Monday, November 28, 2016

Chair Martha Kongsgaard resigns from the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council

November 28, 2016

Dear Governor Inslee,

It is with no small measure of both accomplishment and regret that I ask you to accept this letter as my formal resignation from the Leadership Council of the Puget Sound Partnership. It has been my singular honor to serve two Governors on the Leadership Council for nearly a decade and as its Chair for well over half of that. The best management of any board of directors calls for an occasional leadership refresh, and I feel very comfortable now, at the end of 2016, to step away and allow for that.  I have been throughout hugely supported and inspired by the incomparable and virtuosic staff of this small backbone organization, awed by their ability to creatively and with great passion (and on a shoe string if we are honest) imagine and then work toward a more resilient Salish Sea, always punching ‘well above their weight,’ technically, strategically and with great decency. They are the glue that binds this consequential work.

After 30 years of collective effort to protect and restore Puget Sound, the creation of the Partnership in 2007 was a game changer:

§ We made real the advanced understanding that ecosystem recovery and a thriving economy were not antagonistic forces but rather each preconditions for the other.

§ For the first time ever, we enacted science-based targets for Puget Sound recovery to help guide, prioritize, and assess the region’s restoration and protection work, from the top of the watershed, through the urban landscape to the estuarine and salt water below.

§ We have worked with partners in support of groundbreaking statutory changes like banning copper from automobile brake pads and boat paints while working with our sister agencies to support some of the most protective and innovative storm water solutions in the nation.

§ Over the past decade, the biennial – binational Salish Sea Conference which we co-host with our Canadian partners, has become a prodigiously important actor, in science and policy realms, in our bilateral understanding of this complex system.

§ We have also incorporated into the region’s Action Agenda the nation’s first science based – industry blessed blueprint for understanding and addressing the emerging threat of ocean acidification.

§ We have protected and restored over 45,000 acres of estuarine and wetland habitats in this majestic basin, from the vast expansion of the vitally important Billy Frank, Jr. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge in south Sound to the complex and historic Qwuloot and Smith Island and Fir Island restorations to the north.

§ The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and hundreds of partners managed, after decades of effort, the largest dam removal on earth, restoring thousands of acres of near shore and tens of miles of riverine habitat allowing for the return of the ‘June hogs,’ prohibited for decades from access to their river. At the Partnership and among the citizenry, this herculean effort also ignited the human imagination around what is possible for creatures and people when sights are set high and focus is brought to bear on projects that match the scale of our challenge.

§ In difficult economic times, we more than doubled Puget Sound capital funding for critical projects to protect and restore habitats.  In 2012, we re-energized the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration (PSAR) fund, creating the Large Capital Program to fund the large, complex, important projects needed to restore and protect salmon habitat.  In the first biennium that included the Large Capital Program, PSAR projects restored and protected 2,024 estuary and nearshore acres, 1,682 floodplain acres, and 189 river and stream miles.  We also used public/private partnerships to innovate funding for recovery work.  The Partnership along with The Nature Conservancy and the Department of Ecology helped the Legislature create the innovative Floodplains by Designs capital program.  Since July of 2014, that program has connected more than 1,000 acres of floodplain habitat, protected 500 acres of prime farmland, and increased flood protection for 25 communities.

§  On the federal level, we have supported the creation of the Puget Sound Caucus and their push for a comprehensive Puget Sound Restoration Act. For a decade, we have at least annually made the trip to our nation’s capital with tribes, agency heads, and lovers of this estuary to make our case to the federal government. Just last month, after extensive work with the Executive Branch, the federal agencies involved with Puget Sound recovery signed a reenergized Memorandum of Understanding, elevating the protection and restoration of Puget Sound to the national priority it should be.

We as a community are working together on building resiliency into our increasingly urbanized and populated region congregated on the shore of the nation’s second largest estuary. Is this gigantic experiment possible – to grow the nation’s most dynamic economy while living in eye sight of the iconic southern resident killer whales and the endangered Chinook runs who feed them—and us? In 2007, lofty goals were set out in PSP’s formation statute, importantly sweeping given the scope and scale of the undertaking: by 2020, the Partnership was to oversee the restoration of the environmental health of the basin and to strive to achieve a recovery that includes healthy human populations, quality of life, native species and a robust food web, habitat, water supply and water quality.  Some of the outcome trajectories are turning in the right direction, many require a lot more investment, but we have in ten years created a nationally recognized collective governance system that is central to our ability to safeguard these ‘troubled, but treasured’ waters going forward.

We agree with the 20 treaty tribes of Puget Sound that we are losing the battle for salmon recovery because the rate of habitat loss continues to outpace our restoration efforts.  Salmon, that iconic species that sits at the center of our recovery work, is emblematic of the interrelationship among ecosystems, natural resources and people, indigenous and the newly and yet to arrive. As sovereign nations, Indian tribes in western Washington signed treaties with the United States in 1855-56, giving up most of the land that is now western Washington, while reserving their rights to harvest salmon and other natural resources. 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.

