Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the Puget Sound Leadership Council, has always spoken with a voice of both reason and passion while guiding the Puget Sound Partnership in its efforts to restore Puget Sound to health.
Yesterday and today, Martha attended her final meeting as a member of the Leadership Council, the governing body of the Partnership charged with coordinating Puget Sound ecosystem recovery.
While listening to presentations on technical and financial issues, Martha always seems to quickly focus discussions on the key issues of recovery while asking how to help average people understand the complex problems.
As a reporter, I’ve enjoyed speaking with Martha, who not only answers my questions in a direct and revealing way but also indulges my curiosity. Our discussions often take tangents onto other interesting subjects, sometimes leading to new stories or old stories told in a new way.
Nobody doubts Martha’s love of Puget Sound, expressed by her willingness to spend countless unpaid hours working for a better future.
Martha is the last of the original members of the Leadership Council, which was formed in 2007 under Gov. Chris Gregoire through an act of the Legislature . When Bill Ruckelshaus, the council’s first chairman, resigned in 2010, Martha took over as chairwoman.
The next chairman, taking over next year, will be Jay Manning, former director of the Washington Department of Ecology who was appointed to the Leadership Council in 2013 by Gov. Jay Inslee.
In a news release, the governor said, “I appreciate Martha’s leadership on the council and thank her for being part of this incredible effort and organization. We still have so much important work to do, and I know Jay Manning will be a direct, pragmatic and action-oriented leader who will help us accelerate our collective effort to protect and restore Puget Sound.
“Jay also understands the importance of documenting our results to ensure accountability to the people of Washington,” Inslee added. “I look forward to working with him in his new role.”
Jay Manning, a native of South Kitsap, served in the Attorney General’s Office before becoming director of Ecology. He later became chief of staff for Gov. Gregoire. He also has been deeply involved in state climate change and ocean acidification issues.
During yesterday’s meeting, Jay Manning said he knew Martha as an environmental advocate before she joined the Leadership Council, but he came to appreciate her as a charismatic leader able to make personal connections with all kinds of people.
“My admiration has only grown during these past two years,” Jay said, referring to his time as a member of the Leadership Council.
Rob Duff, the governor’s senior policy adviser on natural resources, said one thing he most appreciates about Martha is her reliance on science before advocacy, as demonstrated by her strong deference to the Partnership’s science advisers, known as the Puget Sound Science Panel.
“It is easy to advocate, advocate, advocate and drift from the facts — and there is too much of that going on,” Rob said, adding that it is hard to describe how important Martha has been to the Partnership.
In a letter to Martha, Gov. Inslee recognized that she had put her heart and soul into Puget Sound recovery and preservation for the past decade, working alongside Ruckelshaus and the late Billy Frank Jr., a tribal leader and powerful advocate for salmon, shellfish and other natural resources.
“You’ve never shied away from immersing yourself in the hard issues facing the Sound and have always been there to experience needs firsthand, whether it was swimming the Duwamish or mucking around in shellfish beds and farm manure,” the governor said in his letter to Martha. “Over the past 10 years, your energy and insight have buoyed the Partnership and the broader environmental community, and we have all benefitted immensely from your eloquence, generosity and true talent for building productive relationships, particularly with Indian nations.”
In a letter to the governor, Martha said it had been an honor to serve and help the Partnership advance the critical understanding that “ecosystem recovery and a thriving economy are not antagonistic forces but rather each preconditions for the other.”
Efforts by many “partners” have protected and restored more than 45,000 acres of estuarine and wetland habitats, connected more than 1,000 acres of floodplain habitat, protected 500 acres of prime farmland and increased flood protection for 25 communities.
Meanwhile, as Puget Sound’s Indian tribes contend, “we are losing the battle for salmon recovery, because the rate of habitat loss continues to outpace our restoration efforts,” she said.
Indian tribes signed treaties giving up most of the land that is now Western Washington while reserving their rights to harvest salmon and other natural resources, she continued.
“For those rights to have meaning, there must be salmon to harvest. If salmon are to survive, and if treaty rights are to be honored, there must be real gains in habitat protection and restoration. We are committed to this work, because the rule of law requires it but also because we as a region understand salmon to be a defining feature of our future as well,” she said.
“Some of the outcome trajectories are turning in the right direction; many require a lot more investment,” she said. “But we have in 10 years created a nationally recognized collective governance system that is central to our ability to safeguard these ‘troubled but treasured’ waters going forward.”