“Nature Belongs in Our Cities”
Connecting with Ruth Gravanis, environmental advocate
by Ingrid Hawkinson on October 01, 2010
Ruth Gravanis is a long-time advocate for the protection and restoration of San Francisco’s natural ecosystems. In her efforts to preserve these precious remnants, she has volunteered countless hours with many organizations, including Friends of Candlestick Point, the Mission Creek Conservancy, Sierra Club (San Francisco Bay Chapter), Golden Gate Audubon Society, California Native Plant Society, Lake Merced Task Force, Presidio Environmental Council, and Nature in the City. Ruth is currently advocating for the rich and varied native habitats of Yerba Buena Island, and for sustainable development of the island.
BN: How long have you lived in the Bay Area?
RG: I’m a San Francisco native, so I’ve lived in the Bay Area all my life.
BN: What’s your favorite park, hike, or place to go in the Bay Area?
RG: I have no favorites, and I tend to visit places I can easily get to on foot, bike, or public transit. I revel in the diversity of our area: the grasslands of Twin Peaks, Bay View Hill and Bernal Heights; the chaparral on Mount Livermore and San Bruno Mountain; the coastal scrub of Mount Davidson and Land’s End; riparian corridors in Glen Canyon and Tennessee Hollow; tidal salt marshes at Heron’s Head Park and Candlestick Point State Recreation Area; the fresh water wetlands of Lake Merced; the marine environs of Mori Point in Pacifica and the Batteries-to-Bluffs Trail . . . I could go on and on.
BN: What prompted you to become involved with the redevelopment of Treasure and Yerba Buena islands?
RG: While working at Save the Bay in the early ’90s I became aware of the exceptional restoration opportunities at all of the Bay Area’s closing military bases. So I started going to base reuse meetings, and, to make a long story short, I learned of the work of botanist Michael Wood, who had surveyed Yerba Buena Island’s flora for the Navy and also led field trips for the California Native Plant Society. Through Mike I learned of the rich and diverse plant communities of the island, and through my Audubon and North American Butterfly Association friends, I became more familiar with the birds and insects that depend on those plants.
Today, I am trying to convince the Treasure Island Development Authority to create a volunteer stewardship program to help remove the highly invasive introduced exotics that are rapidly displacing native species. Something needs to be done right now; it can’t wait until after redevelopment is underway.
But we face some definite challenges, such as educating the decision makers that our natural resources are highly valuable, and that the threat to those resources is serious. Then we must encourage them to learn from the example set by open space management agencies throughout the Bay Area. For instance, these agencies know how to handle the liability concerns of using volunteer labor, and they have tried and true ways to find funding to support a robust volunteer program.
BN: What is the most surprising thing you’ve encountered in your work?
RG: I’m surprised that our elected and appointed decision makers are still eco-illiterate, and because of this, they aren’t committed to promoting biological diversity, let alone understanding that biodiversity requires habitat diversity and that tree-dominated landscapes aren’t the only game in town.
On the other hand, sometimes I’m surprised that our human species hasn’t yet managed to destroy all of our natural heritage, and that there are so many positive signs of recovery: the extraordinary dedication of the young people working with Literacy for Environmental Justice; the neighborhood enthusiasm sparked by Nature in the City for the Green Hairstreak Project; ecological restoration projects throughout the City coordinated by the Recreation and Park Department’s Natural Areas Program; the Port of San Francisco’s support for wetlands projects such as Golden Gate Audubon Society’s work at Pier 94; and the huge numbers of volunteers restoring habitat in the Presidio and Golden Gate National Recreation Area. People are realizing that nature does belong in our cities.