Friends of the Teton River // Into Nature

Amy Verbeten, the Executive Director at Friends of the Teton River, tells us more about FTR, the Teton Watershed, and her favorite wildlife spottings.

As a part of the Into Nature Sale (May 17 – May 27), Astral is donating 5% of sales to three non-profit organizations that are working to protect soil and water. One of these organizations is Friends of the Teton River.

As a brand founded on a biodynamic farm (and in many ways still tries to operate like a farm!), Astral is proud to support FTR’s work in building and protecting a vibrant AND productive ecosystem. Amy Verbeten, the Executive Director at FTR, took some time to tell us more about her work, challenges facing the Teton River Watershed, and how she connects to Nature.

ASTRAL //  Tell us more about your roots. How did you come to join FTR?

I grew up in Walla Walla, Washington. And Walla Walla means a place of lots of water, a place of many waters in the native language. I grew up fly fishing with my dad and started working on a strawberry farm when I was 12 years old and really, in that, learned a lot about the way that water is critically important to agriculture and the communities here in the west that are supported by agriculture.

That served as my early education on the importance of water in the west. I then went on to study ecology and geology with a focus on surface process geology and the way that rivers shape landscapes. When I was in college, an undergrad at the University of Washington, I got a chance to travel all over the Pacific Northwest learning a lot more about water and the math and science behind water, which I found extremely exciting.

I also continued to learn more about education and collaboration and facilitation, bringing people together through work with a variety of different organizations and institutions, NOLS, and other groups. And then when a job with Friends in the Teton River was advertised through the NOLS Alumni Job Service, I jumped at the opportunity to come to the Teton Valley and started working for Friends of the Teton River in 2007.

ASTRAL //  Tell us a bit more about FTR, what work happens there?

Our mission here at Friends of the Teton River is to work together with our community to protect and restore clean water, healthy streams, and a thriving wild fishery in the Teton River Watershed.

We do that through a strong education program, education for our entire community. Really working together to establish priorities and shared understanding of the importance of water and the way water works. And then identifying the issues and needs surrounding water through a really rigorous science and monitoring program.

We take those needs and then we dig into the science behind them. Then we pursue on-the-ground work to take action to move forward that restoration and conservation agenda that we work with our community to establish. What that looks like is programs that work together with agricultural producers on implementing agricultural best management practices that improve water quality and reduce the need to divert water. Working together with developers on bioregionally appropriate development. Working to restore stream channels and floodplains that have been damaged by human activities. Really rigorous, best-in-class science programs to understand the fishery here. And a cradle-to-grave education program where we work with K-12 students all the way up through county commissioners, agricultural producers, and members of the community.

ASTRAL //  What are the primary concerns facing the Teton River Watershed right now?

The rapid pace of development in this area puts a huge strain on water resources, so we’re really working to try to get a handle on all of the implications of development on groundwater extraction, impacts on streams and riparian areas, impacts on water management as agricultural land converts to develop land, impacts on wastewater, whether it’s through the use of septic systems or on our city’s wastewater treatment facility.

So that’s a huge one. The impacts of climate change are tremendous and wide reaching. I really couldn’t overstate the impacts of climate change on our watershed. And then the impacts of non-native species are also a really significant concern.

ASTRAL //  Share something good that’s happened in conservation recently.

To me, the good really is evident every day. We used to always say that there’s a Mark Twain quote about how whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting over.

And we have seen that change here in the Teton River Watershed. People are coming together around water.

We have agricultural producers and stream conservationists truly working together arm and arm to create totally new ideas for how we as a community can work together to create new solutions for the age-old problem of water scarcity.

We see that every day in our work and that gives me just tremendous hope. We have a whole new group of people working together to solve the problems of tomorrow in a totally different way than we approached them in the past.

ASTRAL //  How can an everyday, regular human help?

Well, the easy answer is donate. Truly, I think that’s the easiest entry point. The work that we do, it takes money. We are eligible for a huge number of federal grants. But every single one of those requires non-federal community support in the form of matching dollars. And so, when people give to us, we typically leverage those individual private donation dollars, four to one, five to one, 10 to one in many cases. The easiest, most straightforward way is to donate to this work that we’re doing on the ground here on the Teton River Watershed.

We also encourage people to join us in the field, we have a really fun hikes and floats and tours agenda that we do during the spring and summer months, the non-snow months. And we encourage people to get involved, come learn about the Teton River Watershed. Come participate in volunteer days to clean up the river, come meet other people who are interested in it and have a passion for this watershed. Educate yourself through our website, and learn more about what is going on and consider the various different ways you might want to get involved.

ASTRAL //  What does a day in your life look like?

My job as the Executive Director is primarily to set up the enabling conditions for the rest of our staff, who actually do the work on the ground, to thrive and survive. I am based more in the office these days than I used to be. So, I’m mostly talking to potential funders, working with program staff to ensure that we have the resources that they need to get work done on the ground and ensuring that we have organizational culture and the organizational resources needed to support this work. Of course, my favorite days are the ones where I get to get outside with our program directors and truly intersect with this work on the ground.

So, my favorite days are the ones that I spend floating on the Teton River or in irrigation boots talking with our agricultural partners about how we work together to manage water into the future. The few days a year that I get to spend out doing fishery research or on the ground science and monitoring.

ASTRAL //  What is your preferred way to connect with nature?

Gosh, I feel like really any day that I spend outside is a preferred way, but I sure do love being on the river or on a stream, whatever that looks like. These days that means my daughter and I walking a trail along the Teton River or along one of our tributary streams, listening to the sound of the water, listening to and observing the birds in whatever they’re doing seasonally. Or skiing along those same paths in the snowy months and just really getting a chance to watch that seasonal change observed the seasonal patterns of this place that I call home.

ASTRAL //  What is your favorite Teton River critter?

Oh gosh that’s a tough one. There are many. I think river otters are really easy to connect with. I really love how playful they are. They are also incredible fishermen. Moose are such an iconic species on the Teton River and I love especially seeing the mamas and babies in the springtime. Some of my favorites are a little lesser known or less iconic. I really love seeing a yellow warbler fly out of the willows. I love hearing in the fall the twittering of the wax wings as they feed on Hawthorne berries. I love spotting an owl at rest during the day on a float or seeing a Night-Heron take flight as I’m floating on the river in the evening. The Sandhill Cranes and the Curlews as they arrive in the spring are to me probably where I make my greatest connections.

ASTRAL //  Who are you most inspired by?

Again, it’s a tough one to choose one. I’m really inspired by some of our agricultural partners who come from a culture and a place where conservative values and a conservative way of thinking are vitally important for survival in the agricultural industry and in a place where agriculture, due to our harsh climate and our really short growing season, that very conservative way of thinking has been the key to survival over all these years and yet they are also willing to innovate, to be change agents. The folks who can really straddle that line between conservative values and change and growth mindset and willingness to innovate. I am really inspired by those folks every day.

ASTRAL //  What’s your favorite song?

Well, that, I mean, again, gosh. There’s a Darrell Scott song that I really love called “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive”.

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