Volunteering wasn't a part of his life when Todd Cullison was growing up in southwestern Washington. But after helping out with environmental restoration projects for a graduation requirement at Washington State University, and later working with the school's Center for Environmental Education, he gained an appreciation for people who give their time to improve their surroundings.
"I saw first hand how important volunteers were," said Cullison of his experience with the center.
Now, Cullison's work with volunteers continues as the watershed coordinator for Clatsop County, a position within the Columbia River Estuary Study Task Force CREST). He helps to organize the efforts of the people who volunteer their time for watershed councils, which were established in the area in 1997 to help restore streams, rivers and estuaries and improve habitat for salmon.
The councils consist of landowners and representatives from agencies like the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and industries like Weyerhaeuser, which have an interest in the local waterways. While they aren't regulatory agencies and don't make or enforce laws, the councils can offer comments on projects and are often approached by landowners who want to improve on environmental aspects of their property.
"If somebody has a problem on their property, we try to help them by planting habitat or bringing in agencies that can help," said Cullison. "Salmon and a healthy watershed are part of why we live here."
The chance to directly work with restoration projects involving salmon was part of what drew Cullison to the area. He takes advantage of the surrounding areas outside of work as well, and enjoys surf kayaking, hiking and is planning a third trip to climb Mount St. Helens. He added, however, that much of his time recently has been taken up by restoring his 1914 Astoria house, where he lives with his wife and their 41/2-month-old son.
On a recent sunny afternoon, Cullison was taking monitoring measurements at the site of a project by the Klaskanine River. A dike was built along the river decades ago, turning the wetlands behind it to pasture and farm land. Now, the landowner wants to convert it back to a more natural state, and so CREST joined with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Ducks Unlimited, who were already involved in the project, to help do just that.
"We've lost a lot of that habitat," said Cullison. "By removing the dikes, we're hoping to restore some of that." This summer, a group of high school students surveyed the plants on the property for monitoring purposes, but the actual construction might be pushed back because of permit delays. "Keeping momentum going" is one of his biggest challenges, Cullison said, since projects commonly take two or three years to complete.
Still, Cullison, who has been at CREST for more than three years, said he has found a good balance between being in an office setting, writing grants and attending council meetings, and working in the field, where he monitors project sites and organizes volunteer groups to help plant habitat or collect data.
"It was kind of a create-your-own-position job," he said. "It's always changing, that's the coolest part of the job."
- Kate Ramsayer