Mossyrock cop: State’s new conservation hero
Mossyrock police officer Rebecca Sutherland was called to the scene of a brutal, nighttime tavern beating a couple years back. She discovered it had been witnessed by a table of seven-year-olds in the small Southwest Washington community.
The incident set Sutherland on a quest to create some place beside the town’s tavern where local kids could hang out. And the 32-acre Klickitat Prairie Park happened.
Sutherland learned how to write grant proposals, visited the state capital, and even flew to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congresswoman Jaime Herrera-Beutler to support the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“She is phenomenal,” said former Gov. Dan Evans, co-founder of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. The Coalition on Wednesday honored Sutherland on Wednesday with its 2012 Joan Thomas Award.
“I’m just a police officer, mostly in small towns: I grew up in a small town and know the trouble kids get into if they have no place to go . . . This is more than a park. This is the way of providing a future for our kids,” Sutherland told a crowd of 600 at a Coalition breakfast.
It is Mossyrock’s first park, and building it has brought jobs to a rural town with high unemployment.
As worthy programs get slashed in the Great Recession, the Wildlife and Recreation Coalition has survived and garnered bipartisan support in Olympia. Numerous of the state’s blue herons owe their survival to beaches and lagoons it has saved. A lot of kids use play fields it has underwritten.
And the Coalition’s future is looking bright, after somewhat cool treatment by outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee (represented by wife Trudi) was a table captain at the group’s Wednesday’s breakfast. Attorney General Rob McKenna, his Republican foe, sat at Evans’ table and pledged continued support for land acquisition and parks.
“Yes, absolutely,” McKenna said. “This is a great model. Like The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land, it is a great way of going about things.” (McKenna had his start in local politics working on King County’s 1989 Open Space Bond Issue.)
The Wildlife and Recreation Coalition was co-founded by a pair of former governors and political rivals. Evans, a Republican, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Lowry faced off in a hot 1983 U.S. Senate race. Evans helped Slade Gorton beat Lowry in another Senate contest five years later.
In the not-too-recent past, however, political rivals worked together once an election was over.
Since the Coalition was founded, it has secured $600 million from the Legislature, and leveraged that into more than $1 billion to spend on more than 1,000 projects.
It is currently hoping to develop a campground on the Grande Ronde River at the southeast corner of Washington, and to build a playground in Gig Harbor, and to renovate the infield in Island Crest Park on Mercer Island.
The Coalition is working to acquire the historic 14,000-acre McWhorter Ranch on (well-named) Rattlesnake Mtn. near the TriCities. It is seeking to protect, for farm use, a 117-acre cattle farm within Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve on Whidbey Island.
Conservation causes — and gatherings — have in recent years taken on a distinctively partisan flavor.
The Washington Conservation Voters’ “Breakfast of Champions” last fall became an endorsement and campaign rally for Inslee. The Sierra Club has become locally a virtual arm of the Democratic Party.
But the Wildlife and Recreation Coalition and a few other groups (e.g. Forterra) hold onto the old bipartisan tradition.
As Sutherland accepted her award, she looked out on a ballroom that included both Democratic and Republican legislators, U.S. House candidates from both parties, business sponsors (Boeing, REI, Alaska Airlines) and greens (The Wilderness Society, Cascade Bicycle Club).
It is an example of “diversity and leverage,” said Coalition board chairman Peter Dykstra.
The Joan Thomas Award is named for a conservation activist who fought for the State Environmental Policy Act, and later chaired the Washington State Parks Board.