Category Archives: Mother Nature

Fish Do Grow on Trees

You’ve got to start thinking about this as an ecosystem. All these plantations might as well be growing corn. But if you want clean water, salmon, wildlife, and high-quality lumber, you’ve got to have a forest.
— Mike Fay, a Wildlife Conservation Society biologist and National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence

Seeing a pair of bald eagles, a possum and a black bear just minutes into my trip to an interview is, to say the least, icing on the “Eco Cake.”

Especially now, with so many people in various stages of isolation and paranoia — restricting time outdoors has a double-whammy effect on our mental health, but also on the health of a community who expects in-person participation and face-to-face debate.

Virtual bird watching and online hikes just don’t cut it.

My assignment is to catch a 30-something scientist — coordinator of a non-profit — doing what he loves best: hands-on, in-the-field work, coordinating with landowners on projects to restore river refugia.

I met Evan Hayduk, 35, with Mid-Coast Watershed Council when I first moved to the coast from Portland. That was Jan 2019 at Oregon Coast Community College for a dual presentation as part of the Williams Lecture series.

“Shedding a Scientific and Humanitarian Light on Climate Change” was a one-two punch featuring Hayduk alongside Bill Kucha, well-known artist and founder the 350 Oregon Central Coast.

That night unfolded as a contrast in personalities, age and emphases. Kucha is a 70-plus-year-old two-and three-dimensional artist who also composes and performs his music, guitar in hand. Hayduk opened up the talk with a detailed PowerPoint that emphasized the power of natural tidelands/wetlands to not only purify water for species like salmon, but also as natural mitigation for carbon dioxide absorption from fossil fuel burning.

Tidal wetlands are important habitats for salmon and a diversity of other fish and wildlife species. They also trap sediment, buffer coastal communities from flooding and erosion and perform other valued ecosystem services. — Hayduk

This is a story about a man, about his passion, about his vision to see a better world through several lenses, not exclusively through biology.

The first personality to greet me on the private land near Lobster Creek was Hayduk’s loyal two-year-old Australian shepherd, appropriately named, “Tahoma.”

“The original name for Mount Rainer,” Hayduk emphasizes. In fact, “Tahoma” is the Puyallup word for “Supreme Mountain,” and according to others, Tahoma translates to “the breast of the milk-white waters.” Or as Hayduk has heard, Mother Mountain.

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Before his gig here with Mid-Coast Watershed Council (MCWC) starting 2016, Hayduk worked on Tahoma (Mount Rainier National Park) running the restoration crew at its native plant nursery.

Today, we are on one of four adjoining 40-acre chunks whose landowners have granted Hayduk and MCWC access to flood plain habitat and Little Lobster creek to “help restore once was a healthy complex riparian ecosystem.”

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All water flows downstream

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe. — John Muir

While the Alsea River is the mainstem of salmon runs, tributaries like Lobster Creek play a crucial role in salmon health. We are in an area known as Five Rivers, 25 miles east of Waldport. Alder, Cougar, Buck, Crab and Cherry creeks make up those five tributaries.

Within the Alsea Basin, the Lobster/Five Rivers watershed provides an important contribution to the populations of native fish. However, water quality problems, relating to stream temperature, have been documented in several sub-watersheds and along the main stems of both Lobster Creak and Five Rivers. The level of disturbance in the watershed has contributed to the degradation of quality habitat. [So states a 227-page scientific paper, from the Bureau of Land Management, “Lobster/Five Rivers Watershed Analysis.]

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Hayduk is “eyes, ears and feet/hands on the ground” coordinator of this project. The day I show up, he has 164 home-propagated lupines and a couple of dozen Camus bulb starts. Zach and Casey from Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District (LSWCD) soon arrive as part of their regular brush-clearing duties to fight back the canary grass and Himalayan blackberry bushes, both pernicious invasive species in our ecosystem.

They have an auguring machine to dig holes for all these pollinating plants Hayduk and his wife, Jen, grew in their Waldport home garden. Jen is the interim director of LSWCD.

Team players

The husband-wife team met in 2008 when they both worked for a backcountry conservation crew near Port Angeles. She’s from Pennsylvania, and Hayduk grew up in Woodinville (near Seattle) with his two older sisters and parents.

My dad was a general contractor in Seattle. My family had 1.5 acres and turned it into a formal English garden, so I spent a lot of time with plants.

He tells me he always knew he’d be working with plants as he got older. He did an undergraduate degree at Santa Clara University. He graduated from the Evergreen State College in 2012 with a master’s in Environmental Studies. One of his more unique programming experiences as a student was contributing to the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) in school in Olympia.

I gravitate toward the prison work he did more than eight years ago. On SPP’s website, the goal is clear: “SPP brings together incarcerated individuals, scientists, corrections staff, students, and program partners to promote education, conserve biodiversity, practice sustainability, and help build healthy communities. Together, we reduce the environmental, economic, and human costs of prisons.”

Hayduk’s work now is all about conservation, restoration and replicating the natural systems that contribute to streambeds and streambanks gaining structures that make them prime refuge for young salmon and other species to blend into a natural ecological community, or web.

Stream Fish, Flora

Now there are some things in the world we can’t change — gravity, entropy, the speed of light, the first and second Laws of Thermodynamics, and our biological nature that requires clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity for our health and wellbeing. Protecting the biosphere should be our highest priority or else we sicken and die. Other things, like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them. They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the biosphere, for example.

–– Canadian scientist and TV series producer David Suzuki

It goes without saying rehabilitating an ecosystem like a Coastal Range temperate forest is much more complicated (and complex) than sending a projectile into space.

Evan Hayduk is one of these “forest triage experts” — he sees what 150 years of headstrong resource exploitation, unchecked razing of ecosystems and overharvesting have done and how difficult it is to put it all back together.

I met up with him on the land where he is rehabilitating riparian and river systems. This article was precipitated by my interest in Hayduk’s association with Mid-Coast Watersheds Council, most notably the monthly guest speaker series, “From Ridgetop to Reef.”

