How Forterra is Conserving Community in a Time of Social Distancing

A message from Forterra President & CEO Michelle Connor.

Our isolation came so suddenly. First, the worrying. Then, the distancing. Our streets grew quiet. Forterra’s office building emptied. Within hours, we went from distributing sanitizers for our team to shutting down the office, prohibiting in-person meetings, and converting our April breakfast—our biggest event of the year—from an in-person gathering to an unprecedented virtual event.

These times are a gut punch.

Yet the air is crisp and filled with sunshine and birds. Robins on rooftops, Hummingbirds storming around, Juncos staking turf, and, suddenly, swallows over local ponds. Life continues. We have no choice but to embrace the opportunities our circumstances present.

There’s refuge in continuing to work and move forward out of necessity with creative solutions.
Sounders ECC tree planting
Photo Credit: Mike Fiechtner

Forterra’s work persists. We move ahead in creative ways that respect the challenges of the day. It’s been inspiring to see our Forterra network grow and adapt with video chats, phone calls, and online collaborations. And we know we will have to continue to adjust.

How do we maintain the Green Cities program when it is powered by people, gathering together to restore our forested parks? Can we effectively engage our community partners via video conferencing? How can we be sure to hear the voices of those most in need of being heard? How do we ensure projects like Hilltop and Wadajir meet local needs?

Our work can’t wait. So what is our best way forward? We’ve only answered a few of the questions, but at least we’ve begun.

The uncertainties remind me of the not-too-distant past. In 2007, Forterra launched The Cascade Agenda, our ambitious effort to promote landscape conservation of working forests, farms, and natural areas, along with the restoration of rivers, streams, and forested parks. To do that work, we brought in a talented group of next-generation conservationists and community developers. We invested in their professional growth and created the operational infrastructure to support them. Then, the Great Recession hit. We had no options but to lay off 20% of our staff in one day. It was terrible. It has taken Forterra more than a decade to recover from that day.

While Forterra recovered, our cause lost valuable emerging leaders whose potential contributions to our effort long-term will never be known. Having been through those times, I will do everything in my power to sustain our organization and our talent, through the challenges caused by our current public health crisis.

We are nothing without our connections to each other, and our communities are nothing without our connections to the land. By working together, we can keep this place we live the place we love.

Forterra, our communities, and our supporters are strong. We are resilient. Today, I work alongside 64 Forterra colleagues, experts in ecology, law, community engagement, data analysis, real estate development, finance, and so much more. Many are next generation conservation and community leaders. I am committed to sustaining our team. They are our region’s future leaders. They are ready to be here for us. Let’s be there for them. Forterra’s work would not be possible without these people, together, working.