John W. Broome and Althea Pratt-Broome
Founders, The Wetlands Conservancy
Tualatin, Oregon

Wetlands are a way of life for John W. (Jack) Broome and Althea Pratt-Broome, husband-and-wife winners in the nonprofit category. Wide expanses of wetlands, trees, and wildlife habitat border three sides of their historic home in a burgeoning suburb of Portland. At the back of their three-acre parcel is the sprawling Hedges Creek Marsh. A tall beaver dam stands as a showcase attraction for the popular public tours they conduct each year.Althea, an educator specializing in alternative programs and the arts, mobilized local citizens in the 1970s after hearing of industrial development plans for the marsh and watching fill appear along the edges. In time she met Jack, a Connecticut native and founding partner of BOOR/A, an Oregon architectural firm. He became one of her hardest-working collaborators.The controversy over the development plans aroused Tualatin, then a sleepy suburban town. Public meetings, at first involving only a few concerned citizens, soon became the largest gatherings in town. Althea also lobbied regulators, the governor, and other influential officials. By 1980, these officials were all paying attention.Their victory, an impressive demonstration of grass-roots action, was unfortunately less than total. Some parts of the marsh eventually will be transformed by commercial buildings and high-rise apartments, but other important areas will be saved from development. Through the process, Althea and Jack came to an important realization: the best way to protect a resource in perpetuity is to own it.Thus was born The Wetlands Conservancy, a nonprofit, all-volunteer land trust dedicated to acquiring and preserving wetlands for wildlife habitat, public enjoyment, research, and education. Now starting its second decade, the Conservancy is campaigning across the state to protect wetlands.The Conservancy’s profile is prominent for a group with only 250 members and a shoestring budget. This is primarily due to Jack’s decision, seven years ago, to follow his heart and make the Conservancy a total commitment. Taking early retirement, he worked for wetlands protection full-time as the Conservancy’s unpaid chief operating officer, spokesman, and field supervisor. On a typical day, he opens mail while listening to telephone messages so he can stay ahead of the next flood of calls. Between interruptions, he is likely to respond to a wetland fill permit, counsel a citizen concerned about wetland damage, prepare a map for a new wetland project, or prepare documents for a committee meeting. Evenings are for catching up with environmental publications. Weekends are for work parties—for bringing other volunteers together to plant vegetation, put up nest boxes, and gather litter.Althea, meanwhile, has long made wetlands an important aspect of her Willow Brook Center for the Arts, a summer children’s program that draws more students every year to outdoor art and educational projects. Her schedule includes wetland tours, where she joins Jack in leading visitors on walks. She also presents slide shows, gives talks, and works on wetland projects with Campfire and Scout groups.In recent years, Althea and Jack have seen a tremendous increase in wetlands interest among citizens, regulators, and developers. Jack plays a key role in such diverse projects as the creation of a residential wetland; the development of a multi-benefit project for enhancing habitat, public viewing, and water-quality management; the establishment of other land trusts in Oregon; and the reestablishment of a former waterfowl haven. Busier than ever in what for most people are retirement years, Althea and Jack are finding that even as they try to slide into the shadows of the stage, the spotlight keeps following.— Larry Kurtz, Information Director, The (Oregon) Wetlands Conservancy