columbia connects and sustains millions of people. It provides traditional foods and other resources for the region’s Indigenous peoples, moves goods through ports and a shipping channel, and supports fishing, recreation, and tourism economies.
Unfortunately, two hundred years after non-indigenous settlement and development of the region began, the river is in trouble. The many issues facing the river, the lands around it, the region’s native species, and our local communities are complex and interconnected. Many of these challenges result from human activities that have used the river and surrounding lands without replenishing, renewing, and restoring balance. As a result, many native species are imperiled. At the same time, economic and racial inequities keep some people and communities from sharing in the gifts provided by the river.
To heal these painful truths, we need a new way of thinking and new approaches—within regional communities and within our own organization. We need to listen to the stories of connection between people and the river, because the health and well-being of the lower Columbia River and its species and tributaries cannot be separated from the health and well-being of people and communities. The river is home, identity, and sustenance. It defines our sense of place and connects us to our history, culture, and future.
In our ideal future, the communities of the lower Columbia embrace this reciprocity, tending to our river as a living system, supporting its long-term health as part of tending to our own well-being.
As a result of this reciprocity, new patterns can emerge:
- Healthy habitats and clean, cold water will support abundant fish and wildlife and human health, while the river still provides food and livelihood to many.
- The people who are most impacted by the health of the river will be central to decision-making about its future—including the Indigenous people of the lower Columbia, people of color, and others who have borne the unequal burdens of pollution and exclusion from the abundance of the river.
- People throughout our region will have a stronger connection to the river and a shared sense of responsibility for its health. We will collectively understand, care about, and tend to the river and surrounding lands. This understanding and care can be built and reinforced when everyone has access to the river and its tributaries—for recreation, social and economic activity, and cultural and spiritual connection.
Mirroring the relationship of the river and our communities,
we are making a fundamental organizational shift
towards an interconnected ethos of “We, not I.”
Realizing our vision and bringing new thinking and new approaches to our work requires a commitment to deep organizational change, a re-orientation towards a more collective and reciprocal way of being. To see the river and our relationship to it in a new way, we must also shift how we relate to each other, to our partners, and to the natural world. This commitment requires us to adjust many aspects of our work, from our restoration and education approaches to how we plan, budget, and fundraise. In addition, the biases we hold must be identified, and the language we use and the way we think will need to change accordingly. Completing these shifts will take many years, far beyond the life of this strategic plan. The detailed goals and strategies that follow describe the first steps towards realizing our vision.
The staff and Board of Directors have named four core values to guide us as we evolve:
We work with partners to identify and achieve shared goals. We develop and nurture authentic connections within and outside our organization by listening carefully, building interpersonal relationships with organizations and individuals, and grounding ourselves in humility and shared leadership. We center the river and the good of the whole in our decisions.
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
We take action and commit resources to connecting with the full diversity of communities and people living along the lower Columbia River. We engage, seek to understand, and follow the advice of communities of color and other people whose voices have been excluded from decision-making about the river.
Science and Stewardship
Our strategies and actions reflect our commitment to scientific principles and traditional ecological knowledge. Our programs, projects, and operations take into account long-term consequences. We conserve natural resources and minimize the environmental and social impact of our actions. We prioritize solutions that benefit those who have been most affected by negative impacts to the health of the river.
The Courage to Change
We step willingly into new ways of thinking. We encourage each other to be creative, flexible, adaptable and innovative. We commit to the pursuit of our goals, even in the face of risk. We actively support the personal and professional development needed to evolve as an organization and as individuals. We recognize failures and mistakes as opportunities for learning.
Over the next three years we will advance four overarching strategic initiatives throughout our programs and operations. These initiatives are grounded in our vision and organizational values.
Engagement and Representation
We will seek, listen to, and incorporate the input of diverse community partners and individuals into our work, with a focus on honoring perspectives of Indigenous peoples and communities of color. In doing so, we will meet people where they are, operate from a place of understanding and empathy, and recognize the validity and importance of diverse experiences.
