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From Ecotrust's office in a renovated red-brick building on the banks of the Willamette River in Portland, there is a view of Broadway Bridge and Union Station. The office is an open, high-ceiling room decorated with plants, photos, maps, even a moose head, full rack and all. It could be any professional office, but "we're not," jokes communications director Ted Wolf. "We're a demolition company."
Wolf is referring to the organization's penchant for demolishing existing paradigms, especially when it comes to the relationship between conservation, rural economic development, and community decision making. Ecotrust was founded in March 1991 by Spencer Beebe, an advocate of tropical rain forest conservation, who hoped to further the credibility of international efforts by demonstrating at home - in the Pacific Northwest - what he and others were preaching abroad. Drawn by the visionary Beebe, the fourteen-member staff of paradigm-busters are an eclectic group. What they share, says Wolf, is a belief that things can be done differently.
Ecotrust has a working board of directors that meets three times a year. Like the staff, it is diverse. Unified by a core commitment to conservation, board members have achieved success in different areas. Board chair Jack Hood Vaughn is a former director of the Peace Corps; others come from private consulting, nonprofits, and banking. Ecotrust also has a large advisory council to call upon when further expertise is needed.
The overriding mission or civic agenda is to conserve and restore ecosystems by helping local communities develop their capacity to fulfill human needs and maintain ecological integrity. Most of the work is decentralized. Within the bioregion of temperate coastal rain forests, Ecotrust has local partnerships (each distinctive in character) at Columbia Pacific, Oregon; Willapa Bay, Washington; Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia; Kitlope River, British Columbia; Sitka, Alaska; and Prince William Sound/Copper River, Alaska.
To support its local partnerships, Ecotrust has also been building bioregional institutions. Interrain Pacific, an effort supported by Intel and other corporate and university participants, uses geographic information system (GIS) and other computer technologies to understand large-scale patterns of change. Mapping aerial and satellite images into computer databases provides a baseline for monitoring social, economic, and ecological changes in local ecosystems.
In its initial scoping for the Willapa Bay project, Ecotrust noticed that people didn't lack creativity or business ideas. In short supply were business skills, marketing know-how, and risk capital for business ventures. To address those problems, Ecotrust persuaded Chicago's Shorebank Corporation (parent company to South Shore Bank, noted for its success in revitalizing housing in a blighted Chicago neighborhood) to collaborate on the Willapa Bay …