Bill Ruckelshaus ‘retires’ from PS Partnership

When I returned to work today after two weeks of vacation, I learned that Bill Ruckelshaus was “retiring” as chairman of the Leadership Council — the governing board for the Puget Sound Partnership.

It has always seemed to me that Ruckelshaus was the steady hand on the wheel as the Puget Sound Partnership moved through stormy seas. Certainly, Ruckelshaus deserves to retire after a long career of public service and business enterprise.

But wait. Bill does not retire the way you or I might. In a conversation this afternoon, I learned that he is preparing to lend a hand to the Puget Sound Foundation — the educational and private-fund-raising arm of the Puget Sound Partnership.

Oh, I said to him, with government funding drying up, you think you can go out and find private money to save Puget Sound?

He laughed. “It might be awkward to raise money as the chairman of a state agency,” he noted. The first step, he said, is to establish goals for how donations might be spent. Private donors generally want firm guidelines, he said.

Originally, the Puget Sound Foundation was envisioned as a driving force for getting a funding measure on the ballot. But when the recession hit, those plans were moved to the back burner.

There’s plenty of work to do on the educational front, Ruckelshaus told me. He said he would like to engage more people in the effort to save the Puget Sound ecosystem, and it all begins with an understanding of the threat. He would like to include even those folks who object to environmental rules — including local shoreline management programs, now being revised.

As Ruckelshaus stated in his letter of resignation (PDF 72 kb) to Gov. Chris Gregoire:

“We must work to create a culture in Puget Sound which will not tolerate a chronically deteriorating habitat for humans or the other living things that share our space. That means first convincing Puget Sound citizens there is a problem, gaining their understanding of its nature and their individual and collective contribution to it, and, lastly, instilling a commitment to change the way we live on the land so as to make the Sound’s health and our prosperity harmonious.”

Ruckelshaus said he has been asked to become co-chairman of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, the latest national committee to take on the challenges of implementing recommendations from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, the Pew Oceans Commission and the Interagency Oceans Policy Task Force.

On July 19, as I was starting my vacation, President Obama signed an executive order establishing a National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts and Great Lakes.

Serving on that commission, Ruckelshaus said, will mean a lot more traveling to Washington, D.C. And the governor has the nerve to call this his “retirement”?

He also hopes to find time to become more involved in the William D. Ruckelshaus Center, an organization that tries to resolve conflicts by bringing experts into a process of collaborative thinking.

And somewhere during his busy retirement, he hopes to find more time for his family.

In announcing Bill’s resignation, Gov. Gregoire noted that he was invaluable as the first chairman of the Leadership Council: “Bill’s vision — a united, science-based effort that involved the entire sound — became the Puget Sound Partnership,” she said.

“Bill was instrumental in that work, bringing together our tribal partners, our business and environmental communities, our local governments, and our state and federal agencies,” Gregoire said. “Most important, he brought together people form the ground up who shared his passion and dedication.”

David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, said, “No single person in Washington has provided more leadership on salmon recovery, Puget Sound restoration or commitment to sensible environmental practices than Bill.”

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said Ruckelshaus’ recent advocacy in Washington, D.C., was instrumental in advancing national legislation to support the restoration and protection of Northwest salmon stocks.

Lest we forget, Ruckelshaus also was the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and became involved in President Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” during Watergate in 1973.

Back in the present, the governor has asked Martha Kongsgaard to serve as the new chairwoman of the Leadership Council. Martha, who has long served as vice chairwoman, is founder of the Kongsgaard-Goldman Foundation and has been involved in many environmental, social justice and arts organizations in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. A brief biography can be found on the PSP’s website. In his Strange Bedfellows blog, reporter Joel Connelly discusses the change of command.

2 thoughts on “Bill Ruckelshaus ‘retires’ from PS Partnership

  1. I appreciated your tribute to Bill Ruckelshaus, and consider it a privilege to have worked with him.

    I served on the Task Force that he chaired in 2005-6, which developed the concept of an agency which could integrate and press forward with a unified agenda for recovery and protection of the Sound.

    As prime sponsor and vice chair of the Washington State Senate Water & Energy Committee, I had the pleasure of collaborating with him in 2007 on the legislation that created the Puget Sound Partnership. He mentored legislators and others in the key elements of this unique State agency. Not stopping there, next he oversaw its critical startup years and, as head of the Partnership’s Leadership Council, used his skill, humor, and experience in bringing people together to ensure it got off to a great start! He is a very special man…a state and national treasure.

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