He also has just received an impressive laurel: American Fisheries Society’s 2020 Rising Star Award. This is a recognition of Hayduk’s work as someone early in his career through a partnership with NOAA and the National Fish Habitat Partnership:

“Hayduk was recognized for the quantity and quality of his restoration projects and his cooperative work with agencies and landowners.”

He sent me the entire package — the award, the letters of recommendation, projects he has worked on, his college transcripts. As I’ve learned in the Deep Dive column reporting/writing, we have some real gems on the coast. Hayduk could be a superstar in a larger non-profit and in a bigger demographic.

His job with MCWC — promoting freshwater and coastal fish conservation — is one-part grant writer, one-part field expert, one-part people manager, one-part public engagement/relationships impresario. He told me that he goes to landowners with those streams, creeks and rivers run through their properties in order to find ways to encourage stream health and restoration mitigation.

My time with him in early June focused on the process of dropping 60-foot trees into streams, crisscross fashion. This might seem counterintuitive as a best practice for stream health, but in fact, it’s a dynamic natural way to rebuild stream beds and create a functioning healthy floodplain and wetlands cohesion.

He tells me this replication of an ecosystem’s natural hydrodynamic process creates these weirs and in-stream structures that “spread the creek out,” keeping gravel beds intact all the while connecting cold water refugia to the floodplain.

The most challenging aspect of these projects comes down to humans.

“We need to work with land owners,” he tells me. “I sort of see myself as the glue between everybody.”

He shows me this riparian floodplain near the Upper Little Lobster Creek where he and his crew of volunteers have planted conifers, including cedars, and other plants to help revitalize the power of those trees to hold in soil. When the deciduous alders age out (around 60 years), they have a tendency to fall. Conifers live longer and they too will fall and act as natural “damming structures” to replicate what a natural stream should be: a haven for salmon and other aquatic species.

I study all these saplings growing inside “cages” that protect their early growth from deer.

Wood Wide Web

“The wood wide web has been mapped, traced, monitored, and coaxed to reveal the beautiful structures and finely adapted languages of the forest network. We have learned that mother trees recognize and talk with their kin, shaping future generations. In addition, injured trespass their legacies on to their neighbors, affecting gene regulation, defense chemistry, and resilience in the forest community. These discoveries have transformed our understanding of trees from competitive crusaders of the self to members of a connected, relating, communicating system. Ours is not the only lab making these discoveries-there is a burst of careful scientific research occurring worldwide that is uncovering all manner of ways that trees communicate with each other above and below ground.” ― Peter Wohlleben, “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World”

The connection between healthy rivers, functioning floodplains, and healthy fish, Evan emphasizes while putting planting riverbank lupine (Lupinus rivularis) in clusters of four, is trees. I learned much of these interlinked processes while teaching and living in Spokane, working on issues around the Spokane River, a highly urbanized and suburbanized river. Those forested watersheds have much higher water quality. Trees also provide a wide variety of ecological services.

Hayduk sources logs from many places, including Georgia Pacific other for-profit outfits, land owners and from projects on BLM, State and National Forest lands.

While the tree canopy lessens the erosive impact of rain and slows the velocity of stormwater flowing towards the river, trees trap sediments that build the floodplain while the roots stabilize the riverbanks.

I jump into some “ponding” water just below one of the crisscross tree structures Evan and his volunteers had dropped into this moving water refugia, Little Lobster Creek. I was presented with nice stretches of fine sand and cul-de-sacs of great pebble beds, perfect habitat for salmon redds. Hayduk showed me fresh water mussels. Crayfish were scrambling in the shallows piercing the shadows underwater.

Hayduk emphasized that there are some healthy stream systems in our area where past disruptive logging practices and snag clearing have not been so impactful and permanent. However, the cost for this sort of project Hayduk is heading up tallies to $28,000 per acre, with invasive species, brush clearing and salvage log/wood placement as the large chunk of the bill.

The tree species that best work for the log weirs and dams are conifers, like Doug firs and cedar, that latter species having the added benefit of not rotting for decades while submerged.

It’s a no-brainer trees also provide shade for maintaining water temperature. To carry the analogy to the end point, we see fallen leaves, limbs and branches support food webs by providing food and habitat for insects that are food for fish, Hayduk states. Clean, cool water with more food equals bigger fish.

Nuances like growing alders on the flood plain or marsh plain encourages other species of trees to grow on the decaying fallen alder.

Looking at the ecosystem from a centuries-versus-a-few-decades perspective is important in understanding what Evan and others of his ilk are attempting. “Big conifers that fall help with grade control. Water tables rise. Conifers in the riparian areas can grow from 100 to 200 years before they fall into the creek.”

This concept of a “messy” stream refugia as being the most healthful for all species is anathema to the way most humans have thought about rivers. Scientists like Hayduk know fish get through any of the hurdles a natural stream environment presents them — even with huge logs and entire trees with root balls integrated into the water flow.

Big enough wood simulating log jams buy time to get refugia back to an interconnected vibrancy. Thus far, in this area, 28 structures have been laid on 2.4 miles of stream, Hayduk stated.

Fragility in a huge forest

He shows me areas where logging trucks came in and now the stream is bare of trees and also where channel incision had “down cut” incisions into the bedrock, not a healthy Coho or chinook refuge.

Again, this is a fragile complex system Hayduk and his cohorts work on. The flood plain is many yards beyond the actual stream channel. So, a 30-foot creek flood flow necessitates a 60-foot log or fallen tree.

The connection between fish, trees and rivers is now poised emerging in our urban areas as sound ecology and ecosystem management. Many cities, large and small, are recognizing the benefits of reestablishing the physical and emotional linkage between river, trees and the human community. For instance, San Antonio has its iconic River Walk, Chicago has just completed its riverfront, Washington DC has its Southwest Waterfront neighborhood, and Pittsburgh has reconnected neighborhoods to its three rivers via a network of urban trails.

