For a decade, San Francisco environmental attorney Brent Plater has been standing up for the rights of wildlife and wild places, first as Bay Area program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. Now, as head of the Wild Equity Institute (WEI) based in San Francisco, he continues to battle threats to endangered species and lands, as well as defending the people most impacted by these threats.
BN: When did you come to the Bay Area and what first brought you here?
BP: My first experience west of the Rockies was in 1994. I rode my bicycle from Seattle to San Francisco that summer. I went back home to Michigan and applied to law school at UC Berkeley. I was accepted and started at Boalt Hall in 1996. Other than two years at Harvard for graduate school, I’ve lived here ever since.
BN: What is the Wild Equity Institute and how did you get involved with it?
BP: The Wild Equity Institute unites the grassroots conservation and environmental justice movements in campaigns that redress inequity, both across our human communities and towards the lands in which we live. The Institute’s purpose is to unite these two occasionally disparate parts of the environmental movement into a powerful force for the creation of a healthy and sustainable global community for all. So WEI works on projects that highlight and address inequitable relationships between different segments of the population while also addressing our relationship to the land where we live.
BN: What’s one of the most interesting programs you are working on today?
BP: Probably our most well-known program is the campaign to create a new national park unit at Sharp Park, which is owned by the City of San Francisco but located in Pacifica. Currently the City runs a golf course on the property, but the course has been losing money for many years. And maintenance of the course leads to the killing of two endangered species, including the San Francisco garter snake, probably the most beautiful and imperiled serpent in North America. So together with some social service agencies we are encouraging the City to close the course and give the land to the National Park Service for use as a new unit of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. If we’re successful, we can save the City hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, link several recreation areas through Sharp Park, and help the recovery of two endangered species.
BN: Are you seeing progress on this issue?
BP: Over the past three months we’ve made major strides. We released a scientific restoration report, which San Francisco’s Sharp Park Working Group found influential and they adopted many of the report’s conclusions. We also filed a lawsuit against the City for killing endangered species. We expect that the Board of Supervisors will ultimately pass an ordinance closing the golf course and transferring the land in some fashion to the National Park Service.
BN: What do you like most about doing the work you do?
BP: I get to meet really interesting people, people who love and care for specific species, places, and communities. I’m very fortunate they let me hang around and help out when I can.
BN: Who or what in the Bay Area inspires you these days?
BP: My wife, Rose Braz, is the best human I’ve ever met. She inspires me to be a better person every day. This isn’t one of those I-bet-he-forgot-his-anniversary-and-is-trying-to-make-up-for-it answers: Ask anyone who’s ever had a chance to work with Rose and they’ll tell you the same thing! Rose has this unmatched ability to propose bold actions that build a more just and sustainable world, while still being well loved by everyone she meets. She’s also funny, a good facilitator, and innovative. It’s hard to believe that I’m the lucky person that got to marry her!
BN: What’s your favorite park, hike, or place to go in nature in the Bay Area?
BP: Even before I came to California, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area inspired me. It has so many great stories to tell. It’s our nation’s first environmental justice program, bringing the values of the National Park System closer to people; its incredible number of endangered species is both a blessing — we’re lucky to live in such a diverse area — and a cautionary tale — we need to reflect on how we interact with the park if we expect these species to survive into the future. I’m particularly partial to Mori Point in Pacifica and Rodeo Lagoon in the Marin Headlands, two great spots to find the threatened California red-legged frog.
Visit the Wild Equity Institute to learn more about Brent’s work: wildequity.org