NSEA appoints Vasak as executive director
By Cynthia St. Clair
Rachel Vasak, who has worked for the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association in a variety of capacities as both a staff member and a volunteer for more than a decade, was appointed executive director in March. She had been performing the role of acting executive director since the resignation of Mark Taylor in January.
Rachel’s experience with NSEA includes coordinating scientific monitoring of stream restoration projects, managing volunteer, education and community outreach programs and budgets, grant writing, tracking and reporting. In addition, she has served as a volunteer in every capacity at the organization.
“My first experience with fish was watching chum and coho in Grandy Creek, a tributary of the Skagit River, in the mid-’70s,” Rachel said, “and my latest experience with fish was this February, helping my 2-month-old son, Fenton Scott Vasak, plant eyed chum eggs into the Terrell Creek Remote Site Incubator with other community volunteers.”
Her initial experience with a riparian restoration project was in 1996, doing survey work at the recently completed City of Ferndale Schell Creek site and planting trees as an NSEA volunteer.
Most recently, the Vasak family – Rachel, husband Ryan, who works as a fish biologist for the Lummi Natural Resources Department, Lummi Tribe, and son Fenton – joined other NSEA volunteers in planting trees and shrubs along Scott Creek, Everson, in the cold March rain.
Diverse NSEA experience
When Rachel joined the NSEA staff in 1996 as a monitoring technician and coordinator, her focus was the coordination of monitoring programs, which included training and supervising interns and volunteers to perform survey work, substrate analysis, LWD movement, sediment transport, cross sections and profiles, as well as water quality, water quantity, macroinvertebrate surveys, smolt traps and spawner surveys.
In 1999, the NSEA volunteer coordinator position was added to Rachel’s job description. “Since I first came to NSEA as a volunteer myself, I felt that I knew volunteer coordination from the reverse perspective,” she said. “My initial experience has grown into a tremendous admiration and respect for each and every member of the critical base of volunteers who work with NSEA.”
Rachel estimates that she coordinated more than 65,000 volunteer hours served at NSEA over nearly a decade.
“We are fortunate to be able to offer a very wide range of volunteer opportunities, from work parties, educational projects and office jobs to staffing remote site incubators and acclimation ponds, or monitoring water quality, water quantity and smolt traps, or doing spawner and vegetation surveys,” she said. “That helps us to attract and retain dedicated volunteers of all ages and experience levels.
“It’s our volunteers who have helped me understand the different
reasons why the work we are doing matters so much..
“Some want to donate their time so that fish come back in greater numbers and can be caught, sold and profits realized – kind of a long-term ‘investment portfolio’ for people who make their living catching salmon.
“Others volunteer to ‘connect the dots’ environmentally: plant trees so the leaves fall in the stream, macroinvertebrates eat the leaves, fish eat the bugs, and so forth. They take pleasure in helping bring back healthy streams from the garbage dumps many of the streams once were. Still others believe that the salmon represent a cultural identity that was here long before European influences crossed the Atlantic.”
In 2000, the education programs were added to Rachel’s responsibilities and with mentoring and guidance from then-Executive Director Wendy Scherrer, NSEA began its first official school-based education program. “This program has grown tremendously and we now work annually with more than 1,200 students,” Rachel said.
On a personal note
Rachel has lived in Whatcom County since 1990 and has a degree in environmental and engineering geology from Western Washington University.
The Vasak family has two dogs, 30 chickens, between seven and 70 ducks and often a couple of pigs, as well as several large gardens, at their home near Lake Terrell. Her other interests include traveling, cooking, skiing, snowboarding, rock and alpine climbing, kayaking, camping, fishing and teaching avalanche safety at Mt. Baker Ski Area.