We talk about the high turnover rate for positions like his own, as well as his wife’s at the Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District.

His wife Jen knows the connection of little things put back into an ecosystem having global ramifications. She obtained her master’s degree at OSU in marine resource management.

Back to the glossary: Jen Hayduk could explain the power of blue carbon, which is elegantly illustrated by this marine plant species she was studying — seagrass (Zostera marina). These seagrass habitats provide important “ecosystem services,” including their ability to take up and store substantial amounts of organic carbon, known as “blue carbon.”

Again, the couple not only understands the fragility of homo sapiens as an individual species in a time of COVID-19, but how the cultural and economic activities can so easily be disrupted.

No more volunteers out in the field, Hayduk tells me, and many projects are on hold and grants stalled/delayed because of the lockdown.

The lack of human traffic might be temporarily beneficial to such threatened species as the Northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) and Oregon spotted frog (Rana pretiosa), but Evan Hayduk would rather spend time in the field with people throwing in to help him with his work with river and wetlands restoration.

His background in human rehabilitation through ecological health started with people locked out of society, in tiny prison cells.

“The effects of nature on incarcerated individuals is powerful,” Hayduk tells me. His mentor was Nalini Nadkarni, Ph.D., Founder of the Sustainability in Prisons Project. “Prisoners spend limited time outside. But the program demonstrated they are good with plant stuff. It’s a powerful therapeutic tool, working with the Oregon spotted frog raising them from tadpoles all the way to adult frogs and releasing them into the wild.”

For individuals like Hayduk, “the cure” is being outside, working with/within nature, and with people (Homo sapiens), who are also part of the ecosystems, whether we recognize it or not.

Right now, Jen and Evan are tending a huge Waldport home garden, pickled goodies like carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers. Jen has even gotten into exotic plant growing, selling one of her “children” on etsy.com for a pretty penny.

They are self-sufficient, well-traveled, share visions and know how to grow food. Traits we all might need when the you know what tied to global warming hits the fan.

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Q&A: Evan Hayduk Style

Hayduk is a busy fellow, having put in 63-hour work weeks and rushing to harvest tons of garden produce and preserving them, an undertaking he and his wife Jen have been doing for several weeks. Still, though, Hayduk put down some compelling responses to my intrusive queries.

Paul: What are the three things you suggest citizens can do to help folks like you and nonprofits like MCWC do what you have to do to protect salmon habitat/refugia?

Evan: A. Help and protect beaver on the landscape. This is #1. Beavers do a better job to create and maintain salmon habitat than we could ever hope to. Tolerate beavers if you live on a property that has a stream. There are beaver solutions that make it easier to “live with beaver.” Inform your neighbors about the importance of beaver and join efforts to stop trapping and killing of this ecosystem engineer.

B. Get involved! Volunteer your time helping at a MCWC event (when we bring them back after COVID-19). If you live on a river or stream clear invasive species and plant natives. Or give us a call and we can help.

C. Donate! Donations to the MCWC are tax deductible! They go directly to helping us get projects on the ground that protect and improve salmon habitat. For a non-profit like ours, just a little goes a long way.

Paul: Who are two of your biggest influences in this work, in your life?

Evan: I think I’ll separate that out into two categories life/work.

Life: My parents. I grew up observing an absolute model of love, hard work and kindness. My dad worked his way from a carpenter to owning his own construction company. This instilled a work ethic that I couldn’t shake even if I tried. I spent weekends growing up working in our 1.5-acre garden, working with my dad to turn bare land into formal English gardens. If I don’t put in a good amount of time in any given weekend now, I feel like my weekend was wasted.

Work: I’ve been lucky along the way to have some great mentors. I mentioned to you Nalini Nadkarni, who I worked with at Evergreen with the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Nalini is the most amazing person I have ever been around. Her energy is contagious, and when she is in a room there is an electricity that is undeniable.

During my time at MCWC, I also have had amazing support from some Oregon Coast legends. Before retiring in November 2018, Wayne Hoffman was an absolute encyclopedia of information. I could walk into his office, ask about any given creek on the midcoast, and Wayne could ramble on forever about the stream, current conditions, past projects, habitat potential, etc. Fran Recht and Paul Engelmeyer, who started the MCWC back in the late 1990s, are both dedicated stewards of the environment and have devoted their lives to the midcoast. My success at MCWC is due in large part to Wayne, Fran and Paul, and the rest of the active MCWC board and community.

Paul: If you were to present to a high school class, what would your elevator speech introduction be to them.

Evan: Salmon and people aren’t that different. We all need cool, clean water to survive. The actions we take to restore salmon habitat — replacing bad culverts, placing large wood in streams, planting native trees and shrubs — all do more than just restore salmon habitat. These actions restore the natural systems and processes that give us idyllic images of cold-water streams rushing through lush, green mountain terrain. We are focused on salmon, but the work we do touches everything that lives on the landscape — from birds, to bees, to you and to me!

Paul: Ocean forest range here and Olympics are some of the best places on earth to capture carbon. What makes your work out here so vital to that part of the picture?

Evan: Carbon storage is story of our lifetime. We have pumped so much carbon into the atmosphere that we have offset the balance of the system. Protecting and restoring old growth forests, sinks for carbon, is vital. Restoring salt and freshwater marshes and wetlands is also crucial. We can keep carbon locked up in estuary mud or in a 10-foot diameter cedar tree, but if these systems that support these processes are not protected and restored, we are headed down a bad path.

Paul: What are two of your most observable successes thus far in your work here?

Evan: In the last couple years we have tackled some very big projects, though any large wood placed in a stream, any tree planted, or invasive species removed is a success. By far the most observable success was the North Creek culvert project. This project was completed in 2019, restoring full aquatic organism passage to 13 stream miles of pristine habitat on US Forest Service managed lands in the Drift Creek (Siletz) basin. The undersized culvert, installed in 1958, not only blocked adult and juvenile salmon from accessing habitat upstream, but also ceased river processes and degraded habitat above and below the culvert site. The complex project in a remote location was difficult, and 60 years of “Band-Aid” solutions failed because they didn’t address the real problem: the culvert itself.

