Tag Archives: Kathy Fletcher

People for Puget Sound disbands after 21 years

UPDATE, Sept. 13

For some different perspectives on the demise of People for Puget Sound:

Reporter Lynda Mapes interviews Denis Hayes of the Bullitt Foundation and others in her story in the Seattle Times.

Mike Sato, longtime communications director for People for Puget Sound, offers his viewpoint in his blog “Salish Sea Communications.”

Alf Hanna recalls the good work done by People for Puget Sound in his blog “Olympic Peninsula Environmental News” and includes this terse observation:

“Tom Bancroft’s comments to the press about not knowing the financial status of the organization are simply not accurate. There is nothing more needing saying than that I was there, on the board when he was hired. He knew full well what the situation was. He’s a smart guy, who knows how to read a financial report. But this isn’t about Tom. It’s about the Salish Sea.”

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When a well-established institution like People for Puget Sound suddenly disbands, it’s like a death in the family for supporters and colleagues. Questions about what happened hang in the air. Explanations never seem adequate.

How could People for Puget Sound manage to survive and wield great influence for 20 years only to go under a year and a half after a new executive director takes control?

Kathy Fletcher, who helped form the organization in 1991 and served as its executive director for 20 years, seemed happy to pass the reins of the organization to Tom Bancroft, who had worked at the top levels of the National Audobon Society, Wilderness Society and other groups.

Here’s what Kathy said at her retirement party:

“Beyond what you can read about Tom on paper, I can now say, after working with him for a little over two months, he is the right human being to lead People for Puget Sound. His judgment is excellent; his instincts are great; and his people skills are terrific. People for Puget Sound is in good hands.”

Tom Bancroft

I’ll come back to what Kathy told me today, but Tom’s take on the situation is that People for Puget Sound grew faster than revenues allowed from about 2007 to 2011 (before his arrival), and he was unable to make enough adjustments to keep things going, no matter how hard he tried.

“This was not expected when I took the job,” Tom told me. “I discovered soon after I got here that the organization was larger than we could afford.”

He says he took over as director in April of 2011 and within a month began to eye the balance sheet and worry about the future.

“I said, ‘My god, what have I gotten into,” he noted.

The organization had taken on a $300,000 loan in 2010, using as collateral more than $500,000 in reserve funds.

“We had a lot of reserves, but we had to contract back down to what the revenues were,” he said.

Near the end of last year, six full-time and two part-time staffers were laid off from a total staff of about 25 people.

A fund drive last spring could have helped restore the organization to an even keel, but the effort failed to generate the level of donations required for success.

In May, another five full-time staffers were laid off. Others left on their own.

“It’s not that any one thing fell apart,” Tom said. “The economic reality affects all funding. Foundations are not having as much money as before. Individuals don’t have the money to give. It is a tough time right now…

“I got to a point where I still needed to do cuts, and cutting staff would not work, because we wouldn’t have enough people to run the programs. I was caught in a bind.

“I thought we could try to squeeze through this. But I would rather we protect the mission and keep it going than try to keep us alive (until nothing is left).”

With board approval, Tom used most of the remaining reserve funds to pay off the $300,000 loan. The remainder is going into a transition effort designed to move the programs to other environmental groups.

Kathy Fletcher

Kathy Fletcher said she worked hard through the transition period before her retirement in 2011 to make sure everything was in order and a new director was prepared.

“This is shocking and sad,” she told me, referring to the news that People for Puget Sound would come to an end. “I never would have imagined that this would have happened.”

Kathy said when she left the organization, there was plenty of money in the reserve fund to cover the $300,000 line of credit and more. The group had been dipping into the reserve fund for two or three years, she said, but that’s why the organization had amassed such a large fund to begin with. The challenge, as it has always been, was for the organization to raise donations, she said.

As with any nonprofit group, it takes constant attention to keep the budget in balance, she said.

“Looking at how the economy has not bounced back, I can see that some cutbacks may have been necessary. It requires constant effort, sometimes a huge amount of effort.

“The fact that we borrowed against our line of credit was daunting to the new director, but that was a challenge,” she told me. “It meant a fund-raising burden, but it should not have resulted in closing things down.”

