Sad News for Our Prairies

Sad News for Our Prairies

Sad news Patrick Dunn died July 28, 2020 of a heart attack.  He will be missed as a leader in conservation in Washington’s South Sound and his vision for the state’s prairie lands.

“Prairies are part of Washington’s natural and cultural heritage,” says Patrick Dunn, Director of the Center for Natural Lands Management’s South Puget Sound Program. “We value open space and want to protect the land and wildlife so future generations can enjoy these special places, too.”

Pat worked to bring resources and people from many disciplines to protect the area’s amazing prairie oak savannas with their species in decline. Now it is to us to continue his vision.

Gail Trotter FOPP President


  1. I first came down to the South Sound Prairies for an October planting work party. Pat Dunn was there and talked about the prairie ecosystem and why it was so important. That was 1998. Pat was already the driving force behind prairie restoration in this area and continued to be so until his health failed. We will miss him and his leadership tremendously.

    Dennis Plank

  2. Pat was a man of vision and drive, not easily deterred. He leaves a conservation legacy in this region that will shape both human and natural landscapes in perpetuity. We owe much to his hard work, persistence and willingness to think outside the box. He touched many lives, both human and animal, reaching far and wide in his efforts to build community conservation. Many of us do what we do today because of his foresight and leadership. Thanks for your many years of service, Pat! You will be missed.

  3. I worked with Pat for 10 years, and have been inspired by his innovative advocacy for prairie conservation in the South Puget Sound and Willamette Valley ecoregions. He also provided strong support for the MAPS program at Glacial Heritage Preserve, which is in it’s 8th year of operation. I will miss his insight, vision and support. His legacy shall continue in the preserves and conservation lands established under his watch.

  4. I am posting this from the Black Hills Audubon Society. We will miss Pat and his invaluable contributions to prairie conservation. – Elizabeth Rodrick, Vice President

    2016 BHAS Jack Davis Conservationist of the Year – Patrick Dunn

    Patrick earned his bachelor’s in biology from The Colorado College and his master’s in ecology from California State University, Los Angeles. Pat has restored natural lands and conserved rare species in salt marshes of Southern California, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the tropical dryland and rainforests of Hawaii, and the prairies and oak woodlands of Cascadia. Pat’s expertise includes habitat restoration and management for rare species, including plants, rainforest birds and prairie butterflies, birds and mammals.

    More than 20 years ago, Pat founded the South Puget Sound prairie conservation and restoration effort that originated with The Nature Conservancy and was transitioned to the Center for Natural Lands Management in 2011. Patrick provides direction, management and oversight for CNLM’s preserves and operations in Washington. Under his direction the South Puget Sound Program was designated the pilot for the Sentinel Landscapes Program, a federal initiative that brings together three federal agencies to assist conservation in a specific landscape, in this case the South Sound Prairies.

    If you visit Prairie Appreciation Day in May at the Glacial Heritage Preserve you will now see about 600 acres of blue camas, yellow buttercups and a myriad of other flowers, a much different sight than the wall of Scotch broom prior to restoration. You can visit a patch of federally listed golden paintbrush that today contains more individuals than were present in the world ten years ago. Pat helped this plant on its way to one of the fastest trajectories ever to become a delisted species. Similarly, you might be lucky enough to see some Taylor’s checkerspots, a federally listed butterfly that was reintroduced.

    Pat’s restoration efforts started with helping Joint Base Lewis-McChord on their prairies – improving the Army’s training lands for both the soldiers and conservation. That relationship with the Dept. of Defense remains today, and provides major funding of prairie conservation efforts in the South Sound, both on and off military lands. Pat also initiated much of the infrastructure needed to conduct restorations throughout the region. Fire is a historically important process on prairies, and Pat’s group now leads the greatest number of prescribed burns in the Northwest.

