Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to be more clear.
The beautiful views of the island are a result of the many visiting whales and tiny pollinators. San Juan County Council unanimously voted to invest in the local environment through the Environmental Stewardship Department.
Environmental Stewardship was chosen as the department title to emphasize the island’s commitment to being stewards.
Kendra Smith, director of the new department said, “It sends a message to the broader community that we have been investing in the environment. We are here for the protection of the environment. Honestly, none of this work can be delivered solely by the county, it has to be community-supported efforts and with their engagement and help in delivering the work.”
Smith stated that although they have not changed their work, becoming an independent department has strengthened their position within the local government.
County council member Cindy Wolf said, “The citizens of the San Juan Islands wanted there to be a very serious emphasis on environmental stewardship and wanted that department to have equal standing with the other departments and equal consideration when it came to budgeting and authority.”
The Environmental Stewardship Department manages several programs, including the Climate and Sustainability Program, Clean Water Project, and Solid Waste, Marine Resources, and Cultural Resources. Each program has a separate advisory committee that guides the work.
The Climate and Sustainability Program focuses on two main tasks at the moment: the Tourism Management Plan and the Climate Action Plan. The department continues its core work to improve clean and safe water, manage waste and recycling, and advance protection of the marine environment.
“Our drive here is to produce a real plan with goals and tasks to reduce carbon footprint in the county and to leave the earth better,” Wolf said.
The Climate and Sustainability advisory committee members are still not appointed. All applicants were interviewed and recommendations made to the County Council have been submitted. The April 5th council meeting will confirm the appointments of the committee.
Committee members will work together to advise on policy, help set priorities, and harness the momentum of existing work to help steer the County’s climate action plan, said Angela Broderick, Climate and Sustainability Coordinator.
“Each individual will bring their unique background and expertise, and the committee will work to gather a diversity of perspectives as it looks through the lens of climate impacts,” she added. “Citizen engagement will be a key piece of this work. We will share opportunities and initiatives which allow citizens to be a part of the solution.”
Environmental Stewardship hosts community events such as the Great Island Cleanup, which will be held on April. 23 so islanders can participate. A hazardous waste roundup will be held in June to assist people with safely disposing of their hazardous waste and encourage them to avoid accumulating more. Other programs include tree planting throughout each year, Plastic Free Salish Sea and boater outreach using the whale warning flags, Be Whale Wise campaign, and boater outreach to inform boaters how to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales.
The Environmental Stewardship Guide is a vital outreach piece for residents and visitors alike. It contains stewardship tips to be water wise, leave no trace, and keep wildlife peaceful, and much more. It can be seen at https://www.sanjuanco.com/DocumentCenter/View/24589/San-Juan-Islands-Stewardship-Guide. The local library also has physical copies.
“It’s not just a county department of scientists doing their thing,” said Smith. “But more a collective effort and how we help the community to accelerate this work, to support it and accelerated for the benefit of everybody and all the species and creatures that live here alongside us.”
For those who are interested, you can visit https://www.sanjuanco.com/DocumentCenter/View/23490/San-Juan-County-Action-Climate-Progress-ReporTo see the environmental progress made by the county, visit.