Paul: A “land ethic” by Aldo Leopold says a lot — riff with it, as in these two quotes:

“When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Evan: We as people often see ourselves as other, as separate from nature, but this couldn’t be more incorrect. We not only breathe the same air as all other beings on this earth, we have by every measure had a greater impact than any.

Paul: Again, if you as director got a $5 million check from nonprofit for your work, no strings attached, what would you use that for?

Evan: Well, a boy can dream, can’t he? I think acquisition of important habitat areas would be high on the list (other than just hiring other staff to help!). Though, giving a better wage and benefits package to our staff and work crew would be a no-brainer.

Paul: Give the young reader some spiel on why they might want to pursue a degree or degrees in the general field of environmental sciences tied to ecology during a time of COVID-19, dwindling budgets for these sorts of jobs and more and more tuition expenses.

Evan: I had a professor at Evergreen (Gerardo Chin-Leo) who liked to say one of my favorite expressions: “Science is the painful expression of the obvious”. He also liked to say “Ecology isn’t rocket science; it is way more complicated than that.” Everything in this world in inextricably connected, the clues are in the interactions of flora and fauna on the landscape. Uncovering these connections and understanding how the work we see today has evolved through millennia of interactions is incredibly enthralling (to me!). These times are hard (COVID), budgets are being slashed in this field, salaries in this line of work have never been great. However, the folks that choose this line of work have a greater calling. Understanding this complex world which we are a part of and working to restore ecosystems is more rewarding that any paycheck could ever be.

Paul: Wood wide web — In your own words, explain this concept, if you have any input around how this concept ties to what you are doing in the “preservation” field.

Evan: This gets at the complexity (it isn’t rocket science!) of the natural world. Above ground we see large trees, growing individually across the landscape. What we don’t see, is the complex system of roots, fungi and microbes below the soil that supports this vast forest. Tree talk to each other, conspire when drought is near, and share resources/nutrients through the fungal networks that have co-evolved with them over millennia. This is the original “community”, and our communities could get a lot of good out of better understanding how to work together towards a shared goal.

Paul: You are working in restorative ecology. Explain that.

Evan: We are working with a degraded landscape. We are also dealing with shifting baselines. Bad enough is the direct impact on habitat over the last 200 or so years, this has gone further to disrupt ecosystem processes that maintain what we think of as a functioning system. Restoring these processes is difficult, but if successful, process-based restoration can reset these systems to be self-sustaining. Though the impact can be quick, the restoration can take centuries. When we plant a tree for long-term recruitment of wood to a stream, it’s full impact won’t be felt for 100 or 200 years.

Paul: Then, you were working in a sort of restorative justice program at Evergreen tied to sustainability in prisons. Expand.

Evan: This is where I lean on the words of Nalini: the power of nature. Everyone who works with SPP sees the power of fresh air and getting your hands dirty. Working in a prison can be a dismal setting — windowless cells, limited outside time, fluorescent lights. This is not a restorative situation. There are major problems with the criminal justice system in this country, I don’t claim to be an expert on this. But I have seen the impact that building a greenhouse in a prison yard can bring. What the nurturing of a tiny plant from seed to flower can do for a person. We worked with prisoners to captive rear Taylor’s Checkerspot butterflies and Oregon spotted frogs in Washington. Watching these “hardened” criminals hand feed and raise these tiny creatures in a prison setting was restorative, for me, and for those individuals. The guys that raised the frogs made hats with “Cedar Creek (Prison) Frog Crew” printed on them, they wore them around the prison like badges of honor.

Paul: Where do you see yourself in 15 years? Location-wise, intellectually speaking, emotionally, and politically?

Evan: Oof. I’ve been so busy lately I’ve just been able to take it day by day. In 15 years, I’ll be 50. I have no idea where this world will be at that point, so I really can’t say where I’ll be either. Long term dreams are important, but right now I’m just thinking about how to get my projects on the ground for this summer…

Note: First appeared in Paul’s column, Deep Dive, in Oregon Coast Today.

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Depth of Experience

While in her office overlooking the entrance to Lincoln County’s most popular attraction, she’s like a child in a candy store — she watches trees and shrubbery get yanked out to make way for a new admissions and ticketing station. “Wow, what a change.”

Then a nuthatch alights on the feeder suction cupped to her office window. “Spring’s coming early.”

Keiko put us on the map': Oregon Coast Aquarium turns 25 | KVAL

Now the show really gets going — Carrie E. Lewis lugs into her second-floor office 10 large architectural design images for the aquarium’s five new capital improvement projects and one program improvement.

In the brochure, “Our Ocean, Our Coast, Your Aquarium” she states: “Since opening in 1992, the Oregon Coast Aquarium has immersed over 15 million visitors in the mysteries of the Pacific Ocean.”

Sleepover - Oregon Coast Aquarium

Lewis is showing me the remodeling and new construction phases:

  •  new ticketing area-offices
  •  remodeling the entrance, great hall and café
  •  creating a children’s nature play area
  •  improving three indoor galleries
  •  building a marine rehabilitation center

We are talking about $18 million and some change for these huge improvement and enhancement projects for the aquarium. They’ve raised almost $14 million toward this adventure in expansion.

“As we grow toward our vision of serving as a trusted resource for ocean education and conservation in the Pacific Northwest, it is more important than ever that our facility reflects that,” Lewis said.

That’s entertainment — and science

This proposed state-of-the-art, behind-the-scenes veterinary facility for marine wildlife rehabilitation and resident animal medical care is only one of three in the Pacific Northwest. Providing care for injured and sick marine animals is vital to a coast where ship, boat and beach traffic is increasing exponentially as people realize coming to the Central Oregon Coast is both affordable and adventurous.