We will strengthen existing partnerships and build new partnerships with a broad array of organizations throughout the region. Internally, we will implement specific practices that foster trust, understanding, shared decision-making, increased connection, and collaboration between and within the Board of Directors and staff at all levels of the organization.
We will offer our expertise and assistance to support communities and organizations throughout the lower Columbia to tend to the health of the river. Within our organization, we will build new skills and knowledge and empower our staff and board to increase our impact.
We will find opportunities throughout our programs and operations to integrate climate adaptation and mitigation and build resilience to the impacts of climate change.
Revise the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan to reflect ecological priorities and the Partnership’s values through a process that engages the board, staff, and current and potential partners, and that includes elements of human well-being in the Plan objectives. The CCMP revision process will engage internal stakeholders and external partners and communities throughout the service area, and will incorporate our four key strategic initiatives.
Develop a new project prioritization approach that advances the Partnership’s vision and reflects our values, including deeper connections to communities around our major projects. The new prioritization approach will draw on the Partnership’s other planning efforts including the CCMP and the DEI Strategy.
Innovative restoration and TEK
Implement priority projects through innovative habitat restoration approaches including: Incorporating Traditional Ecological Knowledge; engaging diverse partners from many sectors; and addressing the Partnership’s key strategic initiatives.
Connect data, communities and decisionmakers
Use monitoring, data collection, and science conversations to help communities connect with decision makers to improve the health of the river and community well-being.
Serving our full region and priority communities
Develop a program prioritization approach that balances serving the Partnership’s full study area with serving priority communities including communities of color.
Connection with the river
Increase and deepen opportunities for students and community members to physically connect to the river.
Increase community and school-based programming
Work at a regional and school district scale to increase opportunities for school-based and community programming.
Climate change education
Incorporate climate change and climate adaptation and mitigation concepts into Partnership education and community programs.
Increase access to careers in conservation
Engage our own team and programs in efforts to increase access to careers in conservation, particularly for community members who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
Build relationships and partnerships
Identify and proactively build relationships with current and potential partners whose goals intersect with the Partnership’s priorities as articulated in the CCMP, the DEI strategy, and other plans.
Build organizational recognition
Support Partnership board and staff members to share our story with partners and the public.
Consistently seek community and partner feedback and use it to adjust programs and approaches.
Create policies and provide facilities, tools, and support that foster an atmosphere of cohesiveness, belonging, appreciation, and collaboration throughout the Partnership.
With input from the full organization, revise the Partnership’s fiscal strategy to advance the Partnership’s vision and be grounded in its values.
Environmental and social stewardship standards
Adopt a framework to ensure high environmental and social stewardship standards for Partnership operations.
Establish or renew board operations and structures that support the core values and strategic direction as expressed in this plan.
Priority Area 1: Workplace Culture
- Create and maintain a work environment that supports an inclusive atmosphere, including work from home flexibility; values delegation and trust; and embraces different work styles, communication styles, and schedules. The workplace supports employees at all stages of their career.
- Recognize strength and contributions and celebrate our collective work.
- Create a workplace culture that is safe, open, inclusive and empowering, where we work hard for each other for a shared vision, and where environmental justice and DEI are centered in all our work.
- Foster a workplace culture that values bottom up vs. top down structure and approach.
- DEI trainings and plan are based on identified needs of the organization and are supported in the annual budget and workplans.
Priority Area 2: Communication
- External Communication - Share different stories to support diverse narratives; highlight POC- and Indigenous-led work and resources.
- Communication flows through the organization in a thoughtful, respectful, timely, meaningful and articulated way.
Priority Area 3: Financial Position
- Operate from a place of abundance and fiscal health.
- Develop contracts and collaboration opportunities with women- and minority-owned businesses.
- Be collaborative in our grant-seeking.
Priority Area 4: Partnerships
- Support new opportunities for collaboration and deepen partnerships.
- Create and implement a community engagement strategy.
Priority Area 5: Leadership and Capacity
- Increase Board diversity.
- Establish a Community Advisory Committee.