Manda Parrish moved to the Interior Northwest the day after she graduated from the University of San Francisco in 2008. Work with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in Worley, Idaho led her to do conservation work.
Although she found herself far from home, work was close to her heart. As a high school student, she had worked in a botanical garden in her hometown outside of San Diego, and she fondly remembers spending weekends exploring the lagoons and tidal pools in that area. At USF, she earned a degree in environmental science and had the chance to study comparative ecology and conservation for six months in Ecuador. It was an opportunity that proved pivotal in his career.
When she arrived at the Lands Council, work was underway to relocate nuisance beavers to areas where their ingenuity would be better appreciated and needed.
“Beavers, through the building of dams they do to create their own habitat, create habitat for a number of other species,” Parrish explains. “It keeps water on our landscape longer, it creates wetlands, which act as a water filtration area. Beaver dams are also sources of forest fires.”
In that first role at the Lands Council—”my parents loved that my business card said ‘Beaver Program Director’ for a while”—Parrish literally took her work home with her sometimes.
“Our first beaver facility was in my backyard in the Perry District,” she says.
Beaver families waited in a pen in his backyard before being relocated to other areas like Colville National Forest.
now as Executive Director, Parrish always brings her work home with her. One of the latest Lands Council projects is testing how biochar can be adjusted to work in the interior northwest.
“Biochar is enhanced compost — it’s organic matter that’s burned at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen,” Parrish explains. “It’s great for restoration, and it’s used in agriculture because it adds a lot of organic matter to agricultural fields.”
But one of the tricks is figuring out how to make biochar from biological material in eastern Washington which includes pine needles which create a lot of smoke which can release the same greenhouse gases as biochar. is intended to sequester.
“If we want biochar to sequester carbon, there needs to be a low smoke point,” Parrish says. “If it’s on top of another issue like atmospheric carbon or air quality, it’s not a helpful solution.”
So in August, Parrish picked up and installed biochar ovens in his own backyard which will be used for further experimentation while the Lands Council continues to look into the problem.
Parrish notes that many Lands Council programs begin by tackling a problem directly and, through that process, help illuminate barriers to progress. For example, through the beaver program, Parrish says the council was able to take what was initially just a Washington Fish and Wildlife program to relocate animals that bothered homeowners and help pass a state law to use these displaced beavers as agents of restoration. .
n another project, the council joins with the City of Spokane to plant neighborhood trees at properties with landlords and tenants who are willing to help water these new plants as part of the SpoCanopy project. This fall, the Logan neighborhood will see 160 new trees planted, and West Central has also benefited from the program, she says.
“Just like in so many communities across the country, here in Spokane, low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods that were traditionally fenced off are not coincidentally lacking in tree cover,” Parrish said. “It has implications for environmental justice, and it means higher utility bills in the summer because you don’t have shade to cool your home.”
Plants also figure prominently in Parrish’s other role as owner of the Parrish and Grove flower and plant store in downtown Spokane, where she continues to draw on her college experiences. During her time in the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon rainforest, “I learned about tropical botany,” Parrish says. “It really reinforced my desire to work in conservation and it’s very convenient to own a plant store because most houseplants are actually tropical plants.”
Likewise, his academic experience informs his work at the Lands Council. While in Ecuador, she heard from local organizers working on water conservation in the cloud forests north of Quito, and scientists working with tribes in the Amazon rainforest as they struggled to protect their lands from big oil interests. Their perseverance in working on complex conservation issues was inspiring.
“Being exposed to the variety of ways communities come together to tackle these complex issues has certainly been an eye opener for me,” says Parrish. “It’s often reassuring and can help strengthen your resolve to do the right thing.”
On Saturday, October 23, the Lands Council will hold its annual Spokane Reforest Day, where volunteers will plant thousands of trees in a single day at Palisades Park. Learn more about landscouncil.org.