Kim McDonald: Fish Over Gold


Kim McDonald is an environmental activist with a law degree, a PhD, and a fighting spirit. Her current project is leading Fish Not Gold, a nonprofit dedicated to saving Washington State’s salmon streams from hobby miners who use machines to dredge for gold.


How do you describe the work that you do?

As the founding director of Fish Not Gold I coordinate our legislative, scientific, and legal strategies.  Specifically I work with our partners, such as Trout Unlimited, to direct our legislative work at the Washington State capital, coordinate our science work out in the field and collect evidence of Clean Water Act and Endangered Species violations by suction dredge miners.

Why does it matter?

Suction dredge mining is a form of recreational or hobby mining that destroys riparian areas critical to aquatic species.  Washington State is the epicenter of endangered species listings for salmon, the iconic steelhead, and bull trout.  This type of mining has been banned in Oregon, and California, and severely restricted in Idaho.  But in Washington the state allows miners to suction dredge in streams that are critical habitat for these endangered species.  Meanwhile, taxpayers spend hundreds of millions in salmon/steelhead restoration projects, which suction dredge mining can instantly destroy.  Just stopping this horrible form of mining will help salmon and steelhead recovery enormously.

What do you see as your most significant, recent accomplishment?

Starting this campaign.  No one else wanted to start it, so I decided to become a one woman band!  Finally, we got a number of other organizations with a lot more heft to join us.  We are getting significant media coverage–notably a story on PBS Newshour–key policy makers are paying attention to us, and we continue to grow in numbers of people active on this issue.

When you first began environmental work, what was the best advice you received?

When you work to protect the environment it is a long, long, long struggle. Celebrate the little wins or else you will never celebrate at all.

Now that you are an accomplished advocate, what advice would you give to a younger person eager to make a mark in your field?

Choose your issues wisely, but listen to your heart.  Passion makes advocacy work much easier, so work on issues or causes that you feel in your heart.  Take very good care of yourself because this kind of work can take a toll on health and your relationships.  Last, don’t be above doing all types of work…it gives you empathy and empathy helps solve the issues you work on.

Resolutions for 2016 on Things That Really Matter

‘To Do’ in 2016: New Year’s Resolutions

2016 calendar from the Nature Conservancy

This year’s calendar from the Nature Conservancy

Walk more. Even though the general consensus is that we should walk 10,000 steps per day, the folks at Live Science point out that doing anything beyond what you usually do is an improvement. So if 10k steps seems daunting, try for 5,000. Then work up to a higher goal. Pick up an inexpensive pedometer or spring for a Garmin or FitBit wrist band to keep track of your steps and motivate you to keep moving.

Read something hopeful. Try Bill McKibben’s great memoir, Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, the story of his experiences as a leader in the *successful* protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. Together, we CAN make a difference. Focus on success as much as on the work that remains.

Read it in paper. Research shows that sleep and concentration are negatively affected when we read on a digital, electronic device. Kindles and iPads have their place, but like Elvis, paper books will never die. Check out more medical benefits of paper.

Voting Rights demonstration in front of the Supreme Court

Demonstration in front of Supreme Court in 2013. Photo: David Sachs/SEIU

Support voting rights. This is the first big voting year since the Supreme Court removed key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Now it’s very, very important for all of us to speak out if we see someone who is blocked or discouraged from voting.  Get informed about the sneaky ways that voting rights of certain groups are abridged. Read more on this important topic from Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, writing in the New Pittsburgh Courier.

Live more sustainably. Use public transportation. Ride a bike or a scooter. Walk to work (See #1). Buy local foods and eat what’s in season. Don’t let the faucet run or leave the frig door open. Turn down the heat and put on a sweater (See Jimmy Carter, 1977, a president ahead of his time). Or be really ambitious and build an earthship.

And another thing — Don’t make your resolutions list too long or too complicated. A few things done consistently beat a huge list that just gathers dust.

Lessons in Leadership

Mentored by Frances

IMG_1069.JPGI am one of thousands—perhaps by now tens of thousands—who will tell you they were mentored by Frances Hesselbein, whom Forbes magazine has called “America’s greatest leader.” A few years ago, at a tribute dinner for Frances, US Army General Eric K. Shinseki joked that he and scores of other well-known public figures belonged to a club called “Mentored by Frances.” Humor aside, I have no doubt this is true. Frances is a world class master of leadership development.

I often draw on the things I learned from Frances, particularly her dictum that one should lead by example. Easier said than done, but that’s the point of much that Frances advises. She is a phrasemaker whose pithy sayings stick in one’s head like charms, urging us to aspire to greatness. At this point, I’m fortunate to have known Frances for 35 years. That’s a lot of advice and a lot of lucky charms. Here are the five I treasure most.

Manage for the Mission — I’ve spent most of my life working in and consulting with nonprofit organizations. This is the single most important thing to keep in mind if you want your nonprofit to be successful. Sometimes it means taking more time than anticipated, so you can be inclusive or build support for an idea. Sometimes it means forgoing a donation or earned income opportunity. Whenever there’s a question about what to do, this is the criterion on which you base your decision.

Leadership Is How to Be, Not How to Do — Always be aware that people look to you for signals on how to behave and what to think, especially in difficult situations. You can set a good example or a poor one. Whichever it is, how you handle yourself—not the things you say—is what people will remember.

We Do Not Learn from Our Successes — Failure provides valuable information that can contribute to a success later on. Good leaders make it safe for people to admit problems and focus on fixing things, rather than hiding mistakes out of fear or shame, only to have them grow into greater hurdles.

Challenge Up, Support Down — This may not be original to Frances, but I know that she was saying it years before 2009, which is the first reference I find for it on the Web. I love this one because it crystallizes one of the main functions of a leader or manager—to be an advocate for followers. It doesn’t mean you must support every thing a follower does, good or bad, but it does mean you provide public support and work with the person in private to correct any problems.

To Serve Is to Live — This is Frances’s Twitter handle and one of her more recent aphorisms. Lewis Howe is credited with saying “to live is to serve” and I think that Frances’s reversal means something different than what Howe had in mind. Howe is saying that service is a condition of life. Everyone has someone or something that must be served. Frances is saying that life is the result of service, that a focus on serving others gives meaning to one’s life. (Perhaps that’s contributed to her many years of productivity.)

Certainly, Frances Hesselbein’s life has meaning not only for the things she herself has accomplished, but for the things that she has inspired others to accomplish. In the end, this attention to developing leadership abilities in others will amplify Frances’s contribution and have an outsized impact on the world. And it increases the impact of each member in the Mentored by Frances club, a non-exclusive group if there ever was one—and we’re proud of it.