During my tenure on the Leadership Council, I had the distinct privilege of working alongside a wonderfully dedicated group of people among whom were two of our nation’s towering leaders: Billy Frank Jr., and Bill Ruckelshaus, trailblazing pioneers whose day to day commitment, well into their 80’s, to the public good and to the ecosystem on whose future it rests was matched only by their formidable moral authority flexed over their lifetimes for the good of every Washingtonian.  We as a Leadership Council have always tried to emulate their simple directives to “speak the truth,” “tell your stories,” and to realize that to maintain the health and resiliency of anything, one must “work everlastingly at it.” I also have had the great privilege of working collaboratively and deeply with the Puget Sound Indian Tribes, the leaders and talented staffs of our sister state agencies and our federal partners, without whom this work does not get done.

Similarly, I have had the great deep pleasure to work with and learn from the NGO community and industry who work so effectively in this space, without whom in large part government would not find the support (or the urging) to do what is right and often difficult.  There is uniquely in Puget Sound a vast citizenry of citizen scientists, students, agitators, neighbors, immigrants, multiple generations of recreational anglers and barefoot little clamming kids who make up a virtual army of the committed, of the selfless, of the often impatient.  These are people whose experience outdoors place a memory baseline line in the sand every time a fish is caught or isn’t; every time a whale plies the water or doesn’t; every time the snow pack accumulates to feed the rivers on time in the spring or doesn’t.  This loose affiliation of witnesses and actors is strung across the landscape like a shield, protecting and advocating for this singular place on earth, the Salish Sea, Salmon Nation, this ‘universe in a mountain cradle,’ Puget Sound. During this time of civic discord and division across the country, that seems no small feat and a cause for hope.

Thank you for your leadership and the opportunity to work on something so significant and central to the well-being of all Washingtonians, present and future. In my capacity as a Leadership Council member, I’ve found myself in front of the White House with a bullhorn and snorkeling the Duwamish in a wetsuit. I have spoken to 4th graders, educators, Rotary and county commissioners; urged on Cabinet members and members of Congress; testified in Olympia and exhorted city councils. I have sung, recited poetry, and tried to use language carefully in an effort to capture the majesty and significance of this place, to inspire action to protect her.  I have listened intently to farmers and storm water engineers and generally rallied the faithful.  I’ve countlessly told stories to the media and been warmly embraced by Tribal and First Nation elders on both sides of the 49th parallel.

The access as Chair to the universe of all things Puget Sound has been for me a kind of free university. It has been both humbling and inspiring.  And whether I have earned quite yet a PhD in all things Salish Sea, I do understand and thank you for affording me the opportunity to do the most consequential work I will have ever had the honor of being a part of.  Fortunately, you have appointed the current Vice-Chair of the Leadership Council and well known environmental leader, Jay Manning, to step up to Chair on December 7, 2016.  We are in superb and experienced hands.

As I step down off of the Leadership Council, I can’t help but feel extreme confidence and optimism in the ongoing work of the Partnership. For as we ask often, where else has the same profound indigenous land ethic, passionate environmental brain trust, and optimistic entrepreneurial depth as the Northwest?   We are in good hands but will have to ratchet up our work to manage the footprint of the incoming population, the traffic on the Salish Sea, the effects of climate change and the resultant ocean acidification that is changing our ocean’s condition, threatening industry and our very way of life.

This is certainly not the end for me. I will continue to be a champion for our state’s conservation efforts and for Puget Sound, in particular. My heart, my passion, lie with this great estuary.


Martha Kongsgaard
Chair, Leadership Council
Puget Sound Partnership


  1. Martha will be missed for her energy, positive attitude, respect for all, preparation, insight and deep commitment to mission. We are forever in debt for her 10 years of work in the service of Puget Sound recovery and community building, and we look forward to see what is next for her.

  2. Martha leaves a huge wake of conservation innovations behind her as Chair of the PSP Leadership Council. Navigation is one of her gifts -thank you!

  3. Thank you so very much Martha, for all you have given over the past decade. Your words here sum up so much history, and spell out the future, and the difficult tasks ahead of us all in the years to come. You not only understand what is most needed to help sustain the natural ecosystems of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, but you always have such an eloquent and warm way of speaking or writing in a way that educates and inspires us to want to each do our part to save the Sound. Thank you for being you, and for sharing so much of yourself on behalf of Puget Sound and all its inhabitants ~

  4. We here in the north of the Salish Sea very much appreciate the hard work and efforts of Ms. Kongsgaard and the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council. We look forward to continuing the research and initiatives which will result in protection of the cultural and natural heritage we share amongst all Nations. We also welcome the opportunity to host Ms Kongsgaard should she visit B.C., and invite the Leadership Council and others with interest in the Salish Sea to contact us if we can be of service in this important work ...Laurie Gourlay, -- Salish Sea Trust, Box 333, Cedar, B.C., V9X 1W1; (

  5. Oh my. It was a big job so well done. Good wishes in the future for Ms. Kongsgaard. I especially enjoyed reading her listing of many successes since we tend to wring our hands much about the slow progress. The People of Puget Sound live better for her efforts and work.


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