Laura Blackmore takes over as director of Puget Sound Partnership

Laura Blackmore, deputy director of Puget Sound Partnership, will slide into the agency’s executive director position when she comes into work next week.

Laura Blackmore

Laura has built a reputation as a facilitator, helping to meld diverse ideas into cohesive policies. That experience should serve her well in the director’s post, where she will take on the primary role of shaping the direction of the Partnership for the coming years.

“Puget Sound is in trouble, and we know what we need to do to fix it,” Laura told me. “It took us 150 years to get into this mess, and it will take us awhile to get out. What we need is the political will to keep going.”

Puget Sound Partnership was created by the Legislature in 2007 to oversee recovery efforts throughout Puget Sound.

In appointing Laura to the post, Gov. Jay Inslee said he is confident that she will build on the success of her predecessor, Sheida Sahandy, who helped transform the agency with innovations that honed the restoration efforts. Sheida served as executive director for five years.

“Laura’s extensive experience with the Puget Sound Partnership, her longtime work with tribal governments, and her work on salmon recovery and water quality will position her well to lead the agency,” the governor said in a news release.

Laura, who joined the Partnership in 2015, has been at the center of salmon-recovery initiatives developed by the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council. She’s also been a key player in the development of the Action Agenda — the overall blueprint for ecosystem recovery — and she helped oversee development of the “implementation strategies” that define actions taken by a multitude of agencies and groups.

Laura told me that much progress has been made in improving habitat for fish and wildlife, as reflected in the 2017 “State of the Sound” report. People will see more progress when the next report comes out later this year, she added. Shellfish beds have been reopened to harvest; estuaries have been restored for salmon; and flood plains have been reconnected to streams to reduce flooding and improve the ecosystem. Still, chinook salmon and the orcas that depend on them have been struggling — so restoration efforts must be intensified.

“We have a lot of work in front of us,” she said, “but this was one of the best legislative sessions for the environment that we’ve had in years.”

Much of the legislation, as well as appropriations, came from recommendations by the governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force. Listed in the budget, for example, are:

  • $85 million to the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), which provides local grants to purchase and protect critical wildlife habitat, streamside habitats, agricultural lands and recreation facilities.
  • $50 million for the Floodplains by Design program, which reduces flooding, restores salmon habitat, improves water quality and enhances outdoor recreation by moving houses and roads back from the rivers and allowing the waters to take a more natural course.
  • $49.5 million for Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration, which will fund $30 million in watershed-restoration projects plus provide money for three large-scale projects: Middle Fork Nooksack Fish Passage Project, Dungeness River Floodplain Restoration, and Riverbend Floodplain Restoration on the Cedar River.
  • $44 million for the Department of Ecology to provide grants to local governments for projects that reduce stormwater pollution.
  • $25 million in state funds to match up to $50 million in federal funds for sustainable and measurable habitat projects that benefit salmon and other fish species.
  • $7.8 million to launch three projects in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers known as the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project (PSNERP). They are located at the Duckabush Estuary in Hood Canal, plus the North Fork Skagit River Delta and Nooksack River Delta, both in North Puget Sound.

The Legislature passed laws to to reduce the risk of an oil spill on Puget Sound, to improve compliance with shoreline-protection rules and to decrease the disturbance to killer whales caused by boat traffic.

One issue that Laura will face this year is what to do about the Year 2020 ecosystem indicator “targets” that were established in the early years of the Puget Sound Partnership, which was created by the Legislature in 2007. Many of the targets, such as measures of salmon recovery, have not been reached, as proposed in the legislation that created the Partnership.

As past directors have said, the year 2020 was an initial goal with aspirational targets, but the effort to protect and restore Puget Sound must continue.

“Even if you get to a place where Puget Sound is healthy, you will want to maintain that into the future,” Laura said, just as a healthy human body must be maintained for long-term survival.

New targets need to be developed, she said, and that effort will begin next month during the regular meeting of the Leadership Council, which oversees the work of the Puget Sound Partnership.

Laura, 45, came to the Partnership from Cascadia Consulting Group, where she was in charge of water and natural resources issues, such as helping to facilitate the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council and Chinook Monitoring and Adaptive Management Project.

Before becoming deputy director at the Partnership, she served as director of Partner Engagement and was involved in other interactive roles. Last year, she served on the governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force.

Friday was the last day at the Partnership for Sheida Sahandy, who said this about Laura in a news release:

“I am proud to leave the agency in the best shape it’s ever been, strong and focused. Laura brings a great deal of experience, knowledge and commitment to Puget Sound recovery to this role, and I have full faith that she will continue to lead the Partnership in the right direction.”

Jay Manning, chairman of the Leadership Council, said Laura is well organized and works great with all sorts of people.

“She identifies the task at hand and makes sure it gets done,” he said. “I am super-exited to work with her.”

Laura holds a bachelor’s degree in geology from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke University in Durham, N.C.

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