Still, Kathy acknowledges that she has been completely gone from the organization and does not wish to place blame now.

Mike Sato, one of the founders of People for Puget Sound and a public communications expert, lost his job during last year’s layoffs. Mike says the executive staff had worked for two years to prepare for Kathy Fletcher’s departure and the transition to new leadership.

“Some people will think that the charisma of the organization went away with Kathy,” he said. “But we made a real effort to establish the brand ‘People for Puget Sound.’ We were trying to say, ‘We are 20 years old and moving ahead.’”

During the 20 years of the group’s existence, Sato recalls other times when finances were tough.

“At times, some of us deferred salary to keep the organization going. We did creative financing, but we always pulled through, because we looked at this as a real cause rather than a balance sheet.

“Would another group of people have done things differently?” he wondered. “We did it because it was a cause, and you do whatever needs to be done. It is not financially impossible.”

Tom Bancroft said he is proud of the advocacy and policy accomplishments by the organization over the past year. He says he and his staff worked hard on the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda, on the Department of Ecology’s new statewide stormwater permit and on agreements dealing with combined sewer overflows in King County and the city of Seattle.

“If we can save the mission and keep the mission strong, I will feel good about walking away from here,” Tom told me. “Puget Sound is a fantastic body of water, and it’s critical to the well being of the people who live here.”

To save the “mission” of People for Puget Sound, Bancroft wants to shift policy, advocacy and education programs to the Washington Environmental Council, an environmental group that he sees as an ongoing “partner” in the effort to protect and restore Puget Sound.

He expects WEC to sharpen its focus on Puget Sound and even keep the name “People for Puget Sound” as a branch of the organization.

Meanwhile, restoration programs — largely funded with government grants — could be turned over to EarthCorps, another longterm partner involved in restoration projects.

Where grants are involved, an agency sponsor will likely need to approve the transfer of funds to any group taking over funded programs.

Mike Sato said it will take a firm commitment from other environmental organizations to keep up the watch dog functions performed by People for Puget Sound — particularly when it comes to oil-spill and vessel-related issues.

“Agencies will move forward,” Mike said, “but only as much as there is a constituency saying these things must be done.

“We’ve been wanting the (Puget Sound) Partnership to get its act together. We wanted to see the Partnership succeed. And now they seem to be getting it together, and somebody needs to be a watch dog so that things don’t fall by the wayside.

“It looks like the Partnership will be OK,” Sato added. “I’m just sorry that People for Puget Sound will not be around.”

Bancroft expects the organization will disband by the end of this month.

New director named to People for Puget Sound

Tom Bancroft, chief scientist and vice president of National Audubon Society, has been named to replace Kathy Fletcher as the executive director of People for Puget Sound.

Tom Bancroft

Bill Derry, president of the board for People for Puget Sound said in a news release:

“It’s great to have an internationally-known scientist lead our organization and to carry on speaking the truth based on the best available science. I am confident that he will take us to new levels, grow the organization and make us even more successful at protecting Puget Sound.”

Bancroft is new to the Puget Sound region, but he is familiar with environment issues. Before joining Audubon, he served as vice president for Ecology and Economic Research at the Wilderness Society, where he worked to protect and restore ecosystems. He has worked on issues ranging from restoration of the Everglades, to the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, to forestry management.

According to his bio on the Audubon website, Bancroft has authored more than 40 publications. He also served as an adviser on the inaugural 2002 book “The State of the Nation’s Ecosystems,” a publication of The Heinz Center.

Kathy Fletcher, who founded People for Puget Sound 20 years ago, said Bancroft will make a great replacement.

“I am thrilled and confident about People For Puget Sound’s future under Tom Bancroft’s leadership. He has the outstanding background and personal qualities we were looking for.”

In September, when she announced her retirement, Kathy talked about the future of People for Puget Sound.

“There is much, much more work to be done to ensure that we will have a Puget Sound our children and future generations can cherish and love. I am confident that People For Puget Sound will continue to grow and thrive after I leave. We have experienced, skilled management and staff in place. A new executive director will bring fresh perspectives and new energy, and I am confident that we will continue to increase our strength and influence in the years to come. We must.”