Lewis and I talk about how education is the cornerstone to conservation and getting youth to understand the threats not just to our area of the Pacific Ocean, but to all oceans due to warming, acidification and loss of habitat and species.

One recent presentation of the American Cetacean Society-Oregon Chapter echoes Lewis’s belief how the aquarium incubates an interest in science and conservation among young visitors.

“My belief is that every person getting out of high school and the community college be able to stand before any city council or board of commissioners and communicate why preserving these forests and rivers are vital goals to protect wetlands, and our oceans,” said Paul Engelmeyer, The Wetlands Conservancy Coastal Land Steward and Conservationist at Audubon Society of Portland.

For Lewis, more is better. She wants outreach to be expanded, as the aquarium currently has a van with an inflatable, true-to-scale whale and a staff member traveling to outlying communities to present marine facts and science.

Sleepover with the sharks | Georgia aquarium, Sleepover, Aquarium

CEO with a history

Lewis has worked in several capacities at the aquarium, beginning in 1998. As the backhoe is digging up earth, she is transfixed momentarily. “It’s like updating your house,” she says while observing stumps being ripped up. “It’s like remodeling your old home where all the marks the kids have made get covered up.”

She has worn a number of hats: planning events, marketing, crisis communications, business development, director of marketing and then, in 2010, she became the CEO. That’s significant institutional memory of 28 years of the aquarium’s existence. “I am pretty blessed to be in this industry … one where I get to give back. We really make a difference in people’s lives.”

She’s 52 and talks about how she is asked by many groups to talk about her “amazing life” and “profession representing women.”

She’s quick to poo-poo the “unique” biography, but she realizes the aquarium/zoo field is quickly being dominated by female professionals, volunteers and staff.

She also honors coworkers and board members associated with this landmark. Did I say volunteers? That’s more than 400 aquarium volunteers ranging in age from 15 to 90.

All volunteers have been in limbo from doing their magic at the aquarium since COVID-19 lockdown. More than 80 percent of staff has been furloughed, though still paid through a Paycheck Protection Program loan.

She’s jazzed about even the smallest details — like a new backlit glass design for the front entrance — showing me a rendition of the aquamarine glass sculpture from Bullseye Glass Company out of Portland. “It represents beach glass.”

Total person, total experience

Her emphasis is on “enhanced total experience” for the more than 500,000 annual visitors.

It’s a simple formula — a family drives in from the Valley with the kids; they have this amazing view of Yaquina Bay and the bridge; then they come upon this inviting and lush entrance way and path; and they leave all their worries in the car.

More ADA-accessible walkways and paths are also part of the design improvements.

All those details add up to a 39-acre wonderland, with a coastal forest landscape design, a new and improved great hall with a jellyfish exhibit and articulated whale skeleton; a modernized café through new furnishings and facelift; and a playground that includes more climbing structures, an eagle’s nest and better interpretative signage.

“In our zoo and aquarium industry, we are all about getting kids outside and off their phones,” she emphasizes.

For the two or three hours a family might spend at the aquarium, proverbial lightbulbs go off in young people’s minds. Families share knowledge in an unstructured but intentional space. Newport and surrounding locations realize a huge economic boost — an annual economic impact of over $100 million.

The woman at the helm, Carrie Lewis, who was raised in Maui and came on board to help with crisis communication when Keiko was at the aquarium has been CEO for a decade.

“If I inspire one youth to think about going into the zoo or aquarium industry, I would be happy.”

Keiko Orca, Oregon Coast Aquarium Pat Hathaway© | Keiko, Ore… | Flickr

Killer Whale Problems

A simple answer to a tough question: What is one big negative lesson you have learned during your tenure? “The decision to house a large cetacean at the aquarium.”

Those were the “Free Willy days,” and while there was a movie, and lots of press, Lewis said it was “not a positive move.” She rolled her eyes and moved onto the next questions.

It doesn’t take a marine biologist to understand capturing and then moving a huge apex carnivore like a killer whale is highly stressful on the individual orca and those in the pod from which it was removed. Add to that the international protests against aquariums like Sea World for putting an intelligent and social mammal like a killer whale into the equivalent of a bathtub does not make for a positive marketing model.

The aquarium built the tank for Keiko; the orca was housed in Newport from January 7, 1996 until September 9, 1998, when he was eventually shipped to Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.

The largest exhibit is “Passages of the Deep,” in Keiko’s former tank, and features a walk-through acrylic tube surrounded by deep water marine animals such as sharks, rays and rockfish.

Orford Reef displays rockfish and other smaller Pacific-Northwest fish. Halibut Flats is all about halibut, ling cod, small rays and other large fish. The Open Sea exhibit is the last section in the tunnel, holding sharks including seven-gills, as well as rays, mackerel, anchovy and salmon.

The aquarium hosts sleepover events in the tube.

Oregon Coast Aquarium asks for support during closure | KVAL

Growing up on a Pacific island

Lewis and I talk about her upbringing in Hawaii: her father who was a conservationist who went to developing countries to assist with setting up garbage/waste-to-energy renewable projects. Her stepfather was a lawyer.

Hawaii’s Saint Anthony was her high school alma mater. She attended and graduated from St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga. She liked the small campus, as she majored in communications. She thought she might go into conservation writing. One year back in Hawaii, then four years in Palm Springs, one year living in Seattle.

“I fell in love with the beauty and bounty of the Pacific Northwest. The mountains, the water, and the mentality of the people — I just loved it all.”

How she ended up in Newport is attributed to her mother who had a house here. She took Lewis to this “little aquarium.” And, viola, there was an opening in the marketing department.

Keiko: The Untold Story - Wikipedia

Stories from old connect to the future

In her book, The Kid from Valsetz, about Don Davis, first city manager of Newport, Deborah Trusty credits Davis with a large legacy in our area — arts and sciences.

“When Don and I talked about the aquarium, I noticed that even he was a bit astonished that the plan had actually come to fruition,” Trusty writes. “As the city worked through this project, Don said he experienced some of the most extensive and far-flung collaborations in his career.”

