This summer Bellingham was engulfed in a haze of smoke from forest fires, a not-so-subtle reminder that there, but for the grace of Mother Nature and a knucklehead with fireworks, go I. As a transplanted Midwesterner, I sought out Sudden Valley craving to live in the shadow of the gentle giants that create such a beautiful canopy against the sky. Now settled in and getting the lay of the land, I realized that my tall friends could quickly become mortal enemies.
Then I met Anne Mosness, our resident firebrand, who was single-handedly taking on complacency and sharing information about Firewise, an internationally recognized preparedness program that encourages citizens to partner with local emergency and forest management resources to reduce a community’s wildfire risk.
To learn more about steps to reduce fire risk on your property, please refer to Anne’s article.
As a society, I think we’re secretly pleased when someone steps up to be the whistleblower, goes toe-to-toe with a bully or worries about the what-ifs. What forges the spirit of someone like Anne?
Without any male siblings, Anne’s father asked for her assistance one summer as a deck hand in Alaska. Although she’d summered in a cabin on the San Juan shoreline, girls did not typically work around the docks. Despite having no training, she attributes her success in the industry to overcoming obstacles working as a shelter counselor in Seattle’s Central District. By comparison, fishing seemed elemental and satisfying.
She eventually bought her own vessel and fished the dangerous waters of the Copper River and Bristol Bay, north of the Aleutian Islands. This dangerous occupation taught her that reducing risk was crucial since she was responsible for her crew, as well as making a living.
“I became a person who sees the beauty in nature but is not too complacent,” Anne explained. “I have the utmost respect for nature and survived by being hyper-vigilant especially by ensuring preventative maintenance, having the proper equipment for conditions and anticipating risks as much as possible. Our greatest fear as captains is accidents, and in nearly three decades on fishing boats, no one was injured … or worse.”
As president of the Women’s Maritime Association, she learned there were no criminal penalties for rape or assault onboard vessels and worked for eight years to get a law passed in Congress that required skippers to report attacks or face fines.
While working in the wild salmon fishing industry, she became concerned with marine and environmental issues. In the mid-1990s, she began researching and writing about the hazards of putting feedlots of non-native species in public waters.
When a huge warehouse fire in Bristol Bay in 2001 destroyed 35 boats including her own, it set the stage for the next chapter in her life. She became a research consultant with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, National Environmental Trust and Public Citizen.
Anne received a WK Kellogg Foundation Fellowship and spent the next 10 years traveling and speaking about marine and fisheries issues. While attending a conference, one speaker captured her attention as he described a century of failed forest management. She realized that with her move to Sudden Valley 33 years previously, she was living in a “Woodland Urban Interface” of homes built in and surrounded by dense woods, with a strict home owner’s association policy preventing tree removal and limbing.
“Concern for aesthetics can sometimes be contrary to safety,” Anne stated. “I became a member of the Architectural Control Committee to bring information about forest health and wildfire risk to the community. It takes people speaking up to change policies, otherwise people won’t think of it. I was more concerned about safety than most because of my years in the fishing industry.”
Anne wrote two grants to bring wildfire prevention and education to her community. One DNR grant provided branch chipping for over 200 homes. The second Whatcom Community Foundation Project Neighborly grant provided funds for 1,000 books on Fire Resistant Plants for Home Landscaping, free vine maples and informational community gatherings. To read more about the Firewise community awareness efforts, please read this Project Neighborly article.
Anne recently heard Hillary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands and head of the Department of Natural Resources speak. By August, 400 fires had burned on DNR forest lands in the state of Washington. Although we haven’t seen any major fires in the past couple years, Chuckanut was big, as was Sumas, Cranberry Lake and Stewart Mountain. And we’re poised for huge fires on Mount Baker, the Cascade Mountains and Olympic Peninsula.
“Prevention is the best way to keep disasters from happening and mitigating risk ties every component of my life together,” Anne said.
Thank goodness there are people like Anne Mosness with the foresight to plan ahead for issues we’d rather not imagine happening in our own back yard.