    They work with the Evergreen State College Sustainability in Prisons Project, where inmates grow and plant a hundred thousand plant plugs each year, benefitting both conservation and the community of inmates. They also employ vets from the Veterans Conservation Corps providing the simple joy of working outdoors alongside a mission driven team dedicated to conservation.

    Furthermore, Pat has completed a number of critical land acquisitions advancing efforts to protect the South Puget Sound Prairies. He assisted with the Black Hills Audubon and Friend’s project, the West Rocky Prairie Wildlife Area. Pat advised our attempt to save this area from development by Citifor and the Port of Tacoma. Through the negotiations, the initial owner sold the site to the WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, creating a wildlife area that supports western spotted frogs, golden paintbrush and Mazama pocket gophers. We also procured a mitigation fund that continues to support conservation projects on the wildlife area.

    Pat has cultivated partnerships with diverse groups, developing innovative conservation strategies to facilitate prairie conservation throughout the ecoregion, from British Columbia through the Willamette Valley. We thank Pat for his tremendous work.

  5. So sad to hear about Pat. When I first started working with the natural areas program in 1995, Pat had just recently moved from Hawaii and begun working in the South Sound for The Nature Conservancy. We met early on and he was a very friendly, welcoming person — he really liked blues music and I recall going to see a show at the 4th Ave. At that time, aside from some tree removal and a few burns at Mima Mounds, there wasn’t a lot going on in the world of prairie conservation. No seed nursery, no Shotwell’s Landing nursery, no prescribed burn crew, no weed control crews, no monitoring crews, no tractors or mowers dedicated to the prairies. 15 years later when I moved back to Olympia and became involved in prairie work, I was astounded at how much had changed and the level of conservation work taking place. Of course quite a few other people had a lot to do with this as well, but Pat got it started and built an amazingly effective program through TNC and then with CNLM. And that program filtered out to all of us doing prairie conservation. I remember a few year ago at a going away party for a CNLM employee, standing with Pat and looking at a room full of 30 or 40 people, mostly CNLM staff and many of them talking about their prairie work, and thinking back to when I first met him and he was a program of one. I looked at him and said “Hey, you did it Pat! Nice job.” I’m thinking the same thing right now and will appreciate his efforts every time I’m out in the prairies.

  6. Pat was a friend from the first when he moved here to work for TNC; he encouraged me to help start Friends of Puget Prairies and Prairie Appreciation Day along with our cadre of volunteers. His strength was a pain when he didn’t agree and a huge boon when he did. His commitment and support for conservation always gave us – his colleagues- a reason to collaborate and partner on a variety of important projects. I always knew he wouldn’t be a pushover, and that made me up my game.
    I will be remembering many moments with Pat in the next days.
    Much love to all,

