Inland NW Land Conservancy preserves land
By nurturing partnerships and establishing agreements with private landowners, David Schaub helps protect land from development. Two recent efforts are creating wetlands for tundra swans and connecting two Spokane parks.
In 2017, he started as executive director at the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy (INLC), applying his experience in the outdoors, as a teacher and running a small business to help protect land and connect people to nature.
The conservancy seeks to create meaningful connections to nature for individuals, families and communities.
"Only by direct experience with nature do people learn to care about it," he said.
INLC works with landowners to create conservation agreements that permanently obligate the conservancy to monitor those lands.
"We work with willing private land owners and communities to protect the land they care about," he said. "We protect habitat, farms, forests and parks for the benefit of the community.
"Our tools include buying land or establishing conservation easements that stay with the land even when it is sold. The landowner helps set the agreement, and can continue to live on the land or can sell it, but the agreement is in the title, limiting the use or prohibiting it being sold for a subdivision."
Through different tools, he said the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy has protected 22,000 acres of land in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. It does not sue or lobby to change laws that may be overturned.
"I'm drawn to this work because I'm a consensus builder and look for solutions to problems, solutions that work for as many people as possible," David said. "I like the cooperative approach, permanence of solutions and the variety of tools to bring conservation solutions to benefit our region. I love partnering with people who are thinking beyond themselves, and making land deals happen in partnership with community partners.
David, who left Spokane after graduating from Lewis and Clark High School, said he is among Spokane's "boomerangers," returning first to Sandpoint after college and then moving in 2010 to Spokane with his wife, Heidi, and two children—now 13 and 15.
After graduating in 1993 from Swarthmore College in Philadelphia with a bachelor's degree in psychology and environmental studies, he could not wait to return to the Pacific Northwest.
He spent six months in 1994 hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, using skills from growing up in a family active outdoors and from his experiences with scouting, backpacking and canoeing.
"Living out of a backpack on the trail in the mountains with a college buddy was formative and eye-opening. I realized how little I needed to be comfortable, hiking 30 miles a day, sleeping on the ground and waking up refreshed," David said.
"I learned resilience and faith in my body when I looked at thousands of soul-wrenching miles ahead. I felt relief and accomplishment when I was done, and I had comfort and confidence in the natural world I wanted to share with others," he said.
So David settled in Sandpoint, teaching elementary and middle school children and youth outdoor, environmental experiential education with a nonprofit, LEAP, the Leadership Education Adventure Project.
"Teaching children outside the classroom gave them a different way of being and learning, building confidence while developing community, and building leadership and communication skills," he said.
As he led programs at Schweitzer, in the National Forest, along Priest River and at a LEAP camp, he realized that not everyone is comfortable outdoors.
David then decided he wanted to teach, so he moved to Seattle to earn a teaching certificate from Pacific Oaks College Northwest in 1998, a school with a social justice emphasis.
His studies, which included exploring his own racial identity, internalized racism and white privilege, were followed by teaching children of color in an urban school.
After a few years, David and his wife started a small business selling environmentally friendly building materials in Bozeman, Mont. In 2010, they sold the business and moved to Spokane to allow his wife to pick up her career in public health. David was a stay-at-home father for six years, involved with the Dishman Hills Conservancy and learning about land trusts.
The Inland Northwest Land Conservancy started in 1991 as a volunteer organization. It first hired staff in 1996 and set up a nonprofit board. Some of the conservancy's public projects include the Cedar Grove Conservation Area with the Liberty Lake Loop Trail, Mirabeau Point in Spokane Valley and expanding Palisades City Park. The staff of seven is supplemented by three dedicated volunteers.
Over the years, many projects have permanently protected 22,000 acres of land, including 62 private conservation easements, 38 partner projects and seven preserve properties that the conservancy owns and manages.
INLC is working currently with 12 different land owners on projects, which will be completed in coming years, because land deals are complicated and take time.
INLC collaborates with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Superfund money to help identify, conserve and clean wetlands in the waterway of the Coeur d'Alene River that is saturated with toxic heavy metals affecting organisms from micro-invertebrate aquatic insects to migratory waterfowl.
In particular, tundra swans die there every season as they migrate to the Arctic. When the swans dig their long necks into the mud to feed, they ingest mud that is saturated with heavy metals. Every year, hundreds die.
"It's tragic because they mate for life. If one dies, the mate stays there, waiting and feeding and often dying there, too," he said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife has identified some cleaner spots not contaminated by the metals and have helped create new wetlands there.
"We seek to hold conservation agreements with landowners so no one can undo the work," David said.
"Toxics have been there since mining began in the Silver Valley and mining companies disposed of waste—lead, zinc, arsenic and cadmium—by dumping it in the river. It settled in the river valley and bottom of Coeur d'Alene Lake," he said.
Fish and Wildlife surveys soil in the river basin to find less contaminated areas. It uses earth movers and dredges to create ponds that tie to the Coeur d'Alene River system. In the new areas, they control how deep swans can go into the mud for food.
"It's a complicated problem and impossible to fully solve," David said. "These strategies are efforts we can make."
Now about 500 acres from three land owners are permanently protected for this purpose. By late October, David expects that INLC will add another 140 acres of conserved land to this project area.
Another project of the INLC is to connect the Rimrock Hiking Trail in Palisades Park to the south end of Riverside State Park, creating an 11-mile trail and habitat corridor to Long Lake. Palisades Park is a forested, undeveloped park along a basalt bluff that connects with downtown.
For 20 years, neighbors wanted to acquire more land to connect the two parks, he said.
INLC has worked for nearly three years and has completed protection of 123 acres, which will eventually be added to Palisades City Park, so it extends to just south of the Burlington Northern Rail Line. Riverside State Park is on the other side of the rail line. In the future, a bridge may be built over the rail line to connect the two parks, creating a trail for hiking, biking and horseback riding, he said.
INLC is raising money to make improvements to the area so when it is transferred to the City of Spokane, the trail system with signage and parking will be in place.
Coronavirus has delayed INLC's annual fall fundraiser.
David mentioned two other projects in process:
The conservancy envisions long-term land conservation inspired by the Olmstead Brothers Landscape Architects plan for parks throughout the city and county in the early 1900s.
INLC seeks to use a social justice lens to identify neighborhoods and communities underserved by parks, David said.
In addition, they are working with the Spokane Tribal Fisheries to protect land along the Little Spokane Watershed for fish habitat restoration.
For information, call 328-2939 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September, 2020