Debate over restoration dollars begins to warm gradually

I want to let you in on a little debate that will become vitally important to salmon restoration in the coming weeks. It’s not really going on behind the scenes, so some of you may be aware of it. But it hasn’t yet been formulated as a stark policy issue.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, not far from the heart of salmon country
Kitsap Sun photo

Basically, the question is this: Should limited dollars be spent to protect the best habitat remaining, restore slightly degraded systems to high-quality habitat, or try to bring salmon back to urban areas where the most people live.

In the Aug. 7 edition of Crosscut, writer Daniel Jack Chasan invoked the word “triage” when he said that “we’ll never have enough money to do everything; so it makes sense to concentrate resources on the most significant projects with the greatest chances of success.”

Dan mentions a conversation he had with David Dicks, executive director of Puget Sound Partnership, and he quoted John Lombard, author of “Saving Puget Sound” in making his point that putting money into urban streams may be a waste of money in terms of habitat benefits.

In her latest blog, Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, did not mention Dan’s piece by name, but she mentioned “triage” and emphasized that she wants to “put the wooden stake into the heart of this kind of thinking.”

She continues:

This is the kind of thinking that gets us beautiful places to visit but unhealthy places to live. This is the kind of thinking that gets us places for salmon to spawn but nothing for the salmon to eat when they leave the rivers. This is the kind of thinking that gets us lovely areas to observe orca whales—as they die out because of contamination in our urban bays, and not enough salmon to eat.

This is the kind of thinking that encourages us to believe that it doesn’t matter what poisons we pour on our lawn or how much pavement we spread around in our urban areas.

If we “triage” and write off our urban areas, we write off the lowlands and we write off a healthy Puget Sound. That’s because a healthy Puget Sound ecosystem is tied together by clean water, clean air, shorelines, wetlands, currents and plants and animals that move from place to place. Simplistic thinking about “triage” might sound practical, sensible, efficient, business-like and even effective—but it’s not…

We want to bring the patient back to health. Trying to save its heart at the expense of its kidneys and liver is the path to failure.

Kathy makes a passionate and powerful argument about the need for holistic medicine. Definitions are important, it turns out. Is the patient we’re talking about Puget Sound as a whole? Is it a watershed or just a stream or a bay?

I particularly like her reminder that many of our cities are built at the river mouths. We might not ever restore these areas enough to call them prime spawning habitat, but we can do things to help the adult fish make it through on their way upstream to spawn. We might help the juveniles survive on their way to the ocean.

Kathy is a member of the Ecosystem Coordination Board of the Puget Sound Partnership. It sounds like she is ready to make a strong case when this issue comes up as part of the Puget Sound Action Agenda — and it will. Remember, that the four Action Agenda priorities include focusing on the “most urgent and important problems,” as well as protecting the most “intact ecosystems.”

Going back to Dan Chasan’s article, some good points are made about where to find money for ecosystem restoration. For example, the Washington Department of Transportation spends millions of dollars each year to mitigate highway construction projects. We could take a look at whether all this money is best spent at the edge of the highway, as it is now, or whether it might be moved upstream or downstream to solve more significant ecosystem problems.

I have been thinking about another source of money that may have some merit. Lately, Kitsap County planning officials have been approving land-use variances right and left, and I’m sure Kitsap is not alone.

For example, a stream or shoreline buffer may be 100 feet, but many legal building sites don’t have enough property for the full buffer width. So, with the help of a hired biologist, the county frequently approves a buffer of 50 feet or less. Mitigation may include planting some shrubs, but I doubt that the resulting “functions and values” measure up to a larger buffer.

I realize that this idea will be controversial, and it isn’t ready for prime time. But would if there was a fee per foot for the variance, with credit given back for the mitigation work? At $100 a foot, a shoreline variance of 50 feet would provide $5,000. If the plantings cost $1,000, the property owner would contribute $4,000 into a fund for restoration somewhere else in that watershed. It’s just a thought, so be kind with any attacks you feel are necessary.