  7. From Dave Hays:

    I remember the first day I met Pat. It was the 1990s, not long after he started working for The Nature Conservancy. The Natural Heritage Program provided him an office in the Natural Resources Building. Someone suggested that I should meet him, that we might have common interests, so I wandered down a floor and interrupted whatever he was doing to visit. I was immediately impressed by his outsized drive, his determination. He was not a common entity. He was clearly not working within the bounds of some defined job description or work plan. He had no semblance of bureaucratic burden, no restrictions to action, and no concerns that others might disagree with his objectives. I sensed some animosity toward Pat from other workers nearby. Right away. I immediately thought I needed to work with this guy; I immediately thought we were going to struggle to get along. I don’t know which came first but I was right.
    I had previously learned that it took tremendous patience, drive, essentially consistent work consistently applied to conserve endangered species and systems. Pat had the makeup, it was obvious. He wasn’t going to work on something for a couple years and walk away to do something else. He was committed to work for as long as it took. He started dug in.
    We talked for months, I talked with my supervisors about moving some emphasis to prairie species and prairie conservation in my job for months and months, and an opening presented itself. I can’t remember how we found the funds for our first joint research project on prairie butterflies, but it happened – a collaboration between Pat, myself, and Ann Potter on nectar preferences on 4 prairie butterflies. It was a success, and the constant discussions left us exhausted. During the study, the South Sound populations of Taylor’s checkerspot crashed and many were extirpated. It had a profound impact on the 3 of us, and others.
    Pat believed that collaboration with like-minded conservationists was half the battle; the other half was collaboration with people that didn’t share your beliefs. He believed that being questioned and challenged not only led to better outcomes, but was essential to success. He challenged others to the best of his ability, which left his own shortcomings open for inspection. He could be rough, he could irritate. His mind whirred and worked, turbulent and conflicted. He made you question your own beliefs. If you didn’t believe Pat’s direction was right, well, you had to step up and figure out what was right. There was no avoidance.
    He made mistakes. But he was willing to lead when no one else wanted to. He was willing to do the grinding work that moved patiently forward. He was willing to steer and lead knowing well his own shortcomings in doing so.
    Pat and I went from struggling to get along for years, to understanding each other and working with each other for years, to respecting each other for years, which led to friendship for years. In the last year we both worked, we met for impromptu sessions where we just got together and talked, each trying to articulate how we viewed the conservation issue of the moment, how we could move forward, how we interpreted this or that, how we could find funding, how we could succeed. Its these meetings I will remember most. It was the highest sense of collaboration, of seeking reality in a turbulent world, of shared caring for something precious.
    Pat would ask that we remember him by going out sometime and pulling broom, or collecting seed, and enjoying the prairie. He would ask we to go out there and do those things even on the darkest days of our lives. He would ask us to vote, stay engaged, to value and care. He would ask that we do more for only the reason that someone needs to.

  8. I have so many memories of working side-by-side on prairie acquisition and protection with Pat over the years. He was tenacious when it came to environmental protection….like a dog with a bone. Committed! For Pat, it was about the plants, it was about the birds, it was about the butterflies. He knew he couldn’t protect them alone and so he pulled people in to collaborate…that was one of the things he did best. He encouraged (with gentle but constant pressure) people to collaborate until the resource was protected. That is his legacy. I share that desire, and had the good pleasure of working with Pat on some amazing prairie acquisitions. The wild things will sing his praises as they return to bloom, and fly, and breed, and pupate long after people move back to their busy lives. You will be missed Pat.

  9. It was around 2002 when I first met Pat. It was soon after that I found myself working the bird booth at Prairie Appreciation Day. The Black Hills Audubon prairie bird display was along the Black River far from the entrance. I will always remember Pat shuffling down the dusty road visiting all booths in order to thank volunteers for their support of prairie education. It was a pleasure to talk with Pat on the annual celebration of South Sound Prairies.

    Pat’s knowledge and love for prairie was endearing. Equally impressive was his command of the politics for advocating prairie protection. He was always careful about his input. When I made a rare call to him for advice, perhaps two times a year, Pat would gracefully answer my call. And when we did convene, he quickly seemed to be one or three steps ahead of me. Most calls ended with the thought of “well, I hadn’t thought of that!!” Among his successes, we all can thank Pat for being instrumental in the purchase of West Rocky Prairie between 2005 and 2006.

    At the January pot lucks, Pat would scout me out and ask me to join his table because I was unfamiliar with most attendees. It was fun to chat with Maria, his wife, and hear of the musical successes of his son.

    And I cherished my knowledge not to call Pat in early spring because he would be on his annual fly fishing trip to Montana. Having spent six years along the Madison River, my just knowing that he was in another paradise for which we both shared a love brought enormous joy to my heart. In my mind’s eye, Pat is now fly fishing on the serenely beautiful Madison River to the count of the cast and the music of rippling water. We will miss you Pat.

  10. It is sad to see a familiar face gone from the prairie. Pat Dunn will be missed by all who knew him. He loved the South Sound Prairies, and the continued work of volunteers to protect and enhance this wonderful ecosystem will be the best way to recognize his contributions. I spent many a Saturday removing Scotch Broom, and I always enjoyed Pat’s company when he was able to join us.