Carrie Lewis ramifies the collaborative process by pointing out the facility’s large number of benefactors and the diverse membership base — more than 7,000 household members. There’s the Rockfish Society. And the foundation support, including the Siletz Tribe, Oregon Foundation, Meyer Trust. “Every museum, aquarium and zoo is struggling in this financial climate.“

Collaboration and a vision toward the future through deep research on many aspects of the aquarium are what Carrie Lewis emphasizes. “Our aquarium has been voted in the Top 10 consistently by USA Today.”

It’s all in the details

Little things count like how signage might be improved — deciding upon static designs in some parts of the facility versus digital signs in other areas.

Lewis is proud of including new features such as “sensory inclusion” areas where the aquarium addresses the sensory needs of children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Weighted blankets, quiet spaces and sound-reducing headphones are just a few of the new accommodations.

She’s aware expanding exhibits and activity areas — not increasing the site’s footprint — can require more staffing. Currently, there are 80 full-time staff as well as a cadre of part-time workers, interns, practicum students at OCCC and volunteers.

She explains the aquarium is contracting with a Canadian firm to redesign the playground. The original (1990) Portland landscape designer — Walker/Macy Landscape Architects — is on board for the Five Phase upgrades.

Right now, Lewis thinks long and hard about updating the three-year strategic plan which was undertaken in 2015. They were operating under a basic business plan whose impetus was “to get out of debt.” A Pennsylvania firm that advises zoos helped identify strategic and financial goals, as well as messaging, conservation and communication goals.

Soon afterward, Lewis spearheaded a feasibility study to increase visitor experience and more educational programming. Again, an expert company — this time out of Houston — helped with the feasibility study.

Lewis is proud that “even when we were in financial straits, we did not go to the state for help.”

Carrie Lewis is a case study of a woman in a significant leadership role demonstrating sustainability and success. She talked to groups about the obstacles they could face and how to overcome them. There are 27 accredited aquariums in the US, and Lewis points out that her time in the industry has seen more young women and men getting into the profession. This was before the COVID-19 lockdown, which has realized thus far $3 million loss in revenues.

Her confidence in the aquarium weathering the lockdown and huge loss of visitors and revenue bespeaks her years in the trenches.

“We’re trying to get through this together because when we re-open, and I believe that we will, it’s going to look very different. The landscape in our community, in our state, in our country is going to be very different,” Lewis said. “But the aquarium will get through this. We’ve had an incredible amount of support from people all over the world that believe in what we do and want to see our animals healthy and happy and taken care of.”

One of the more recent statements by Aquarium Communications Director Julie Woodward speaks to both the dire results of the pandemic closure and the work that has had to continue:

“We are struggling as are many non-profits. We have no revenue coming in as the majority of our revenue comes from ticket sales,” Woodward said in a May 18 news release. “Unlike most other non-profits, we still have to care and feed our 15,000+ animals each and every day. We are still looking for support.”

Lewis took over as president and CEO from Gary Gamer September 2010. The outgoing CEO’s statements reflect the confidence he had in her abilities.

“Working at the aquarium has been an incredible experience,” Gamer said. “Leading the staff has been an honor. They and the legion of volunteers working alongside them are very committed to the well-being of our ocean and the life within it. I’m confident the Oregon Coast Aquarium will remain a great place to visit in Pacific Northwest.”

Oregon Coast Aquarium unveils $18m expansion plans | blooloop

Note: From Paul’s column, Deep Dive, Oregon Coast Today, with permission.

The Decade Of Transformation: Being In Balance With Nature

Save Our Planet Save Our Future, Belgium, January 31, 2019 (Photo: EuroNews/Twitter)

This is the fourth newsletter in our series on the 2020s as a decade of transformation See Remaking International Relations, Remaking the Economy for the People, and Remaking Healthcare. In addition to COVID-19 and the economic collapse, multiple crises are reaching a peak and the world is changing as a result. How the world changes will be determined in some part by our actions. This week, we look at what can be done to bring our societies into balance with nature.

Biologist Elisabet Sahtouris describes an alternative theory of evolution to Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” in her book, “Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution.” Sahtouris finds that evolution is cyclical, a spiral instead of linear. She describes how when a new species arises, it upsets the ecological equilibrium as it comes into competition with other species over habitat. The task of that species in the adolescent phase of its evolution is to find its niche in a way that is cooperative with other species. If it fails, it goes extinct.

The human species is in its adolescent phase, and now it is time to recognize our mistakes and change our behaviors. Sahtouris writes:

Like any adolescent who is suddenly aware of having created a very real life crisis, our species faces a choice — the choice between pursuing our dangerous course to disaster or stopping and trying to find mature solutions to our crises. This choice point is the brink of maturity — the point at which we must decide whether to continue our suicidal course or turn from it to responsible maturity. Are we going to continue our disastrously competitive economics, our ravaging conversion of our natural supply base into things, our pollution of basic soils, waters and atmosphere in the process? Or will we change the way we see life — our worldview, our self-image, our goals, and our behavior — in accord with our new knowledge of living nature in evolution?

We’re in for a rough patch

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic occurred quickly. The first documented cases occurred in Wuhan, China in late December. The first reported case outside of China occurred two weeks later in Thailand. At that point, it was also discovered that human-to-human transmission of the virus could occur. One week later, the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the United States. Within a month, 18 countries besides China had infections. By early March, there were 500 cases in the United States impacting 30 states plus the District of Columbia. And within another month, the number of cases in the US grew one thousand-fold to 500,000, with 20,000 deaths. These are only the ones we know about. It is certain that the number of cases in the US is being undercounted, perhaps by a factor of ten, as are deaths.

Within a matter of months, the pandemic has had wide-ranging and devastating impacts. There are nearly two million cases in 210 countries. Over 100,000 people have died. Health care systems are being overwhelmed. The pandemic triggered a global recession, which the world was on course to experience at some point soon, and this was before the economy started shutting down.

