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Conserving the Places That Benefit Us All: An Interview with Joanna Nelson de Flores of Forterra

This quarter YP Impact is focusing on the Environment and has partnered with Forterra, a Pacific Northwest nonprofit working to conserve the land we so love, protect the urban canopy, create community and support the livelihoods of us all. We recently spoke with Joanna Nelson de Flores, Green Cities Director at Forterra and a Seattle native. Previously Joanna worked for EarthCorps and Ecology Project International and studied Wildlife Biology at Washington State University. We recently spoke with Joanna Nelson de Flores, Green Cities Director at Forterra and a Seattle native. Previously Joanna worked for EarthCorps and Ecology Project International and studied Wildlife Biology at Washington State University.

Ross Palmer: Tell us about Forterra. What is the mission and vision of Forterra?

Joanna Nelson de Flores: Forterra works to protect, enhance, and steward our region’s most precious resources—its communities and its landscapes. We love this place. We want to keep it special. To do this, we conserve land, develop innovative policies, and support rural and urban development. The choices we make today determine what this place will be like tomorrow. 

RP: Forterra is proactive in conserving our natural spaces and wildlands and listens to the voices of the region. Can you tell us a little about how and where you work, as well as the programs you offer?

JNDF: Our work stretches from the farmland and river canyons of Yakima all the way to the estuaries and forests of Washington’s coastline. Like many land trusts, we acquire land to permanently protect natural areas, working lands, and urban green space. We also help care for lands from managing large iconic landscapes to removing invasive plants in your local park. But we do more than traditional conservation and restoration. We develop innovative policies that can help shape a sustainable future. We also work with local residents to build attainable and sustainable housing in rural and urban areas. For example, our Wadajir project will create attainable family housing for 450 people and a marketplace for 85 small businesses in Tukwila. 

Volunteers plant trees as part of Green City Partnership (Photo Credit: Forterra)

RP: One of the programs that Forterra is involved with is the Green City Partnership. Could you tell us what this program is and how it works?

JNDF: Our Green City Partnerships get people into parks to restore their nearby forested spaces. Parks are important for all of us. They improve our quality of life, mental health, and physical well-being. In 2005 we have launched the Green City Partnership across 14 cities and one county to create a sustainable network of forested parks and natural areas throughout our region. 

With our partners, we can assess lands, provide strategic restoration or stewardship guidance, set goals and benchmarks, perform restoration with crews and volunteers, engage communities, and track our efforts over time.


RP: What are some of the projects and events that have been done through the GCP? 

JNDF: With active projects in more than 200 parks, it is hard to narrow them down! Collectively the partnerships have cleared invasive plants from more than 2,600 acres and planted 1.3 million trees and shrubs. Every weekend we have volunteer events. 

For example, the Tree Ambassador Program with the City of Seattle gets local neighbors engaged in urban forests through educational tree walks and landscape renewal projects. Neighbors go out to weed, mulch, and activate local green spaces like parking strips and bus stops. We are about to expand this work to SeaTac, Burien, and Des Moines to increase tree canopy. 

Another project that comes to mind is Crystal Springs Park in Tukwila. The park was completely covered in ivy. A local business wanted to help, and combined with City support and neighbors our Green Tukwila Partnership uncovered a healthy forest in just two years. Best of all, a park neighbor became a Forest Steward for the Park. I love seeing neighbors come together to care for the place they live.

RP: Is there one that you are especially proud of?

JNDF: I’ve been working on Green Cities at Forterra for 14 years. I was hired to help launch the first Green Seattle Partnership. I am proud to see all the cities that have joined the effort to makes this regional impact significant. Each Green City Partnership has a Forest Steward program where people become “super volunteers.” With training and support, they lead their own restoration project and events in their local park. These are amazing, highly dedicated people that teach me time and time again that this work is so much more than removing ivy and planting trees. It is just as much about building community and how a small group of people that care can make a big impact.  

A couple hikes in the Cascade Mountains (Photo Credit: Forterra)

RP: Forterra has a collective approach. Can you tell us about some of Forterra’s partnerships and why partnerships are so key to your success?

JNDF: The work we do has a huge scope, one that could not be done along with or by one organization or agency. 

The Green Cities Program began in 2004 when the City of Seattle and Forterra came together to create a community-based program to restore and maintain 2,500 acres of Seattle’s forested parkland in 20 years. Together we crafted a 20-year strategic plan. We have been working with volunteers and partners to implement that plan ever since. 

Forterra replicated and modified this model to build similar community-based stewardship programs to restore and care for forested parks and natural areas in cities across the region. Together the Green City Partnerships work to restore 10,000 acres of parkland and enhance tree canopy throughout the region. The partnership model relies on nonprofits, tribes, government agencies, local businesses, and groups like YP Impact to work together as part of a coordinated effort. We can all get more done by working together. 

RP: How can members of YP Impact contribute to and support the mission and vision of Forterra?

JNDF: There are so many ways to help our communities and landscapes. Volunteers play a huge role in the restoration of our forested parks and green spaces. To date, Green City Partnerships have supported more than 1.4 million volunteer hours. I’m excited we can host a Green Cities volunteer event with YP Impact on February 29. Members of YP Impact can volunteer at any of our Green Cities events. You can also sign up for our newsletters on our website to stay informed.  

Join YP Impact on February 29th as we volunteer in Meadowbrook Park with Forterra and United Way Emerging Leaders. We will also be hosting a trivia night in March!  


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