In Person: Questions for Joanna Grist
Last year the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition successfully petitioned the state to double its biannual budget for such projects to $100 million.
On Serendipitously Getting the Ax: (Prior to joining this organization) I was the campaign manager for the last (state) Lands Commissioner before Doug Sutherland. Jennifer Belcher was running for a third term at that time. She ended up dropping out after three months so I was pretty publicly unemployed. I got a call about working for (WWRC). I wasn’t aware of (this organization) at the time, but it’s just such a perfect fit for me.
On Local Versus National Issues: I love both politics and policy and I get to work on both and at a statewide level, which to me is really a bigger picture, but is still local. I really like working on local issues where I feel like I can have an impact. You really feel like you’re making a difference. On a national level I don’t feel that. Even though I’ve met people on the federal level, I don’t feel like I can affect a vote in the way I can here. I’ve seen it happen and it’s really rewarding.
On Bipartisan Efficiency: We’re proactive about making sure that we have both Republicans and Democrats working closely within the organization. Our founding co-chairs are Dan Evans and Mike Lowry, two former governors. They actually ran in a campaign against other right before they were brought together by Elliott Marks from the Nature Conservancy. He contacted Evans and Lowry about the lack of funding for public land in Washington state. Evans and Lowry did a press conference saying, “We’ve had our disagreements in the past but one thing we can both agree on that we need to protect our legacy and our quality of life in Washington state.” So funding for parks and recreation and funding to protect wildlife habitat were critical issues.
On Avoiding Conflict: We have this broad coalition—very diverse. We work with hunting and fishing groups and other user groups, snowmobilers and such. Conservation groups and environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Washington Environmental Council and Audubon, as well as the land trusts are all on our board. We also partner with the state agencies. For us, the most important thing is to make sure the best projects are getting done, that habitat is being protected and that it’s in the highest priority areas, and that new recreation is being funded. We work hard to stay out of conflict. We make sure we’re focusing on what we’re good at.
On Why a Narrow Vision Matters: To keep a narrow vision is really important. When I was working on growth management in the ’90s it was really stressful and contentious. Now there’s just real bipartisan support for quality of life. It’s much easier to talk to people. What I really like about this job is that I end up working with Realtors, and developers, and timber companies on environmental issues. Things have really changed in the last decade or so within those larger industries.
On Sources of Funding: We are funded by corporations and foundations and other nonprofits—the Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Lands, the Cascade Land Conservancy, Boeing, REI. Those are some of our biggest funders right there. And individuals are major donors. Basically, we use our small budget to leverage millions for parks and habitat in public money.
On Minority Outreach: We had a retreat last year where we got all our board members together and determined that we need to do a better job of reaching out to lower-income and minority communities, to make sure that they get open space and habitat in their communities.
On Future Challenges: The biggest issue we’re facing is the current economy. The tremendous need is demonstrated by the record number of applications submitted this year. The ones that are going to actually be funded or make it to the top of the list are pretty special places.
Joanna Grist is executive director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition in Seattle. The WWRC helped fund 921projects since it began in 1989.