Hero Bios

2015 Environmental Heroes

Chris Moench, land conservationist and artist

Chris Moench is recognized for his work as an advocate and leader on the Whatcom Land Trust Board of Directors. Under his various leadership roles, the Trust has helped to protect 20,000 acres across the County. His stalwart dedication has contributed to the creation of seven outstanding county parks including the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve, Canyon Lake Community Forest, Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve, the Nesset Farm and Lilly Point Marine Reserve. These properties feature many miles of important fresh and saltwater shoreline, old growth forest, and critical wetlands – crucial tracts of land in sustaining and strengthening the resilience of our local ecosystems, especially in the face of climate change.

Chris also played an invaluable role on the County's first Critical Areas Ordinance Committee. Bringing strategic vision, Chris’s ability to facilitate equitable solutions between contentious viewpoints made it possible for the committee to take great strides in protecting biologically important wetlands, streams, and riparian areas.

Chris has used his artistic talents to raise awareness of the need for healing the environment, including his bronze prayer wheel commemorating the Olympic Pipeline Tragedy and the restoration of Whatcom Creek, and one for his holiness the Dalai Lama to bring global attention to our need for developing thoughtful, creative, engaged members of society..

Today Chris is working on "The Resilience Narrative project", an endeavor to increase engagement and understanding of resilience among diverse groups using a combination of elements designed to communicate across cultures.

Eric Hirst
, water resources and land management defender

Eric Hirst is recognized for his work in advocating for water resources, land-use planning, and forward-thinking electoral politics. As a founder and Steering Committee President of Futurewise Whatcom, Eric made tremendous impacts in the protection of farmland, forests, and shorelines as well as in smart planning for healthy cities.

As a dedicated and engaged member of RE Sources’ board of directors from 2010-2015, Eric was instrumental in setting the strategic direction for the organization’s future. He was a strong supporter of developing the Power Past Coal coalition to oppose coal export from Cherry Point, a vocal advocate for beginning the Safe Fuels Initiative to oppose unsafe rail shipment of explosive oil from the Bakken formation, and was a driving force in founding the WaterWork program to bring long-term solutions to water conflicts in our growing County.

Eric is a deeply engaged citizen who takes personal responsibility for learning, educating others and initiating a more resilient and sustainable future. He applies his professional engineering experience to author science-based papers on local water resource management, and contributes regularly to the community discourse through articles in local publications and compelling letters to the editor.

His passion to protect Whatcom County’s diverse landscapes and lifestyles has led him to advocate for wiser land use planning – putting his name and reputation on the line through legal action – to sway our county government to adopt prudent growth management principles and adhere to Washington’s Growth Management Act mandates.

Eric has served on the Bellingham Budget Advisory Committee, Bellingham Herald Voices, Bellingham Greenway Advisory Committee, and Bellingham Capital Facilities Task Force. Before coming to Whatcom County, Eric worked as an energy policy analyst at Oak Ridge National Laboratory on energy efficiency and the electricity industry for 30 years.

Larry McCarter & RDS
, progressive waste manager

Larry McCarter is recognized for his leadership in responding to our community’s needs for more progressive waste management. Nearly two decades ago, when Whatcom County was incinerating its waste and hauling it long distances to be landfilled, Larry founded Recycling and Disposal Services (RDS). One of only two privately owned waste facilities in the state, RDS has been a nimble and forward-thinking example of prioritizing values over profits. Remaining on the cutting edge of progressive waste management technologies, RDS provides cost-attractive options to increase recycling for businesses, residents, and municipalities. In 2013, RDS installed a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) – facility, machinery, and staff that hand-sort municipal solid waste for recyclables. The MRF employs 10 people, saves thousands of tons of usable materials from landfills, and is the only one of its kind north of Seattle. RDS is also the only local facility that uses the tipping fees to sponsor an entire set of jobs geared at recovering recyclables from the mixed loads of garbage. Since RDS has opened, our community has saved over $60,000,000 in disposal fees, diverted over two years’ worth of garbage, recycled an average of 20,000 tons per year, and employed 25 locals. RDS continues to prioritize increasing recycling rates over profitability.

Additionally, RDS has become a leader in stormwater management, developing an aggressive six-step response system to control its storm water discharges. Filters are checked after each rain, filtration vaults are monitored daily, and the bio-swale is maintained annually. For a business dealing with so many contaminants, they take their responsibility to prevent pollution of Bellingham Bay seriously. 

Pete Haase
, dedicated citizen-scientist

Pete Haase, long-time volunteer leader, is recognized for his outstanding commitment to improving marine and fresh water resources in our region. For over a decade, Pete has been a stalwart volunteer leader for numerous environmental organizations in Whatcom and Skagit County who take a science-based approach to addressing the Salish Sea’s most vexing environmental issues. By inspiring others to share in his passion and responsibility, Pete is accelerating and deepening community support for complex and interrelated environmental issues.

Pete takes responsibility for filling in gaps where agency resources are lacking through citizen science. As a volunteer, he trains citizen scientists to collect and analyze reliable data that is key to the health of marine food webs throughout the Salish Sea. The information from Pete’s surveys help protect known spawning areas, guide shoreline development projects, determine impacts in the event of an oil spill, show trends of spawning over time, and monitoring effects of nearshore restoration projects.

Pete also coordinates and leads volunteer forage fish spawning surveys in Skagit County. This includes year-round surveys throughout Fidalgo Bay, where Pete and his team are out on the beaches at least two weeks of every month, regardless of the weather. The data Pete and his teams collect are invaluable assets in assessing spawning activity in correlation to construction, habitat improvement efforts, and the Aquatic Reserve’s Management Plan.

Understanding the connection between science, policy and action, Pete has established himself as a well-respected voice by professional scientists, resource managers and citizens alike. He is sought out for his expertise, integrity and dedication to citizen action.

Susan Taylor, Environmental Educator

Susan is recognized for her efforts to change residential landscape practices that have a negative impact on water resources and the environment. Gardening is not a benign activity and landscape choices matter. Residential landscapes offer a significant opportunity to restore critical ecosystem functions that are lost when wild lands become towns and suburbs. Traditional landscapes with large lawns have been identified as contributing to excess storm water runoff and phosphorus and nitrogen loading to sensitive watersheds and the Puget Sound. In 2009 Sue developed a sustainable landscape class called Gardening Green as a Master Gardener volunteer project. This class heightens awareness of negative environmental impacts of many common gardening practices and provides the knowledge and skills needed for individuals to take actions to protect and improve the quality of area waters, manage storm water on-site, and create wildlife habitat. WSU Whatcom Extension, City of Bellingham, and Whatcom County have supported the continuation of the class for the past seven years. Participants have been inspired to adopt stewardship behaviors, make on-the-ground changes to their landscapes, and become partners in outreach education about water quality issues and sustainable landscaping. Neighbor teaching neighbor builds community, personal relationships, and a healthy environment. Sue served on the Bellingham Park Board, Lake Whatcom Watershed Advisory Board, several Greenways levies, and helped start the Students for Salmon educational program for the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association. The curricula and outdoor environmental classroom created along Ten Mile Creek while teaching in the Meridian School district earned her the honor of being the 1995 National Conservation Teacher of the Year by the National Association of Conservation Districts.