Environmental Migration – “Here They Come!”

March 2, 2016

What is “environmental migration” and how are we as an organization and a community working together to address this wave of change to the Inland Northwest landscape?

Photo Credit: Mary Weathers – Rainbow Barn

Environmental Migration refers to all species but I will focus today on humans (not birds or animals) who are forced, or choose to, flee or relocate from their home region due to sudden or long-term changes to their local environment – changes which compromise their well-being or impact their livelihood. These changes could be droughts, sea level rise, or disruption of seasonal weather patterns.

Our regional environmental diversity, mild climate, abundance of water resources, and access to recreational opportunities have made Spokane one of the new jewels for those making the resettlement journey. Features created though long-term regional efforts like the Centennial Trail system and the many parks and open spaces that are a result of the Olmsted Brothers Plan and our Conservation Futures program make Spokane an attractive destination for families, professionals and retirees alike. Inland Northwest Land Conservancy is addressing in multiple ways the coming tsunami of residents to the City of Spokane and surrounding counties.

First, we focus on those lands that are the buffers for the headwaters, creeks, rivers, lakes and streams. We work to protect through private conservation easements these riparian buffer zones and wildlife corridors. This is essential, we believe, to keep clean our greatest assets – the Rathdrum Aquifer, the Spokane River, Little Spokane River and Latah Creek. Today, 2 million people live in regions with dry, fragile climates that are threatened by water scarcity. It is predicted that by 2040 1.8 billion people will live in areas of extreme water scarcity. Locally our current abundant water resources need to be a focal point of our attention, both today and moving forward.

Next, INLC is taking a lead position as part of the University District’s Ecological Alliance. This group is a collaborative partnership between our institutions of higher learning, local businesses, and non-profits. This group is working over the coming years to enhance the Spokane River’s buffer zones to be ecologically diverse and community friendly with educational and recreational opportunities. The plan will tie the University District’s future “smart city landscape” with positive long-term ecological outcomes for the river and its shoreline. Our goal is better community understanding, appreciation and ultimately protection of this precious resource.

At INLC we are taking a long-term approach and appreciation for the water resources and the green and open space currently available. As the city and surrounding areas swell in the coming years, these resources will be the key economic driver of our city and county. I personally hope our elected and appointed officials will also comprehend that our future rides on protecting these resources.

*A smart city uses information and communication technologies to enhance quality, performance and interactivity of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption.