2021 June Newsletter

Letter from our president, Jeff Wirtz

Greetings to all our Foundation friends,

Summer has started off with historic triple-digit temperatures. While we can’t attribute any one weather event solely to climate change, these are times we’re reminded of the dire consequences of our changing climate. In the Pacific Northwest, we know warming temperatures contribute to things like the spread of diseases and pests, reduced snowpack, and warming waters. The interconnectedness of our ecosystems is why species such as salmon – and the orca that feed on them – are at risk.

Climate change is a global issue that demands bold action from government leaders around the world. However, our local actions play a profound role as well. Our conservation work to promote healthy streams and old-growth forest throughout the Rhododendron Preserve is connected to the health of ecosystems throughout the Salish Sea region and beyond. In fact, we’re working on an exciting new partnership to elevate that work on a national scale. We’ll share more details later this summer, so stay tuned.

Finally, congratulations to the Washington Association of Land Trusts for a successful 2021 NW Land Camp last month. The Foundation was proud to be a leading sponsor for the event which brings together hundreds of conservationists and land trust partners. You can check out the Foundation’s virtual booth here.

Stay healthy and well.

— Jeff Wirtz
President, Keta Legacy Foundation,
also known as Mountaineers Foundation


Within its spiny exterior, Devil’s Club is full of fascinating surprises

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out where Devil’s Club, or Oplopanax horridus in Latin, got its name. This plant is armed to the teeth. The stem is densely packed with spines and both the top and bottom of its leaves are coated in spines too. It’s not a plant that you want to tangle with unless you are well protected with heavy gloves and thick clothing.

devils club plant

Yet for all its prickly self-defense mechanism, Devil’s Club is a surprisingly useful and fascinating plant. In traditional Native American medicine, it has been used to treat arthritis, tuberculosis, cancer, wounds, fever, stomach trouble, cough, colds, sore throat, and pneumonia. It is also used for emptying the bowels and causing vomiting, as well as treating lice and even as a deodorant. Western herbalists and pharmaceutical researchers are studying its properties for treating diabetes by regulating blood sugar.

On our Rhododendron Preserve, there is a stand of Devil’s Club adjacent to the trail along Lost Creek. Standing on the trail, you’re able to study this plant’s defenses up close. It’s fascinating to observe Devil’s Club through the seasons, from the naked spine covered stalks in winter to the early growth of spring, the white blooms in early summer, the bright red berries of late summer and early fall, and to the yellowing leaves of autumn when the leaves fall. While greatly loved by bears, the bright red berries are considered poisonous to humans. We invite you to visit the Preserve and, from a safe distance, meet this fascinating plant.

— Katha Miller-Winder
Education Committee Chair


We Are Puget Sound provides an awe-inspiring experience and call to action

A recently opened photo exhibit at Seattle Aquarium called We Are Puget Sound provides visitors an exquisite look at our region’s beautiful, but endangered ecosystems. The exhibit is based off a book and campaign launched in 2020 that, as described by Washington Environmental Council, “features captivating photography and stories from around our region designed to spark collective and personal action to restore Puget Sound.”

Importantly, the campaign centers the voices of those who are most closely tied to the historic and ongoing preservation of Puget Sound, particularly the Native American Tribes and First Nations who have ancestral ties to the coastal lands and water.

The Foundation has frequently partnered with Braided River, the publisher of We Are Puget Sound, and is proud to support this campaign and this exhibit, which is open through August. You can learn more and preview some of the beautiful images on Seattle Aquarium’s website.


New online resource page will soon offer everything from scavenger hunts to videos

The Foundation’s education committee loves making outdoor education fun and inspiring. We’re always looking for ways to inspire learners of all ages to become good stewards of our air, land, and water. Some of the resources that we’ve created take kids outside, including scavenger hunts, Preserve bingo cards and Family Field Trip Learning Adventures. Other resources bring the outdoors in, including matching games and videos.

nature preserve bingo card

Now, we’re focusing on making outdoor education more accessible. For years, we’ve worked with local schools and community groups to offer these resources, and we want these resources to be available to everyone. Our committee is creating a new online page where educators and families can download any or all of our learning activities. As kids begin their summer vacations and parents look for ways to keep them curious and active, we hope these indoor and outdoor learning adventures spark a love for the outdoors and the healthy ecosystems that we all depend on.

We’ll share the link soon on our Facebook page. Keep an eye on it and help us spread the word with your educator friends and outdoor-loving parents.

— Katha Miller-Winder
Education Committee Chair


Upcoming events and reminders

  • Reminder: The 2021 Kitsap Kids’ Directory parks & trail challenge is still underway and it’s a perfect time to start exploring! The Foundation is proud to be supporting this effort to encourage families to visit all of Kitsap County’s parks and trails. Check out the details here.
  • A remarkable new outdoor film and exhibition called Whale People: Protectors of the Sea is coming to Vashon Heritage Museum on July 10. The film explores how Native Nations are leading efforts to protect the Salish Sea and the orcas and salmon that call the sea their home. The exhibition and IMAX-style film are narrated by the late Chief Tsilixw Bill James of the Lummi Nation, Lummi Master Carver Jewell James, and Amy Ta’ah George of Tsleil-Waututh Nation. This program is organized by The Natural History Museum and co-sponsored by the Vashon Heritage Museum, Se’Si’Le, Vashon Nature Center, and Vashon Center for the Arts. The Foundation is humbled and honored to also help support this event. Learn more here.

Legal Update June 2021

Update about aggressive tactics by The Mountaineers to take over our name, Mountaineers Foundation

Last June, we shared a short update about a legal dispute between Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation since it was founded in 1968, and the similarly-named alpine club known as The Mountaineers.

Our organizations, though separate and independent of one another, have collaborated on numerous educational and conservation efforts over the past decades. We even have people who participate actively in both organizations.

We all share an intense desire to find a mutually-agreeable resolution, but The Mountaineers’ CEO is engaging in aggressive public relations tactics based on false claims that make it harder, not easier, to avoid a drawn-out legal battle. We feel compelled to correct some of the blatant falsehoods we’ve consistently seen in public communications about the matter.

At issue is the right to our legal name, Mountaineers Foundation, registered with both the Internal Revenue Service and Washington Secretary of State. Since our founding in 1968, that name has generated tremendous goodwill and meaning among our donors and supporters, including our many Legacy Donors who have bequeathed funds in support of our conservation work. Even as we added Keta Legacy Foundation in 2018, our legal and public identity as Mountaineers Foundation remains. We have used our Mountaineers Foundation name since we were formed as a nonprofit charitable organization with the Washington Secretary of State on June 24, 1968. Our name is also trademarked by the State of Washington.

Unfortunately and surprisingly, The Mountaineers has started aggressively and illegally using the Mountaineers Foundation name. In 2018, they started using the Mountaineers Foundation name for their own fundraising purposes, going so far as creating a false “Mountaineers Foundation” section on their website and posting that any “bequests intended for The Mountaineers Foundation be directed to The Mountaineers at [The Mountaineers’] Seattle address.” They have also filed trademark applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office claiming it has continuously and exclusively used The Mountaineers Foundation trademark since 1907.

To protect our independent identity and the intent of our donors, the Foundation has sought to stop The Mountaineers from unlawfully using our name and creating confusion and misdirection of donations.

We have sought to resolve this issue amicably, hoping to avoid lengthy litigation. But The Mountaineers’ CEO has regularly engaged in unseemly tactics that compromise the basis for any good-faith negotiations. This includes repeating false claims about our organization and regularly posting misleading information on The Mountaineers’ website.

The most egregious claim we need to correct is about the independence of our organizations.

The Mountaineers continually claims Mountaineers Foundation was created in 1968 as its “nonprofit fundraising arm.” Their website currently states Mountaineers Foundation operated as a “separate licensee” for fundraising and grant-making on their behalf.

This is unequivocally false. The Foundation was not created to serve The Mountaineers and no license exists. We are co-equal organizations that have always been independent of one another. (Notably, it’s actually illegal to lose your tax-exempt status like The Mountaineers did in 1972 and set up another non-profit organization from which to funnel tax-deductible donations for its sole benefit.)

In an effort to protect our donors and correct these misleading statements, we have filed a consumer complaint with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. That office is empowered to act on behalf of the public to prosecute and sanction those who engage in deceptive and dishonest practices when soliciting funds for or in the name of charity.

This is not simply about a similar name. It is about The Mountaineers falsely asserting a right to the Mountaineers Foundation name and using our name to direct our donors to contribute to their organization. And, increasingly, it’s about The Mountaineers’ CEO’s public posturing in ways that undermine any good-faith legal process. Despite repeated public postings about sensitive legal discussions, we have continued to engage respectfully in this process, and we will continue to do so.

We’re certain there’s a constructive and positive path forward, but the fastest way to find it is to engage respectfully with us, not through misleading blog posts. We’re looking forward to a resolution that allows both organizations to continue fulfilling our missions and promoting a love for our outdoor spaces, both as recreationalists and conservationists.

Throughout all of this, our focus continues to be our important preservation and education work. Thank you for your continued support of the Foundation that allows us to promote actions and foster understanding to inspire conservation from the Rhododendron Preserve to the Salish Sea region.

2021 May Newsletter

Letter from our president, Jeff Wirtz

Greetings to all our Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation, friends.

It’s hard to believe that June is already upon us! With businesses starting to reopen and the weather luring us outdoors, we’ve never felt more ready and excited for the projects ahead of us this summer. The rhododendrons are beginning to bloom at the Rhododendron Preserve and the salmon smolts are almost done making their way through our streams out to sea.

Our board and staff want to thank everyone who participated in the GiveBig campaign last month. We can’t say enough how much we appreciate your support for our conservation and education work.

I also want to thank Renee Johnson and the members of our grants committee who just completed a new round of community grant awards. Our community grant program is now 51 years old, and it’s remarkable to think about the hundreds of projects and partnerships that we’ve supported through that program. The first grant award was $100 in 1970 for camping education to the newly-founded Central Area Youth Association in Seattle. While the size of the grant awards have grown since then, the focus is still the same – helping nonprofits that, like us, want to inspire and connect people to healthy ecosystems. You can learn about this year’s grantees here.

Enjoy these first days of summer. Stay healthy and well.

— Jeff Wirtz
President, Keta Legacy Foundation
also known as Mountaineers Foundation


Cooperation and competition keep our forest healthy

In a healthy forest ecosystem, there is cooperation and competition. Trees warn their species family about problems, share resources with them, and raise their tree offspring in a way that grows strong resilient trees. Trees also compete for resources, and some tree species, such as Western Red Cedar, are particularly effective at hoarding resources for themselves. If you’ve ever tried to grow plants around a Cedar tree, you know that Cedars can create toxic conditions for other plants, so nothing else will grow nearby.

However, trees also form relationships. In this photo you see a pair of tree friends. On the left is a Douglas Fir, and on the right is a Western Red Cedar. These two are growing so close together that they almost look like one tree with two types of bark. You can also see that the Cedar is older and larger than the Douglas Fir. When the Douglas Fir first sprouted in the roots of the Cedar tree, the Cedar chose to nurture it and raise it, rather than kill it. You can say they are tree friends. If you pay attention when you visit our Rhododendron Preserve, you will discover other tree friends and notice mature trees supporting and protecting trees of other species. There is a whole forest of interesting relationships for those who look. Forest ecosystems are communities filled with diverse and wonderful relationships.

— Katha Miller-Winder
Education Committee Chair


Suquamish Tribe partnership is helping restore crucial salmon habitat and highlight the interconnectedness of our ecosystems

In case you missed it, Jessie Darland from the Kitsap Sun made a trip to the Rhododendron Preserve recently to learn more about the restoration and salmon recovery work taking place in Hidden Valley, one of the ancestral fishing and gathering grounds of the Suquamish Tribe

In this area where Wildcat and Lost Creeks come together to form Chico Creek, Jon Oleyar, the Tribe’s fisheries biologist, is helping lead the effort to monitor the salmon smolts. Jon and his team are out daily from April through June capturing and recording the smolts leaving the creeks. They come back in the fall to count the salmon who have returned to spawn. This includes coho, which is one of the foods our endangered Southern Resident orcas depend on.

Jon’s work highlights the interconnectedness of our individual actions, the Rhododendron Preserve and the streams that run through it, and the impacts to salmon and orca. We’re grateful for this partnership with the Suquamish Tribe who have been stalwart advocates for salmon and orca recovery.

We invite you to read Jessie’s story and to visit the Rhododendron Preserve for a self-guided salmon tour of your own. Though Hidden Valley remains closed to the public while we continue restoration work there, you might catch a glimpse of the remaining departing smolts while strolling along Big Tree Trail next to Wildcat or Lost Creeks.


Summer interns are back to work

Our Rhododendron Preserve committee is proud to introduce you to our 2021 summer interns, Megan Burch, who is graduating from the Western Washington University Huxley Program on the Peninsulas next month, and Casey Blankenship, who is finishing the same program next year and returning after interning with us last summer.

Megan and Casey have already started planning fieldwork and developing data collection techniques for their summer work. Together with me and my Olympic College students, Megan and Casey are working this month to fine-tune the forest monitoring protocols that will be used to define and characterize the different forest stands at the Rhododendron Preserve. The data will be added to the ArcGIS database that the interns developed last year. This is an important tool that will help us monitor forest conditions and plan our management activities, such as invasive species removal or restorative thinning of overstocked forests. This monitoring and management work is essential as we restore certain stands to more natural, biodiverse, and functioning forests.

The intern program is part of the board’s commitment to monitoring the different forest and other ecosystems and working to preserve their ecological functions in the face of risks such as surrounding development, climate change, and past timber harvesting practices. We’re grateful for their work and the opportunity to offer a unique work experience for students pursuing careers in conservation and environmental science.

— Amy Lawrence
Preserve Committee Chair


Upcoming events and reminders

  • Have you signed up yet for the 2021 Kitsap Kids’ Directory parks & trail challenge? Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation, is proud to be supporting this effort to encourage families to visit all of Kitsap County’s parks and trails. Check out the details here, and start exploring!
  • Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation, is proud to be a leading sponsor of this year’s 2021 NW Land Camp hosted by the Washington Association of Land Trusts. This annual event brings together hundreds of land trust leaders and conservation partners. This year’s virtual Land Camp will take place every Thursday in June. If you happen to know someone attending, let them know that they can stop by our virtual booth to say hello.
  • Congrats to Directors Bree Grimm and Katha Miller-Winder for their recent literary successes.
  • Bree recently wrote a case study, titled “Chico Creek: Restoring the Place of the Chum Salmon,” which is now one of twelve chapters within the book “Removing Barriers: Restoring Salmon Habitat through Tribal Alliances,” featuring Evergreen students’ case study research, original maps, and artistic works. Bree’s case study and artwork were recently featured in Evergreen’s annual Equity Symposium, and her artwork will also be featured throughout June in the cross-disciplinary arts exhibit called “Submergence: Going Below the Surface with Orca and Salmon.”
  • When she isn’t busy volunteering for Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation, Director Katha Miller-Winder is an active Therapy Dog handler for Therapy Dogs International and the head of their local chapter. She recently published a book aimed at helping more people decide if therapy dog work is something that they want to pursue and showing them how to get started. The book is “Becoming a Therapy Dog Team: Guidance and Advice.” It’s available in paperback and kindle versions on Amazon.

First Round of Grants Awarded in 2021

Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation, announces 2021 community grant award winners
Kitsap-based Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation, announced its latest round of community conservation education grant funding for six projects throughout the Salish Sea region. Four of the six projects support youth education for elementary, middle or high school students, including three that focus on historically underserved youth in diverse communities. All six of the 2021 applicants received maximum grant awards of $5,000.

The Foundation’s long-running community grants program has funded hundreds of projects at conservation-focused nonprofit organizations over the past 51 years. Renee Johnson, chair of the community grants committee, said these past two years were especially crucial as nonprofits struggled to raise money and maintain operations during the pandemic.

“Protecting and connecting with healthy habitats has always been the Foundation’s focus, and the pandemic affirmed just how crucial it is for people to feel that connection to our mountains, water and land,” said Renee Johnson, chair of the community grants committee. “For many of our partners, we were one of the few lifelines they could find to keep their doors open, even if just virtually.”

“Everyone was stunned by the unfolding pandemic in 2020. It presented unprecedented challenges for organizations serving the community, particularly environmental organizations that provide in person experiential learning for the public,” said Andrea Dolan-Potter, development associate for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Foundation at Heronswood Garden, a 2020 grant recipient. “The Foundation’s support for our community education classes provided critical, flexible support that allowed us to quickly pivot and respond to these challenges. In the end, we find ourselves with an even stronger community education program, with more options and better amenities for both in person and online learning. While the impact of the pandemic overall has been hard and brutal, we are grateful for the Foundation’s support and look forward to further growth and expansion of accessible, community-based environmental learning in Kitsap and the greater Pacific Northwest.”

