Environmental work will be absorbed by other organizations

By Ann McCreary

Pacific Biodiversity Institute (PBI), a small, nonprofit environmental research organization founded by Winthrop resident Peter Morrison 25 years ago, is closing down and will be absorbed by larger environmental organizations.

PBI has had an office in the Methow Valley since its founding in 1993, and conducted research on biodiversity and ecosystem health. It also conducted conservation and research programs in the Puget Sound and in South America, and had offices in Anacortes and Argentina.

Morrison, who was executive director, decided to resign that position in 2017 and continue to do research, and PBI hired Phoebe Barnard, a climate change scientist who was working in southern Africa, as executive director.

The PBI board and staff decided in March this year that the organization would close and move programs and staff into other organizations. “As a tiny organization, we faced a financial situation and level of visibility that simply weren’t sufficient to achieve our goals,” according to an announcement from PBI’s board president and vice president.

“Joining forces with better resourced, highly respected and internationally active organizations is what we felt compelled to do as the surest path to protect our valuable programs and increasingly threatened environment,” they said. “Instead of competing for limited funds, people and political attention, environmental organizations can be more impactful when they collaborate and share resources.”

PBI was “an overextended organization with the resources it had,” Barnard said Tuesday (May 29). “We knew we had to raise significant funding, but we had no idea how hard it would be.”

Efforts to secure grants or other funding were hampered by a “significant drawdown” in the organization’s finances between 2012 and 2016, Barnard said. “Donors that would have supported [PBI] were in a position that they wouldn’t take a financial risk,” she said.

“At a certain point we realized it was better to reincarnate the programs, staff and assets in bigger organizations that could achieve what we intended to do. It’s a wonderful organization. We feel sad to close it down,” said Barnard, who said she was laid off as executive director in March at her request.

Three organizations — the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, the Conservation Biology Institute, and Natura International — will absorb PBI by June 30.

PBI’s South America Wildlands and Biodiversity Initiative will become part of Natura International, which is based in Washington, D.C., and works in Latin America to secure lands for protected areas. That organization will take on all of PBI’s South American programs, including the staff.

Barnard brought with her to PBI a “biodiversity early warning system” that she had developed in southern Africa. She will continue that work, including developing a pilot program for North America, at Conservation Biology Institute, a nonprofit based in Corvallis, Oregon.

Other wildlands, ecological connectivity and leadership work conducted by PBI will transfer to the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, based in Bozeman, Montana. Barnard will also work there part-time as a senior science policy advisor “to establish and advance global connectivity policy and implementation across Africa, South America and Asia,” according to PBI’s announcement.

Over the past year PBI’s headquarters has been in Anacortes. Barnard said Morrison left the organization last year and the PBI office in Winthrop has had only one part-time employee who does not plan to move to the other environmental organizations that will absorb PBI. PBI is seeking donations to help pay transition costs, according to the announcement.