Two days after the recent election, I was flying from San Francisco to New York for a family visit, traveling from one liberal urban coastal bubble to another, leapfrogging the vast “red” center of the nation. Of course, from the air, it didn’t look red at all. In fact, it was a spectacularly clear and cloudless autumn day all the way across the country, and from my window seat I could see practically every mountain range, every river and lake, every farm, every small town, every power plant, every clear-cut, every road, every sensuous rumple in the landscape along that route to the East Coast. We are so blessed to have such a vast and beautiful country: so varied in landforms, so rich in nature and rich in resources and rich in people. Why, with all this wealth and beauty, had we opted for the siren song of fear and exclusion?
After the flight, I took the train from the Newark airport to Penn Station and emerged into a rush hour sea of people of all ages, hues, dress, hairstyles, and demeanors. Moving through that high-energy multiethnic crowd—commuters, vendors, schoolkids, tourists, buskers—felt uplifting and empowering, an indirect but defiant rebuke to the anti-inclusionary rhetoric and the “fear of the other” that had, temporarily at least, won the day on the national stage. It reminded me that while a significant minority of the country may be holding on to a vision of an illusory past greatness, the majority of us are ready to move on and look forward. Just as an ecosystem is healthier when it supports a diversity of plants and animals (and lichen and slime molds and bacteria), so our communities are healthier when we not only tolerate but embrace a diversity of people.
Of course, we in the conservation community have not been leaders in this regard. So we’re grateful for a new generation of conservation leaders such as Rue Mapp of Outdoor Afro (profiled in this issue) and Jose Gonzalez of Latino Outdoors (to be profiled in our July issue) and Uriel Hernandez of Canopy (one of Bay Nature’s 2017 Local Heroes who will be honored at our annual awards dinner on March 26 and will appear in our April issue). This seems more critical now than ever, as we’ll need an all-hands-on-deck approach to protecting both our natural and our human communities over the next four years.
San Francisco Bay is Exhibit A in this regard. We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: The Bay is healthier now than it has been at any time in the past 50 years. And that’s because people in this century decided to work together across disciplines and institutional boundaries to reverse the damage done over the previous two centuries. It also bears repeating that these people who worked together, and are still working together, are from the private sector, the nonprofit sector, and—yes—even the government. And if we want to keep this remarkable act of collective imagination and restoration going through the next four years, we’ll have to defend our model of region-wide collective action. And that includes the regulations that have put the brakes on development in wetlands, and the publicly funded science figuring out effective strategies for restoration, and the public agencies managing the restored wetlands for people and wildlife, and the public-private partnerships taking proactive steps to protect the Bay shoreline from climate change and sea level rise. Keeping all of this on track over the next period won’t be easy, but it is more necessary now than ever.
So for those of us still reeling from the election, here’s some modest advice: Take time this winter to visit your local section of the Bay Trail and take pride in the abundance and diversity of wildlife you’ll see along the trail. And find comfort in the similarly abundant and diverse array of humanity sharing the trail with you.
David Loeb is the publisher and executive director of Bay Nature.