Conservancy's video series invites exploration of nature in backyards
COVID-19 has led Dishman Hills Conservancy (DHC) to develop an online video series to encourage parents, teachers and students to explore nature on their own in their backyards, at local parks or at the nearby conservation area.
During the months of COVID, visits to the DHC have increased as people seek to get away to places nearby to hike, bike and explore nature, said Jeff Lambert, executive director.
The Education Committee led by retired teacher Rick Severn quickly developed a "Nature at Home" video series to help students and adults observe nature—birds, insects, animals and plants. It is available with PDF guides on the website at www.dishmanhills.org/nature-at-home/.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources recently tweeted that, by converting its outdoor classroom Kids in the Hills into the video series, Dishman Hills Conservancy showed it understands "the importance of supporting curious, young minds."
COVID restrictions closed the day-long field study program that for 10 years brought about 500 fifth graders each year to be in nature to collect specimens and then return to analyze them, make drawings and write reports at Camp Caro Community Park, which is off E. Appleway Blvd.
"Science is not about pouring facts into children's heads. It is about giving them opportunities to observe and document what they see, which are key in science,"Jeff said.
To expand the field study program, the DHC education committee is developing a plan to build an Outdoor Education Center where adults and students can go into nature and return to reflect and write on what they have found and seen.
The education center, which will provide year-round access to learning in nature at Camp Caro, will include a multi-use space for learning, small events and meetings, Jeff said. It will also offer storage of outdoor materials, teaching resources and the conservancy office space.
He anticipates Spokane County, the Spokane Mountaineers and other organizations will help design and fund the center, which will cost about $3 million.
In 1966, the late Tom Rogers, a biology teacher at University High School, went to the County Commissioners and suggested they protect the Dishman Hills as a natural area for conservation, recreation and education. They supported the idea if he would raise the money.
Over the years, the conservation pioneer had compiled lists of birds, insects, butterflies and plants in the Spokane area. He particularly enjoyed the diversity of plants and animals in the Dishman Hills, Jeff said.
"He rose to the challenge and founded the Dishman Hills Conservancy, organizing community groups, garden clubs, school groups and Boy Scouts to raise funds to buy lands for the county to protect," Jeff said.
Tom reached out to Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, who had Congress pass the Land and Water Conservation Act in 1966. It called for using a portion of funds from oil, gas and mineral leases on federal lands to buy conservation land and provide public access.
In the next 54 years, the Dishman Hills Protected Area grew to 3,200 acres of conservation land within walking distance of surrounding subdivisions.
Now it's the state's oldest land trust, and operates with three staff, 800 community members and hundreds of volunteers.
The DHC connects and permanently protects the ecosystem from the Dishman Hills Natural Area and the Rocks of Sharon to the Stevens Creek Trailhead. It also uses Conservation Futures funds to buy land.
In the beginning, supporters raised funds in drives that collected paper, scrap iron and pop bottles to sell for recycling. They also did bake sales. Garden clubs, community groups and individuals wrote checks.
"That community effort continues today," Jeff said.
Volunteers function through three committees.
The conservation committee identifies key conservation land and works with landowners to sell it or arrange to protect it as conservation.
The stewardship committee oversees trail building and doing weed and forest management.
The education committee organizes field education for grade school students.
Jeff, who does administration and land acquisitions, works with two staff members, Isobel Smith and Elijah Johnson. As outreach director and stewardship liaison, Isobel coordinates events, education and nature walks. As communications director, Elijah communicates with members, volunteers, partners and the public.
Jeff discussed land acquisitions for the conservancy. Of the 3,200 acres, the county owns 2,000 and the conservancy owns 1,000, with plans to acquire another 1,000 acres in the next three years.
Jeff also works with landowners to set up conservation easements that provide tax benefits, improved forest management and recreation opportunities.
"We are always looking for land to buy to manage as community forest under the Department of Natural Resources with community input," Jeff said. "In addition to recreation and education, we use the lands for sustainable timber harvesting to reduce the risk of forest fires and reduce noxious weeds."
While some chemicals are used to kill those weeds when land is first acquired, once weeds are controlled, volunteers pull weeds and replant native plants so the weeds do not grow back, Jeff explained.
Hundreds of people provide thousands of hours of volunteer work. Some come regularly to do weed management, forest thinning, trail building and cleaning up litter and graffiti in heavily used areas.
"With increased use during COVID, there is more graffiti on rocks and trees for volunteers to clean up," Jeff said.
The stewardship committee's volunteers are self-directed. They are trained and given supplies and information on what to look for and how to correct it.
The newest land acquisition is being prepared for the Wilson Trailhead at the end of Willow Springs Rd. east of the Palouse Hwy. It is not open yet. Crews work at the old farm site there Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends, removing some sheds, outbuildings and debris, trimming hazardous trees and doing weed management.
He believes education is the most important function of the DHC.
Jeff said he grew up "close to nature" in the small town of Appleton City, Mo. He often went into the woods to play, hunt, fish, hike, observe animals and follow the seasonal changes of plants. He attended a United Methodist Church that encouraged children to explore the world, discuss the meaning of life and think for themselves.
These childhood experiences led to his interest in conservation and awareness that "everything in nature is interconnected," he said.
After earning a bachelor's degree in 1976 and a master's degree in environmental science in 1980 at Rice University in Houston, he moved to Spokane and worked with Bovay Engineers.
In 1988, he started Enviro Science and was an environmental consultant helping commercial and industrial landowners clean up hazardous waste, train workers to safely handle hazardous substances and construct sustainable buildings.
In 1997, he was a leader in the Conservation Futures Campaign. The program barely passed in the county, but is now popular.
Jeff, who hiked throughout the area, became active in the Spokane Mountaineers in 1996.
He started volunteering at the DHC in 2002 and became involved in efforts to add land to connect several conservation areas the conservancy manages.
Jeff takes people on tours, hiking to a viewpoint overlooking the expanse of Dishman Hills Conservancy from Stevens Creek, across Big Rock, Iler Creek, the Flying L Ranch, the Glenrose Unit, the Natural Area and north to Camp Caro.
For information, call 598-0003, email email@example.com or visit dishmanhills.org.