Floodplains Beyond Borders — The Nature Conservancy in Washington

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Unfortunately, the combination of human development and climate change has wreaked havoc on the Fraser’s natural abundance. Salmon returns have taken a precipitous downward turn. And last fall the region was wracked by flooding – with damages far exceeding the catastrophic impacts felt south of the border in Washington state. Fortunately, there is a growing coalition working to reverse these trends. Under the leadership of Tyrone McNeil, tribal chief and chair of the Coast Salish Emergency Planning Secretariat, and drawing from the Floodplains by Design experience, this group has captured the attention of provincial and national leadership, working to influence $5 billion in funding that the Canadian government has committed to recovery.

This Indigenous-led effort mirrors and builds upon that of Floodplains by Design, relying on principles that should be part of any effective and equitable climate adaptation efforts.  Using these attributes as guideposts is not only a more just way to adapt to a changing climate, but a more effective approach – enabling more impactful and resilient solutions, and accelerating positive change. They include:

  • A paradigm shift toward deeply collaborative, holistic management of our lands and waters

  • Inclusive processes that engage all impacted interests and center tribal leadership

  • Integrating climate science, public health and safety, ecosystem recovery, agricultural viability, and economic sustainability

  • The innovation and promotion of community-driven, multi-benefit and nature-based solutions

The foundational principles belying FbD’s success were discussed in sessions of the cross-border Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference last month. Floodplains by Design leaders have been invited to travel north in June to share our experience with local, provincial, national and First Nations leadership.

I think back to the risky chance we took when TNC and our partners launched the Floodplains by Design initiative with financial support from EPA, NOAA and Boeing, and asking “could we break the political and social logjams and accelerate habitat restoration and salmon recovery by putting public safety and other community interests on equal footing with environmental goals?”.  At the time if felt revolutionary.  And now clear the answer is not only a resounding YES for Washington, but that others may also be embracing a braided benefit strategy to make community, climate and biodiversity progress, faster. Now that’s scaling our impact!

Featured image: Fisher Slough, Skagit River delta. Credit: Keith Lazelle.



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