I can remember the moment I became a conservationist in the fall of 2006. I was living in Sebastopol, CA and had recently learned how to hunt ducks in the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa, the largest freshwater marsh on the northern California coast. While driving home from work I saw someone working on a car in their driveway, flushing radiator coolant down the driveway and into the street. It took a moment for me to fully understand what I was seeing, but my thought process went like this:
“Hey, that’s weird, that coolant is running down the street and into the storm drain. Wait, that storm drain empties into the Laguna. Hey that’s MY LAGUNA. And that coolant is damaging duck habitat. Those are MY DUCKS!”
This strange sense of personal ownership of my local wetland caused me to call the police to report the polluter. On an intellectual level, it didn’t make sense to consider the ducks and the Laguna as personal possessions, but that’s what I felt, and it was powerful. Before that moment, I considered myself an environmentalist, but only in a general sense; I couldn’t name one particular issue I was passionate about. But by actively participating in nature – by hunting ducks, I developed a conservation ethic and an understanding that ecosystems can be fragile and they need to be protected.
But in October 2017, I learned that it’s not good enough to simply protect our ecosystems; we need to manage them. On the night of October 8, 2017 the Tubbs Fire ripped through forested hills and into Santa Rosa, burning thousands of homes and tens of thousands of acres. My brother lost his house and my family and I were displaced because our landlord lost his house in the fires. Conditions had been ripe for a devastating firestorm: years of home-building in the wildland-urban interface, fire suppression, and a lack of land management practices like fuel-load reduction and forest thinning. We paid the price for not protecting and not managing our ecosystems.
In the face of climate change, we all need to become conservationists and we all need to shift from the outdated mindset of protecting nature by putting a fence around it and keeping people out. We’re screwing up nature and it’s our responsibility to fix it. That means sheep grazing in our public parks and highway medians, thinning small trees to promote mature healthy forests, prescribed burnings in fire-prone areas, and restoring our wetlands so they can once again sequester carbon and act as a buffer against sea-level rise.
We at the Friends of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge are conservationists. We know that weeds need to be pulled at Antioch Dunes so the buckwheat where the endangered Lange’s metalmark butterfly lays its eggs can thrive. We know that it’s not good enough to simply break levees to restore tidal flows to our wetlands. We need to provide the right terrain and conditions for wetland plants to become established before we break the levees. The endangered Ridgway’s Rail and endangered salt marsh harvest mouse found in the north bay tidal marshes rely on these wetland plants.
And we know we can’t do it without your help. Go visit your refuge. Go fish for your striped bass. Go kayaking in your sloughs. Go hiking on your trails. Go hunt your ducks. Become a participant in nature. Become a member of our group. Become a conservationist.
Friends of San Pablo Bay Wildlife Refuge