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Originally published Thursday, April 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Local agency, global reach

Imagine if, overnight, King County sprouted thousands of new acres of invasive plants and lost a million native trees. That would be our...

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Imagine if, overnight, King County sprouted thousands of new acres of invasive plants and lost a million native trees. That would be our reality without EarthCorps, which has rescued that much land from ivy, blackberries and other invaders, and planted that many trees.

Even more impressive than these figures is the worldwide reach of this Seattle nonprofit organization, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. The group's mission is to build global community through environmental service. Every year it trains 65 young people, ages 18 to 25, half of them from outside the United States, inspiring a legion of conservationists who will return to their homes, across America and around the world, and motivate environmental care and action.

"We look at what a project means not just from a restoration standpoint, but from a corps member's experience," said Steve Dubiel, executive director. "It's not all about getting the job done quickly. We're about making the richest possible experience and creating a greater context for restoration."

This is why they break up the monotony of ivy removal by teaching rock-climbing basics, spend time restoring trails on Mount Rainier and building bridges in the San Juan Islands. Corps members appreciate the diversity of projects: One day they're in a mossy forest in the Cedar River Watershed, the next they're readying for a volunteer project in an urban park.

Their approach is bearing fruit around the world as EarthCorps alumni apply their knowledge to projects in their home countries. There's Erwin Galido in the Philippines, training out-of-school youth in the Palawan Conservation Corps. Leonard Gacheru in Kenya brings Canadian and Kenyan young adults together in conservation work. Karmila Parakkasi is tracking and protecting endangered species in Indonesia, and Tatsuya Tsukamoto is using the EarthCorps model to create a similar organization in Japan.

The international participants also spark action in Seattle.

"If I were out removing ivy, I might not be able to influence people in that neighborhood to become environmental stewards," said Dubiel. "But if I get neighbors working alongside someone from Brazil, Bangladesh or Nigeria, they get inspired because someone came from around the world to do this work and is telling them why it's important to them. That's priceless."

— Kathryn True

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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