Native Fish Society: A Tale of Two Conservationists
In this edition of Client Voices, I interviewed Tom Derry and Jennifer Fairbrother, the Director of Wild Steelhead Funding and Conservation Director, respectively, of Native Fish Society. Founded in 1995, Native Fish Society has worked tirelessly to advocate for wild, native fish and their habitats in the Pacific Northwest. ____________________________________________________________________________
A Tale of Two Conservationists
To the average person, environmental advocacy may seem to just be what makes the headlines: protesters marching on the streets or lawmakers signing comprehensive bills. The truth, though, is that conservation and conservationists can come in all different shapes and sizes. To demonstrate this variety, I interviewed two staff members at Native Fish Society, with very different pathways to environmental advocacy.
Tom Derry is Director of Wild Steelhead Funding at Native Fish Society. He is also a River Steward for the Molalla River.
Tom Derry discovered his passion for conservation through his love for rivers. As a child, his family owned a cabin at the Molalla River, where he later exchanged vows with his wife, Connie. Tom says, “Living on the Molalla and connecting with the river each day has been a highlight of my life.”
Tom formally began conservation work while owning and operating the Kokanee Café in Camp Sherman, Oregon, along the Metolius River. There, he became involved in conservation projects to restore and protect wild trout and other fish species. His work in conservation picked up steam when he became a volunteer Molalla River Steward, and soon after he joined the staff of Native Fish Society, where he is currently the Director of Wild Steelhead Fundraising.
Like Tom, Jennifer Fairbrother drew her passion for conservation from her childhood experiences. She grew up in a small timber town caught up in the aftermath of the 1990s’ Northwest Timber Wars, which dramatically changed how the federal government managed forests in the Northwest. From that point, she followed her interest in managing the natural world’s impact on the community to a position as a public policy analyst with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where she evaluated remedial technology to help clean up hazardous sites.
However, she grew tired of the slow-moving nature of bureaucracy and eventually sought out nonprofit work by joining Native Fish Society, where she is now the Conservation Director. “Working at a nonprofit was important to me because it married my knowledge of science, skills in policy process, and my passion for advocacy,” says Jennifer.
Jennifer Fairbrother is the Conservation Director at Native Fish Society. She also runs a small farm with her husband outside Canby, Oregon.
Crag Joins The Fight
These two stories get at the true nature of how environmental advocacy plays out in the real world: complex and multi-faceted. Jennifer compares conservation to a stool which needs three legs to stand. There is a public component that requires cultivating a vocal grassroots constituency; a political component for working within existing law to apply and modify it; and a legal component that involves litigation and legal pressure.
Logging trails down a hillside in the North Oregon Coast Range. Photo by MO Stevens
That last component is where Crag comes in. Together, Crag and Native Fish Society have worked to improve Molalla water waste quality, reform forestry practices and steep slope logging along the Northern Oregon Coast, and address the botched repair at Winchester Dam, to name a few issues.
Says Jennifer, “I worked with Ralph [Bloemers], who has been a stellar resource on all fronts, especially with forestry. I am so impressed with his determination and doggedness.”
Tom agrees. “Crag is a very important component of our work. When we see something that is wrong, they have always stepped in and provided excellent legal advice. In my view Chris, Ralph and Maura are some of the best people on earth.”
Jennifer shared that the next steps for her work at Native Fish Society is negotiating a habitat conservation plan in order to hold the state accountable to minimize their impact on the environment, especially because the state’s clear-cut logging practices cause landslides that negatively impact fish species like Coho salmon.
On the Molalla River, Tom is currently working to protect side channel habitats as a refuge for juvenile fish to spend time when the mainstream Molalla is too warm during the summer. At this time, Native Fish Society is involved in 35 active campaigns that address wild fish and free-flowing rivers in Oregon, Washington, Northern California, Idaho and British Columbia. They are also starting a campaign to end hatchery programs that impact the recovery of wild fish.
Activism is the rent you pay for living on the planet.
Although the work can be grueling, it’s important we stay invested in protecting our environment and to “nurture the rivers in our backyard,” as Jennifer says.
Or as Tom says, quoting his late friend Bruce Hill, “Activism is the rent you pay for living on the planet.” He then adds, “Conservation should be a part of all our lives. I’m sure our planet would be in much better shape if we all listened to Bruce’s words.”
Danica Leung is a 2020-21 Crag intern and a junior from Lincoln High School. Danica is interested in the climate crisis, environmental and racial justice, and social responsibility.