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Creating a Conservation Movement

Imagine what it takes to build a movement. A movement to protect wild places, starts from the ground up—bringing together activists, community leaders, tribes, elected officials, farms, faith leaders, businesses, agencies and organizations all in the name of conservation. It takes hard work and dedication. No short cuts. Do the work, one person at a time, one year at a time.

This is the conservation movement Karen M. Fant and Ken Gersten, co-founders of Washington Wild, built in the 1970s that grew into a powerful force for conservation. Since the organization’s founding in 1979, Washington Wild and its supporters have played an instrumental role in permanently protecting nearly 3 million acres of designated Wilderness throughout Washington State!

Karen Fant Hiking1979: Founding of a Wilderness Legacy
On September 30th a few hardy souls met in the afternoon at the College Inn, a favorite university watering hole, to launch a new organization, the Washington Wilderness Coalition (WWC). That day they passed around a hat yielding $7 for the organization’s treasury with Ken Gersten and Karen Fant as the two volunteer staff.

History Napkin1980: Organizing the Groundwork
Dividing up the wilderness advocacy statewide came down to a simple calculus. Karen owned a car and covered eastern WA, while Ken covered western WA by foot, bus and ferry.

First WWC Typewriter 19811981: Opening an Office
WWC opened its first office above the Neptune Theater in Seattle’s University District, complete with a Silver-Reed typewriter to be paid off over 3 years.

Mt St. Helens, by Karen Sykes1982: An Erupted National Monument
Within one month of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, WWC helped member Susan Saul form the Mt. St. Helens Protection Association, which helped pressure Congress to designate the area as a National Monument.

1984: The Washington Wilderness Act
Five years of organization and advocacy paid off when Congress passed the Washington Wilderness Act of 1984 which designated 19 new Wilderness Areas totaling over 1 million acres!

1986: Protecting the Gorge
After declaring 1985 “The Year of the Gorge” WWC was able to help pressure Congress to designate the 292,500 acre Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area including 18 miles of new Wild & Scenic Rivers.

1988: A Refuge for Future Generations
A decade of hard work by WWC and other groups finally paid off with the establishment of Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge to protect wetlands of critical importance to migratory shorebirds and other wildlife. 

WWC worked with Senator Dan Evans to advocate for the Washington Parks Wilderness Act of 1988 which designated 1.7 million acres of new Wilderness in Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades National Parks.

1997: Making Puget Sound a Better Place

Seattle Times Editorial highlighted WWC as one of the best organizations that made Puget Sound a better place. The times declared, “the coalition’s out-of-the-box activism is an invigorating presence in the local environmental community.”

1998: Rock and Roll for Conservation
Seattle Times article reported a powerful partnership between WWC and local Seattle musicians from Sound Garden, Pearl Jam, and REM who signed a letter and filmed a video PSA supporting permanent protections for roadless areas in Washington State.

2000: Hanford Reach National Monument
WWC worked to support legislation to protect the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River. In June President Clinton broke the Congressional impasse on the issue and declared the Hanford Reach National Monument under the Antiquities Act.

2006: Mining a National Monument
WWC worked to oppose a Canadian mining company lease for a proposed open pit gold and copper mine just 10 miles from Mt. St. Helens. The lease was denied in 2008 after 33,000 comments flooded the federal government opposing the mine.

2008: Wild Sky Wilderness
After nearly a decade of garnering unprecedented local support, the 106,000 acre Wild Sky Wilderness Act was signed into law. It was the first new national forest wilderness area in Washington State in a quarter century.

2011: Setting a River Free
As a party to a decade long settlement agreement, WWC was invited to witness the breaching of the 98 year old 125-foot Condit Dam. For the first time in a century, the White Salmon River ran freely from its source to its mouth at the mighty Columbia River opening up 33 miles of  steelhead and Chinook salmon habitat.

After 32 years leading efforts to protect Wilderness in Washington State, Washington Wilderness Coalition changed its name to Washington Wild to better reflect the scope of our work protecting Washington’s wild lands AND waters.

2012: Roadless Rule is Upheld

The Supreme Court ended a decade long legal battle, upholding the protection against new road construction in the 2001 National Forest Roadless Rule. Washington Wild had led statewide efforts for more than a decade to uphold and defend the hard-fought protections for nearly two million acres of pristine roadless forests in Washington.

2013: Connecting Beer and Conservation
Washington Wild launched a new initiative focused on connecting two common Northwest passions: protecting our unique natural resources and craft beer. The Brewshed® Alliance movement is led by Washington Wild, which works with local craft brewers throughout the state to emphasize the direct link between protected sources of clean water and superior downstream beer.

2014: Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions
After nearly 7 years of advocacy work and coalition building, Washington Wild celebrated when President Barack Obama signed the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions into law protecting more than 22,000 acres of rare low-elevation forest and nearly 40 miles of Wild & Scenic Rivers.

2019: Banned Mining in the Methow Valley
As a member of the Methow Valley Headwaters Campaign, Washington Wild celebrated the permanent ban on mining in the scenic Methow Valley. 

2022: Mining Halted in the Skagit Headwaters
On January 19th we celebrated the announcement that an agreement between the British Columbia Government and Imperial Metals ended future mining threats in the Skagit Headwaters. WA Wild’s leadership catalyzed extensive media coverage and civic engagement harnessed by an international coalition of 380+ to facilitate an unprecedented regional, cross-border dialogue.

2023: Ecology Designates State’s First ‘Outstanding’ Rivers! 
Building a coalition of more than 240 diverse stakeholders, and generating nearly 300 public comments from our supporters alone, Washington Wild helped lead the grassroots effort to designate the Cascade, Green, and Napeequa Rivers as the first-ever Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW) in Washington State. ORW designation will provide meaningful protection for these rivers by prohibiting any future degradation of water quality. The Washington Department of Ecology ended a 70-day public comment period at the end of September and announced its decision on December 18, 2023.