We are so excited to welcome the newest member of the team, Laura Isaza, as our Policy and Outreach Associate! Laura started at the Coalition on March 8th and has hit the ground running, meeting Coalition partners and board members and visiting numerous WWRP project sites. Laura is very familiar with Washington outdoors. She grew up in Redmond, and spent winters downhill ski racing in the Cascade mountains and summers hiking. After leaving Washington state for the other Washington (DC) to pursue her undergraduate degree in Culture and Politics at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, she found her passion for environmental policy and social justice while studying abroad in Thailand. We sat down to chat about her background, what she’s most excited about in joining the Coalition, favorite spots in Seattle, and fun summer plans.
Caitie: What about joining the WA Wildlife & Recreation Coalition team excites you the most?
Laura: I’m very excited to be working with a coalition of people who are working to protect the spaces that make Washington so special. The coalition is focused on advocating for a program that is very constructive; you can point to and set foot on the places that have been protected as a direct result of the WWRP. I’m also excited for the RCO Equity review to be completed this summer and to start supporting their recommendations.
C: Tell me more about what led you to pursue a career in environmental policy.
L: I was studying international relations, focusing on grassroots movements for human rights during my study abroad semester in Northeast Thailand, Isaan, and learning about different types of community-based activism. We worked with a variety of different groups whose communities were experiencing some kind of negative environmental impact, from water being poisoned by mines to the loss of water and economical resources due to a dam being constructed for hydropower. The community that captured me the most was that of the forest village, Khok Yao. Since the 1960s Thai policies defined national parks and forests as free of people, and starting in 2014 an environmental policy was created to expand the country’s forested area to 40%. The people of Khok Yao Village, who lived on the land before it was considered a national forest, were being forcibly removed because they were accused of encroaching on national forest reserves. The Thai government was weaponizing their environmental policy. It became very clear to me that human rights and environmental rights are inextricably linked, and that’s what drove me to want to pursue a career in environmental policy, because it has such close ties to social justice.
Laura contributed to an article on the land right activists from Khok Yao Village while studying abroad in Thailand. Read it here
C: I’m very interested in your downhill ski racing career in High School! Tell me more…How did you get into skiing? Does your whole family ski?
L: My parents are from Bogotá, Colombia and when they moved to Seattle they thought it was the thing to do here. So, they tried skiing and liked it. Especially my dad, who is a bit obsessive or you could call him very disciplined. It took him 3 hours to get down Little Thunder the first time he tried skiing but was like, “this is the best thing I have ever done.” They put me on skis when I was about 3 years old and every weekend in the winter was spent skiing which was my introduction to Washington’s mountains.
C: So how did you get into racing?
L: I have a brother who is three years older than me and he got into ski racing first. My parents didn’t know anything about racing culture so he was the guinea pig. I have fairer skin, but my brother doesn’t, and skiing is very white and ski racing is very white and those parents knew everything about the “right” gear to get for their kids. My parents didn’t know anything about race gear, so my brother got teased a lot. It was sad, and he stopped racing early. I got into racing when I was about six, and started doing well at races, which is how I got friends – before that I was pretty shy and didn’t talk much to anyone. I raced all the way through high school and during school breaks we would go up to Canada to ski at Sun Peaks.
C: Does your brother still ski?
L: After he stopped racing he started to free ski and got into that kind of style of skiing, which is really cool. Skiing into the trees and going off of big jumps. It’s very fun to ski with him now. It’s the type of style I’m trying to lean into more.
C: Did your family do any outdoor activities outside of winter?
L: When I was little, we were the Rattlesnake Ledge family. It was our one hike a year. After spending so much time in the mountains in the winter, I always wondered what went on there in the summer, so I started hiking a lot in high school, mainly around the I-90 corridor and the Mountain Loop Highway.
C: Closer to your current home, what is your favorite green space?
L: I live a block away from the Burke Gilman trail and love the whole path along the canal to Gasworks Park, which is one of my favorite summer hangouts. Access to green space is super important to me. I feel much more ready for the day when I spend time outside in the morning. The first month of the pandemic while working from home, I would wake up and start working right away. All of a sudden it was 2pm in the afternoon and I would feel very disoriented because I hadn’t even been outside. So I decided to start every morning by spending time outside with either a run or a walk.
C: What are you most looking forward to this summer?
L: I’m excited to get outside to do some hiking and outdoor bouldering once the rain subsides! I’m hoping to do more spring backcountry ski tours too. My cousin and other family friend are getting married in Colombia and I’m hoping to go and celebrate them. I haven’t been to Colombia in a few years.
C: Where in Washington do you most want to visit?
L: I have not ventured too far into the North Cascades and I’m itching to go! I’m hoping this summer to do more trips up north and into the North Cascade National Park.
The North Cascades are so magical, especially in the late spring, early summer when the flowers are in full bloom! We are so thrilled to have Laura join the team, she is such a wonderful addition! I had a great time chatting and learning more about her. I want to send a big mahalo to Laura for sharing so many stories and photos with me and her willingness to explain downhill ski racing to someone who knows absolutely nothing about the sport. Be on the lookout for policy updates from Laura this summer!