Janet Alderton
Friends of the San Juans, Board Member


Can you share a little bit about yourself?

My great grandparents came to California in 1852. I was born in Oakland, California in 1950.

Three generations of women—my mother, my daughter, and I all graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. We each studied science-related fields—nutrition, zoology, and civil engineering.

I married a biologist, Richard Steinhardt, and we worked together in a cell biology lab at UC Berkeley. Rick had done some research at Friday Harbor Labs, and when he flew his small plane over the San Juan Islands in the 1990s, he decided this was the place to retire. We fell in love with Orcas Island after we bought a small boat in Anacortes and cruised the San Juan Archipelago during a late summer holiday. Rick and I moved fulltime to Orcas in 2005.

In my spare time, I am working to encourage the native plants that had been having a hard time competing with noxious weeds, deer browsing, and a dense, unhealthy forest. I replaced and expanded an old fence that the deer were literally pushing through. Now the bulbs of camas and fawn lilies and hyacinth brodiaeas, that were patiently waiting, have been able to bloom and set seed! I have also planted columbines, shooting stars, dwarf wooly sunflowers, and nodding onions from the Salish Seeds Project. A young Garry Oak is planted where a grove of shore pines died from bark beetle attack.

I used to focus on growing vegetables and fruits, but several years of drought led me to my experiment to encourage drought tolerant native species that thrive without supplemental watering. A neighbor’s well was shut down after over-pumping caused saltwater intrusion, and I know that my borderline-producing well requires careful use.

I am very concerned about wildfires. Rain Shadow Consulting has thinned my forest and limbed up the remaining trees. Conservation burn piles of the trimmings are waiting for the autumn rains to begin. Then they will be burned to create biochar.

Tell us a little bit about the organization you volunteer at.

I started volunteering at the Friends of the San Juans in 2007 to protect what I love about the San Juan Islands and the Salish Sea. Science, education, and policy are key elements at the Friends of the San Juans.

I was initially attracted to the Friends of the San Juans because of the science. We identify, map, and track through time the habitats in our islands that are most important to the lives of the salmon and the orca whales. Identifying their critically important habitats is key to protecting these amazing creatures. The challenge is that to protect salmon and orca whales, we must protect and restore critical habitats in the entire Salish Sea bioregion. This is why the Friends of the San Juans works with conservation, policy, and legal partners throughout the region. We are working to make shipping safer and less impactful as well as working to limit refinery expansions and stop new fossil fuel export facilities.

What does volunteering do for you?

Over the 17 years that I have lived on Orcas Island, so many people have shared with me their love for the San Juan Islands and their concerns that more measures are needed to protect and recover biodiversity and abundance in the San Juan Islands and the Salish Sea.

Volunteering with the Friends of the San Juans has been a satisfying way for me to work to protect and restore these beautiful islands and to connect with my community.


Visit the Friends of the San Juans to learn more. Reach out to them if you would like to get involved.

If you would like to learn about other volunteer opportunities on Orcas, please email Ed. He would love to get together for tea/coffee to chat about your interests.