2020, a year of resiliency at King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks

In a year when the COVID-19 pandemic led to so much uncertainty in work programs and daily life, it’s a testament to the commitment of DNRP employees that so much of Executive Constantine’s ambitious environmental agenda was accomplished in 2020.

Whether working from a kitchen table office at home, conducting business via teleconference, or shifting focus from planned projects that couldn’t move forward because of the pandemic toward new work that could be achieved, DNRP employees showed commitment and resiliency in advancing the work that affirms the department’s long-held environmental stewardship ethic.

Here are a few examples of what DNRP employees accomplished in 2020:

DNRP work key in Executive’s proposed Strategic Climate Action Plan

Department of Natural Resources and Parks programs and employees across all four divisions play significant roles in Executive Constantine’s  proposed 2020 Strategic Climate Action Plan (SCAP), which calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions countywide in half by the end of the decade, implementing a stronger focus on climate justice, and continuing to prepare the region for climate impacts.

Presented to the King County Council in August, the SCAP is Executive Constantine’s five-year blueprint for the County’s climate action priorities and commitments, integrating climate change into all areas of County operations and its work with all 39 cities, partners, communities, and residents.

Executive Constantine’s SCAP proposal guides actions to:

  • Cut countywide greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade.
  • Update codes to make buildings greener to construct, maintain, and operate while connecting them to high-capacity transit powered by renewable energy.
  • Lead with equity and racial justice, through a new section of the plan that is focused on climate justice and driven by communities disproportionately impacted by climate change.
  • Adapt policies, practices, and procedures to ensure they account for climate impacts and ensure each decision and investment contributes to a more resilient future.
  • Launch the 3 Million Trees initiative to increase tree canopy, accelerate the benefits of land conservation, and prepare forests for climate impacts.

The latest updates also reflect the understanding that climate change can worsen existing complex challenges, particularly for communities affected by historic and current inequities, and those with limited resources to adapt.

The plan includes operational goals and priorities for the County and external countywide goals and priorities. This approach reflects the fact that robust collaborative actions are needed to succeed at a regionwide scale.

Rare Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon catch a ferry to a new home

Ongoing work to save genetically unique Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon took a new route with the transfer of 250 juvenile fish hatched from the eggs of wild adult salmon to a private hatchery on Orcas Island.

Employees with the Water and Land Resources Division transferred the young fish from the state hatchery in Issaquah to the Long Live the Kings’ Orcas Island hatchery, after the first group of kokanee transferred there in 2019 via small aircraft thrived.

In August, the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group transferred 8-month-old kokanee salmon in large, water-filled containers inside a truck and aboard a Washington State Ferry, moving as quickly as possible to ensure the fish survived the trip.

The fish will be spawned once they reach maturity, and the fertilized eggs will incubate and hatch at the Orcas Island facility. Juvenile salmon will be released into the Lake Sammamish watershed to boost the declining population.

Raising Sammamish kokanee on Orcas Island protects them from potentially hazardous conditions in the lake that biologists believe contributed to a dramatic decline in the fish population: high summertime water temperatures and low oxygen levels, plus voracious non-native predators.

Up to 50,000 kokanee could be available to transfer back to Lake Sammamish over several years, helping ensure the survival of a native salmon that was once a reliable food source to tribes, was popular with sport fishers, and remains important to the region’s biodiversity.

This conservation hatchery program is funded by a partnership of King County, the cities of Bellevue, Issaquah, Redmond and Sammamish, and the Snoqualmie Tribe.

Planting 1 million trees for cooler neighborhoods, cleaner air, healthier habitat

A commitment Executive Constantine made in 2015 to plant 1 million trees by the end of 2020 across King County to combat climate change, help cool and beautify neighborhoods, and improve habitat was finished nearly a year early. Executive Constantine has challenged partners to work toward an even more ambitious campaign as part of his proposed 2020 Strategic Climate Action Plan.

The County’s original plan was to plant a half-million trees with more than 100 partners, including cities, tribes, nonprofits, youth organizations, schools, and businesses planting the remaining half-million trees by the end of 2020. The King County Parks Volunteer Program organized tree-planting events that mobilized more than 31,000 volunteers who helped restore parks and open space.

Partners planted the 1 millionth tree in February – 11 months ahead of schedule, and ongoing planting brought the total up to more than 1.1 million trees.  Building on this momentum, DNRP staff have now led the creation of a the 3 Million Trees initiative, which will achieve cleaner air and water, reduced flood risks, cooler salmon-bearing streams, healthier forests and public greenspaces, and more tree canopy in communities where there is the greatest need. 

Native Pacific Northwest forests are among the best in the world at storing carbon because the tress have long, productive lifespans.

This continued effort advances the 30 Year Forest Plan, a shared vision developed by King County and partners, with significant technical and policy work from Water and Land Resources Division employees, to guide forest management and achieve multiple benefits in the coming decades.

A new urban park comes to life in a neighborhood with little greenspace

A 5-acre property in urban unincorporated North Highline, where many residents live in apartments that lack play areas, will become one of King County’s newest community parks through Executive Constantine’s  Land Conservation Initiative.

Located in a neighborhood that is among the lowest one-third for median income and the highest one-third for hospitalization rates for asthma, diabetes, and heart disease in the county, the new park is within walking distance of schools where 83 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. The park will be available as an outdoor classroom.

The North Highline acquisition reflects the progress made by the Land Conservation Initiative – a partnership to protect 65,000 acres of natural areas, parks, forests, farmland, and trails before they are lost forever to development pressure. The initiative focuses on creating more equitable access to open space in communities with the greatest need.

Funding for the property acquisition was generated by King County’s Conservation Futures Tax. It is one of the first properties protected under a new match waiver program that covers all acquisition costs for projects providing open space in the most under-served King County communities.

The new park will be located along 8th Avenue South in the Beverly Park/Glendale neighborhood, where the nearest greenspace is King County’s Dick Thurnau Memorial Park – 2 miles away and across several busy roads, including a state highway.

The forested park will feature trails, overlooks, and wetlands. King County Parks is working with Washington Trails Association to create a path through the forest and a bridge across a deep ravine.

Three divisions – Parks, Solid Waste, and Water and Land Resources – are working together with the local community to make the new urban park safe, healthy, and welcoming.   The Community Cleanup Program is partnering with nonprofit organizations to remove tons of debris from the property, while the County’s Noxious Weed Program is controlling and removing non-native plants and vegetation through its Healthy Lands Project in time for its anticipated opening in fall 2021.

Here are just a few more examples of resiliency from our department divisions:

DNRP Director’s Office

Parks Division

Solid Waste Division

Wastewater Treatment Division

Water and Land Resources Division

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