Pierce Conservation District (PCD) has welcomed a new director, and she’s bringing with her qualities that raise up PCD to new heights of greatness. Dana Coggon is the first woman to lead the PCD, which puts Pierce County’s conservation district in leadership when it comes to women’s equality in top career positions in general.
Coggon is also active in her LGBTQ community, furthering PCD’s legacy of being open and affirming toward the people they hire including Pierce County Council member Ryan Mello, openly gay and PCD director prior to Coggon coming onboard.
Coggon brings a high level of experience and knowledge with her as well. Upon graduating from Colorado State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture, weed science, and pest management, she went to work at the Washington State Department of Agriculture. She has been the Kitsap County Noxious Weed Control Coordinator for the past 15 years where she took part in working with more than 4,000 private landowners for on-site management of noxious weeds – and did everything from billing and budgeting to weed pulling and spraying.
“I was basically a one-person show out there for the last many years,” she said. “The good thing is those same skill sets balance out well with my new job. The workload is expanding and the skill set is there so I’m building on what I’ve already been doing.”
As PCD director, Coggon will continue keeping her eye on invasive species and help build the restoration process.
“We know that when you take an invasive out of the area, if you don’t put something back another invasive will move in. The great news is right now we have the opportunity to take out the invasives and also build back the native habitat.
“One of the things I love to say about the Conservation District right now as I’m looking at things, it really is a holistic approach to protecting the beauty of what we have. I call it ‘environmental integrity’ – to do right by what we have in front of us.”
Coggon describes herself as a “mountains and water kid,” born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and a Tacoma resident for nearly 20 years.
“I’m always really drawn to the mountains and the Sound. Being from the base of Mount Hood in the Portland area is really a natural fit for me to show up in the Tacoma area so that I can be at the base of Mount Rainier, or Mount Tahoma as I like to call it,” Coggon said. “In less than two hours you can put your feet in the water or the snow. My passion for natural resources brought me here but my love for nature kept me here.”
Professionally, Coggon receives high praise from her colleagues and community leaders. “We are so pleased to have Dana stepping into this leadership role with the District,” said PCD Board Chair Jeanette Dorner. “We are especially proud that not only is Dana well qualified for this role because of her strong background in the work of the district, but as a woman and active member of the LGBTQ community, she represents some of the diversity that is still underrepresented in leadership positions in our country.”
Laura Ryser, director of the Washington State University Kitsap County Extension, considers Coggon “one of the most successful managers of a noxious weeds program in the state with a robust professional network and deep respect from community partners.”
In Pierce County, Gig Harbor City Council member Robyn Denson said, “In working with others she’s clear yet diplomatic, respectful, and caring – and that makes her an incredibly effective leader. In terms of a high-profile, respected leader in the environmental community, you could do no better than Dana Coggon.”
Personally, Coggon gets involved in making the world a better place. In the midst of taking the reins at PCD, she has opened her home to a foreign exchange student. She was among the first to provide stable housing for LGBTQ youth referred from Shared Housing Services, embracing these youth so that they felt loved and supported. In 2009 she took part in protests supporting Referendum 71 to expand domestic partnership benefits in our states then did the same thing in 2012 defending Referendum 74 to legalize same-sex marriage.
“Just living my life is my advocacy,” she says. “To finally be able to see (state Rep.) Laurie Jinkins marry her wife was absolutely a life changing experience for myself and many of us. It’s not in the forefront of who I am but it’s all of who I am and yet just a piece of who I am.”
Fast-forward to today, and Coggon is ready for new pages to write in her book of life as PCD director. She intends to make her job a combination of in-office and out-of-office so that she gets to be in the great outdoors that she loves so much.
“My soul likes to be out in the dirt,” she said. “I saw a great bumper sticker the other day that I keep in my mind: ‘Dirty hands makes clean money.’ I want to keep my hands dirty so we can have clean money doing good work for us.
“I encourage everybody to dig into our Conservation District website (PierceCD.org). We do some amazing work, and our staff is outstanding. We’re not only the gold standard in conservation districts; I’d say we’re the platinum standard. We help farmers, backyard gardeners, and every single person throughout Pierce County protect and preserve what makes the county as beautiful as it is.”