Nearly 17 million people in the US became unemployed in the last three weeks. This is also likely an underestimate as unemployment offices are overwhelmed. And a majority of workers in the fields of construction, manufacturing, and transportation, and in the service sectors are unable to meet their basic needs. Millions are losing their health insurance when they need it most.

As abruptly as the pandemic and global economic collapse have changed our lives, scientists predict another rapid disruption in our lives is on the horizon. A new study published in Nature predicts ecosystem collapse could start occurring within the next decade. Researchers found that many species are already living near the limits of the conditions they require to survive. As the planet heats up, many species will reach their limit simultaneously and there will be mass die-offs.

Bob Berwyn of Inside Climate News explains:

As global warming heats their habitat to the point that it is intolerable, many species have no place to go. Some will go extinct, with a domino effect that affects scores of other species. If it gets too hot for bumblebees, for example, it affects the reproduction of plants. If it gets too warm for insects and reptiles, it affects food supplies for birds and mammals.

When ecosystems start collapsing abruptly, we will face similar situations as we are facing today with the twin COVID-19 pandemic and global recession. We will be forced to adapt to a new reality, but this time it will be a reality that threatens the food supply in addition to increasing the risk of disease. Just as health professionals warned us for years that we were unprepared for an inevitable pandemic, climate scientists are warning us of ecosystem collapse. We can mitigate the crisis, but that is only going to happen if we take the initiative to make it happen.

COVID-19 will change the world (From News Karnataka)

We’re all connected and it’s all connected

Before we start looking at solutions, we must understand the roots of the crises we face. It is by changing systems at the root level that we will bring about the transformation we need. Of course, this won’t be an in-depth examination. That is beyond the scope of a newsletter.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we are a connected global community. Diseases, greenhouse gases, and capital are not restricted by borders. What we do in one place, impacts another. To stop the pandemic, we must control the infection everywhere or there will always be a repository perpetuating it and putting any of us at risk. International cooperation and solidarity are required to make the transition we need.

The same is true with the climate crisis and the globalized neoliberal economy. They are connected to each other and to our health. It is the globalized neoliberal financial system that has driven the race to the bottom. Capital moves freely about the world in search of the cheapest labor and resources. Many governments, especially those in the global south, compete with each other to loosen regulations that protect workers and the environment to attract capital to their countries. Corporate trade agreements make transnational corporate profits more important than protecting the planet. Humans have created multiple environmental crises from polluting the Earth, as Robert J. Burrowes writes, turning it into a junk planet.

Capitalism knows no limits when it comes to profits. People are being displaced from their land as corporations gobble it up for mining, energy production or industrial agriculture. This forces people deeper into wild habitats where they come in contact with wildlife and also pushes wildlife into human communities. It increases the chances of transmission of disease.

As Keishia Taylor explains, “…human activity disrupts ecosystems and damages biodiversity, shaking loose viruses, which then need a new host.” As the barriers between humans and wildlife break down, the greater the risk for zoonoses, diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. COVID-19 “is the sixth major epidemic in the last 26 years that originated in bats, mediated by a range of farmed, domesticated or hunted animals.” Factory farming is a great culprit driving these epidemics. Large numbers of animals live in crowded and unnatural environments, which weaken their immune systems and make disease transmission more likely.

Biodiversity is key to healthy ecosystems, writes Eric Roston in TIME. He adds, “Almost half of the new diseases that jumped from animals to humans… after 1940 can be traced to changes in land use, agriculture, or wildlife hunting. …There may be 10,000 mammalian viruses potentially dangerous to people.” The climate crisis is another threat to biodiversity as described above, for which governments are not responding.

Capitalism drives the exploitation of people and resources for profit without regard for the consequences. The burning of cheap, dirty fossil fuels for transportation required to connect disparate parts of the global supply chain as well as the oil and gas industry’s history of pushing dirty forms of transit drives greenhouse gas emissions along with large polluting industries and factory farms. Destruction of the land, including our forests, has lowered the capacity for natural carbon sequestration. This has led to the high levels of carbon in the atmosphere that cause climate chaos; record high temperatures are heating the oceans and storms, fires and droughts are causing more damage.

Vijay Prashad describes the many ways neoliberal capitalism has also driven privatization of state institutions, such as healthcare, and has created precarious livelihoods in his newsletter “We Won’t Go Back to Normal, Because Normal Was the Problem.” And that is our task: to make sure that out of these crises come major changes, the maturation of our species to cooperate with the ecosystems in which we live.

Activists march in a climate change rally in London, Britain, September. 20, 2019 (Reuters)

Opportunities for change

Life has changed drastically for many people as we are suddenly required to stay in our homes. Education has moved online. People are doing more of their own food preparation. Conferences and other large gatherings have been canceled, and some have moved online. We’ve had to change our habits quickly to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases.

One positive side effect of our reduced activity is that greenhouse gas emissions have dropped significantly. Charles Komanoff and Christopher Ketcham of the Carbon Tax Institute estimate that the drop could be as much as 50% this year. They identify four positive lessons from the pandemic: greater reliance on science, the recognition that government action is required to confront crises, the knowledge that we can change our behavior quickly, and the necessity of social solidarity.

