Institute Receives USFS Conservation Award

Who would have dreamed that a national forest, a housing non-profit and an environmental education organization would team up to provide Seattle-based Asian and Pacific Islanders with meaningful outdoor experiences? Starting in 2001, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, the North Cascades Institute and the International District Housing Alliance began a partnership that has expanded over the years to include intergenerational learning for elders, stewardship projects for youth and paid internships for youth. The partnership sparks a better understanding of the connection between the forest and urban environment, and provides mentoring and leadership opportunities.
The United States Forest Service recently awarded these partners with the 2011 Urban Communities in Conservation Award. The conservation award is part of the Forest Service’s Wings Across the Americas program, which works to conserve birds, bats, butterflies and dragonflies.
Each of the three partners plays a distinct role in the program. The first partner, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in the Puget Sound Region of Washington State, is the largest urban forest in Region Six of the Forest Service. The staff works directly with the program’s youth to get hands on experience in a natural setting, often their first time outside the urban environment. The second partner, the North Cascades Institute, is a non-profit organization focusing on education. The International District Housing Alliance, the third partner, is a non-profit organization located in Seattle’s International District…that has successfully worked to improve the quality of life for Asian and Pacific Islanders by providing community building and housing related services to low-income individuals and families.

Youth and elders from Seattle’s International District learn about old growth forests and tree ecology from Rockport State Park staff

Youth teach their elders about the eagles of the Skagit River

A program developed by the International District Housing Alliance, staff became the natural intersection for the partnership. The Wilderness Inner-city Leadership Development (WILD) targets Seattle’s Asian and Pacific Islander high school students. The goal of WILD is to develop community-based advocates for environmental justice, to hone leadership skills through outdoor activities, community-building projects, and education. The classroom is the beautiful Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest; instruction, guidance and mentoring come from staff of the national forest and the North Cascades Institute.

Youth and elders of Seattle’s International District examine lichen

One example of this partnership is an annual two-part field trip. The goals of this project are to teach residents of Seattle’s International District about the value and conservation of the Skagit River ecosystem and to have the youth and elders of the community become more involved with each other. Part one is a weekend visit for youth to learn about bald eagles, salmon and other local species and, more broadly, about protecting the riparian environment that forms the watershed. The following weekend, the youth become the educators and interpreters, teaching the elders about bald eagles and salmon in Chinese, Vietnamese and Tagalog. This intergenerational learning project, now in its tenth year, provides up to 30 elders and 15-20 youth annually with the opportunity to learn about the Skagit River. The partnership serves as a model for other outreach opportunities in Seattle and in other urban areas of the US because it provides quality environmental education opportunities to youth throughout the year and has provided paid students internships during the summer months. The success of this work is being tapped by the Forest Service and the North Cascades Institute to conduct outreach opportunities with other, diverse communities.

Jeff Giesen, North Cascades Institute Education Director (left), Jim Chu, Forest Service International Programs Specialist (center), and Saul Weisberg, North Cascades Institute Executive Director accept the Urban Communities Conservation Award.

Congratulations to North Cascades Institute staff and graduate students who were recognized for their work with this unique and powerful program:
1. Jeff Giesen
2. Justin McWethy
3. Lee Whitford
4. David Strich
5. Teresa Mealy
6. Saul Weisberg


  1. Makalah

    I bow down humbly in the psrneece of such greatness.

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