Johnson says the outlook for nonprofits is still challenging as in-person fundraising events or programming are just beginning to resume, but, like Heronswood, many organizations are feeling optimistic about being able to reopen their doors.

“It’s exciting to see what these organizations are planning for 2021, especially the programs that engage our young people and connect them to the outdoors,” Johnson said. “We’re so grateful to be able to support our partners and the communities they serve.”

The Foundation received 13 applications for Community Conservation Education Grants. The six projects awarded funding are:

Friends of the San Juans — $5,000
Friends of the San Juans last year developed an immersive science education pilot project for high school students using virtual reality to connect students with the local marine food web. The program allows students, many of whom come from low-income communities, to experience the virtual reality of underwater divers and field scientists to observe herring, sand lance, juvenile Chinook and more. Friends of the San Juans now wants to expand the pilot project to include additional videos and be available to schools throughout Washington state. The Foundation awarded a community grant to the pilot project last year. View an example of their virtual immersive underwater experience.

Native Fish Society — $5,000
Native Fish Society is advancing a speaker’s education series to support the conservation of wild Coastal Cutthroat Trout and their habitats in the Hood Canal. The population of Coastal Cutthroat Trout are declining at the same recreational fishing is increasing. The habitats within the Hood Canal region are being degraded due to failing septic systems, animal waste, fertilizers and other pollutants along with loss of riparian habitats. The speakers series is designed to promote education, engagement and stewardship to help improve the region’s habitat conditions for the Coastal Cutthroat Trout.

Northwest Natural Resource Group — $5,000
Northwest Natural Resource Group is partnering the Highline School District’s Waskowitz Outdoor Education Center (also known as Camp Waskowitz) to create a new interactive curriculum on ecological forestry tied to the Center’s new forest stewardship plan and a thinning harvest occurring at the Center this spring. An estimated 2,700 students participate in Camp Waskowitz every year.

Their project includes six components: new curricular materials for middle schoolers, curricular materials for high schoolers, guidance documents for teachers and staff, a forest regeneration study with students, public display information about the forest, and a self-guided interpretive forest walk for all ages. The project will help deepen the connection to the forested hinterlands of the Salish Sea watershed felt by students from this densely urban school district where 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

South Sound Estuary Association (SSEA), dba Puget Sound Estuarium — $5,000
The Puget Sound Estuarium is seeking to expand the number of students who participate in field trips at its Inspiring Kids Preserve (IKP) on Henderson Inlet in Thurston County and Bayshore Preserve in Mason County.

The IKP site is dedicated to providing K-12 students learning opportunities regarding estuarine ecology and conservation. The Estuarium partners with Community Land Trust to provide field trips to students from Lydia Hawk Elementary School, one of the North Thurston School District’s most diverse and underserved schools, to experience a forest walk and observations of saltwater and freshwater wetland ecosystems. The grant funding will help the Estuarium offer field trips to another North Thurston school, doubling the number of students who can participate.

At the Bayshore Preserve, Oakland Bay Junior High Students participate in Bayshore Field STEM trips and learn, among other things, how to test saline levels and the impacts of saltmarsh intrusion into the upland habitat.

Student Conservation Association — $5,000
The Student Conservation Association’s Seattle Community Crews offer financially-insecure and diverse urban youth a paid opportunity to gain environmental education and workforce development skills through hands-on conservation projects at local parks and green spaces. SCA operates two to four Community Crews in the Seattle area each summer, each comprised of 5-8 high school youth and 1-2 leaders who complete four weeks of conservation service that includes building and repairing trails, cleaning shorelines, tracking and monitoring invasive species, and restoring habitats for native species. Grant funding will support SCA’s 2021 summer program.

Washington Association of Land Trusts — $,5000
The Washington Association of Land Trusts is a statewide coalition of 32 nonprofit conservation land trusts. Their annual Northwest Land Camp brings together private land conservation organizations and other natural resource professionals to promote greater support for open space protection, land conservation and environmental education. Grant funding will support the Association’s 2021 Northwest Land Camp, expected to attract nearly hundred practitioners who work in the Salish Sea Ecoregion.

More information about the Foundation’s grant program, including past recipients, is available at https://ketalegacy.org/grants/.