We can take rapid action to “flatten the curve” of greenhouse gas emissions just as we are for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is a list of ten basic steps we can take to reduce greenhouse gases and support the health of all living beings and the planet:

  1. Decentralize agriculture – End monopolized industrial agriculture and return to small and medium-sized farms owned by farmers who will manage the land in ways that support biodiversity, rebuild the soil and sequester carbon. This means organic farming methods and includes urban agriculture to produce food locally.
  2. End land grabs – Stop the land grabs that drive people off their land and allow them to return. Smaller landowners tend to be better stewards of the land.
  3. Sequester carbon naturally – Do this through regenerative farming methods, and by restoring wetlands which has the added benefit of buffering sea level rise, and protecting forests, especially mature forests.
  4. Restore wildlife habitat – Protect wildlife areas and plan our communities in ways that do not encroach upon them. This includes rethinking tourism. There are some areas humans ought to avoid out of respect for wildlife habitat.
  5. End fossil fuel and nuclear use – Move rapidly to a carbon-free and nuclear-free energy economy. To make this a just transition, areas that overuse energy will need to reduce consumption and areas that do not have enough energy to meet basic needs will need to increase energy use. This also means finding ways to reduce travel until we can reduce the carbon output. Many businesses and organizations are changing to online meetings and conferences instead of doing them in-person.
  6. Decentralize energy production – Massive solar and wind farms can be disruptive through displacement of communities and the destruction of wildlife areas. Energy production can be integrated into the infrastructure; e.g., on rooftops, parking lots and community solar. Decentralized production ends energy monopolies and allows many people to benefit from the energy they produce.
  7. Remake transportation – Reduce energy use significantly through investment in mass public transit and shared ownership of vehicles as cars are parked 95% of the time. Many cities already have fleets of cars for short-term rental. Fewer cars mean fewer resources being used. And we can increase bike and pedestrian areas to encourage less driving.
  8. Rebuild the rail system – Electrify our railroads and increase their use for moving goods and people. Decentralized energy production can feed into the rail line to power it. This is a concept called Solutionary Rail.
  9. Become zero waste communities – Rethink our consumption and reduce it to what is necessary and then find ways to meet our necessities through closed-loop production cycles, reuse of materials, sharing of items and more.
  10. Cooperate more – In this pandemic, people around the world are organizing mutual aid to provide food and other basic needs. Let’s build on this spirit to look out for each other and connect human-to-human. We may find that building our communities will increase sharing and reduce our desire for so much stuff.

There are more steps we could add to this list that include socializing sectors of the economy so that human rights and protection of the planet supersede corporate profits, remaking trade along the same lines and strengthening localized, worker or community-owned enterprises.

We are truly at a crossroads. The pandemic has taught us to act in solidarity and that we can alter our lifestyles drastically when necessary. The climate crisis requires us to flatten the curve of our greenhouse gas emissions and toxic, polluting society. We can’t go back to normal because normal is killing us. The time is now to create a new world in balance with nature.

The Coronavirus: a Wake-up Call from Mother Nature

Once the panic, grief, and worldwide turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic has eventually subsided (as it certainly will in due course), our biggest and most important challenge will be not how or if we survived the relatively short term upheavals to our lives, but whether as individuals and societies we learn from the experience and modify our behaviour in the long term.

Without attempting to downplay the individual trauma of people losing loved ones unexpectedly, if we wish to try and minimise the occurrence of future similar events, we need to examine the underlying causes of the current pandemic.

This has not been the first coronavirus outbreak, nor will it be the last.

Human physiology is such that varying degrees of sickness in our lives are unavoidable, and ultimately inevitable.

To believe that we are – or even should be – immune from serious illness in modern times is a delusion particularly prevalent in wealthy, developed countries, where our privileged lifestyles and unthinking faith in the supposed infallibility of science and Western medicine have led to complacency and a foolish denial of reality.

Unsurprising then, that the coronavirus has come as such a shock to so many, brutally exposing the fragility of their economic systems, their governments, their way of life, and even their own mortality.

In the short term at least, despite the inevitable conspiracy theories, it appears likely that the current coronavirus (Covid-19), originated in China from the practice of eating fruit bats from so-called ‘wet’ markets in Wuhan.

But that is only the likely immediate cause, and is merely a symptom of a much deeper malaise that infects us all – and for which we are all responsible.

The real problem is not the coronavirus, but the fact that the overwhelming majority of us on the planet are living grossly unsustainable lifestyles – a situation which virtually guarantees that we will suffer a range of comparable or worse events than the coronavirus in the foreseeable future.

Whether those events occur due to accelerating climate change, wars, famine or pestilence is, from a planetary rather than an individual perspective, largely irrelevant.

The effect on our current population levels and ways of life are likely to be sudden and catastrophic, and may make the current coronavirus pandemic – serious though it is – look like child’s play.

At current levels of around 7.5 billion people and rising, our world is seriously over-populated.

Never before in human history has our planet had to try and sustain such numbers – and never before have countries throughout the world embraced economic and political systems so efficient and ruthless at devouring and destroying the resources we need to survive.

Instead of actively preventing our greedy, incompetent politicians and business leaders from taking us to our doom, we encourage or turn a blind eye to them – and then wring our hands in despair when our carefully constructed houses made of cards collapse before our very eyes, along with everything else we hold dear.

We continue to vote for the politicians who each year strip money and resources from our hospitals and health care systems so that when a coronavirus or something similar does come along, we have no chance whatever of coping with it and tens of thousands of people die needlessly, victims of our collective apathy and stupidity.

What does it say about our politicians when they can instantly find billions and even trillions of dollars to prop up corrupt, unethical, failing economies on life support when the coronavirus pandemic hits – but point blank refuse to find even a fraction of that to address looming climate change, which threatens to make the coronavirus look insignificant by comparison?

More importantly, what does it say about ourselves when we continue to vote for these people, and continue to believe their lies and prevarication?

As we currently gaze out onto the eerily deserted streets and highways of our once-bustling mega cities, will we take it as a portent of our future if we don’t mend our ways?

Or will we simply resent the interruption to our selfish, unsustainable lifestyles and make up for lost time by jumping straight back into ‘business as usual’ when the coronavirus fades away?

If so, we will have thrown away our big chance to reassess our true place in the world, and we will have ignored the polite, comparatively gentle tap on the shoulder that Mother Nature has thoughtfully given us with the coronavirus.

Just as we need to work together in order to protect ourselves against the coronavirus, so we need to work together to change our collective behaviour now – and forever – in order to prevent a future that is likely to be much, much worse than the current pandemic we are experiencing.

I wonder what we will do.