Bay Nature Local Heroes

Meet Bay Nature’s 2017 Local Heroes

November 2, 2016

“Many of us live in the Bay Area because of its rich natural heritage. And once a year we like to recognize just a few of the many people who are responsible for protecting and stewarding it.” — David Loeb, publisher, Bay Nature

Every year, Bay Nature Institute selects several people whose extraordinary work on behalf of conservation and environmental education in the Bay Area warrants special recognition and appreciation. This year, we’re proud to announce four Bay Nature “Local Heroes” for 2017, selected by Bay Nature Institute board and staff from over fifty nominations submitted by members of the Bay Area conservation community. Join us in honoring these heroes at Bay Nature’s Annual Awards Dinner on Sunday, March 26, 2017.

This year’s Local Heroes are:

Conservation Action Award
(Recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions to the conservation of the natural landscapes, wildlife, and/or flora of the San Francisco Bay Area, through advocacy, legal action, acquisition, and/or stewardship.)

Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis

David Lewis, Executive Director, Save The Bay

David Lewis has been an effective advocate, tireless organizer, and articulate spokesperson for San Francisco Bay for more than 18 years. As executive director of Save The Bay, David has brought together environmental experts, public officials, business leaders, and grassroots activists to forge regional solutions to the Bay’s most pressing challenges. He has helped build Save The Bay into a regional political force, culminating with his leadership of the successful campaign for Measure AA, the first ever voter-approved region-wide funding measure in the Bay Area. Passed in June 2016, Measure AA secures $500 million for the restoration of San Francisco Bay wetlands and shoreline over the next 20 years. David’s keen political instincts and strategic vision were critical in achieving this milestone victory for the Bay. David has also testified before Congress on oil spill prevention measures, helped block expansion of runways at San Francisco International Airport into the Bay, and mobilized opposition to the development of restorable wetlands in Redwood City. Under David’s leadership, Save the Bay has engaged thousands of Bay Area residents in volunteer habitat restoration projects around the Bay shoreline. David says, “It’s such a privilege to work for a healthy Bay with a large and growing community of people who care for this remarkable natural treasure and produce results that we can see and touch.”

Born in Palo Alto, David went east to earn a B.A. in Politics and American Studies from Princeton University, and then spent 14 years in the political trenches in Washington DC where he served as director of policy and legislation for Physicians for Social Responsibility, senior legislative assistant to Senator Carl Levin, and chief operations officer for the League of Conservation Voters. Eventually, his love of the Bay Area got the better of him and he returned in 1998 to take the job at the helm of Save the Bay. He now lives in Kensington.

Environmental Education Award
(Recognizes the achievements of an individual who has made significant contributions to public understanding and awareness of the natural history and ecology of the San Francisco Bay Area, through research, teaching, field trips, journalism, and/or other media.)

Cal Academy's Alison Young and Rebecca Johnson
Rebecca Johnson & Alison Young
Co-Coordinators, California Academy of Sciences Citizen Science Project

For the first time, Bay Nature has selected two people to receive one of its Local Hero awards. That’s because Rebecca Johnson and Alison Young, recipients of the 2017 award for Environmental Education, are an indivisible team. They are the creators and co-leaders of the highly-regarded Citizen Science program at the California Academy of Sciences. They engage volunteers – “citizen scientists” – in discovering, observing, and documenting biodiversity at various places around the Bay Area. From creating a complete current record of the plants on Mount Tamalpais, to monitoring species at local rocky intertidal sites along the Central California coast, to organizing bioblitzes in San Francisco parks and open spaces, Rebecca and Alison provide opportunities for Bay Area residents to connect to the outdoors and science as well as build invaluable knowledge of the region’s biodiversity and understand how it is being impacted by climate change.

With their multitude of organizational partners, Rebecca and Alison are building communities and creating stewards of nature, both in person and online (through the Academy’s iNaturalist platform). Alison and Rebecca are also cofounders of the Bay Area Citizen Science Coalition; their work serves as a model for citizen science programs around the country seeking to engage their own communities and gather critical biodiversity data.

Alison YoungAlison Young grew up in Lafayette, in the East Bay. After earning her BA in biology from Swarthmore College, Alison spent six years teaching environmental education in San Mateo County. She then returned to school, receiving an MA from Humboldt State University, where her research focused on the rocky intertidal communities of the California coast. Alison was subsequently hired by the Greater Farallones Marine Sanctuary to run its intertidal monitoring program, followed by an offer from Cal Academy. She now also serves on the steering committee of the national Citizen Science Association and lives in Sonoma.

Rebecca Johnson Cal Academy of SciencesRebecca Johnson grew up in Thousand Oaks, California then migrated to the Bay Area for undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley. She received her MA from San Francisco State and her PhD in invertebrate zoology and marine biology from UC Santa Cruz. She began working at the California Academy of Sciences as an undergraduate 20 years ago and along with her citizen science work, continues her research on the evolutionary history of nudibranchs and, more generally, how intertidal species composition is changing due to climate change. Rebecca now lives in San Francisco.

Youth Engagement Award
(Recognizes an individual, 25 years old or younger, who is making significant contributions in the fields of natural history, stewardship of the natural world, conservation action, and/or environmental education.)


Uriel Hernandez, Community Forestry Coordinator, Canopy

Uriel Hernandez was born and raised in East Palo Alto. He attended Menlo-Atherton High School but spent a semester during his junior year at the Mountain School in Vermont. He loved his time in the mountains of rural Vermont, so he decided to return and pursue an undergraduate degree at Middlebury College. After graduating with a degree in architecture and history, he returned to East Palo Alto and, in May 2014, started working as a volunteer with Canopy, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit that plants and cares for street trees in several South Bay communities. He was hired as a full-time Community Forestry Coordinator in May 2015 to help Canopy establish the Branching Out neighborhood tree-planting program in the underserved community of East Palo Alto. The goal of the program is to plant 500 trees along streets and around homes in East Palo Alto by 2020. These trees are a natural resource that provide numerous community benefits, including improved water quality, decreased air pollution, reduced greenhouse gases, improved public health, and enhanced wildlife habitat and biodiversity.

As a true “people person” and a bilingual member of the community, Uriel is able to transcend barriers and inspire people who are typically ignored or left behind in such programs. Uriel oversees all elements of the Branching Out program, from establishing the initial contacts in the community, to enlisting neighborhood “Tree Champions,” developing the multilingual outreach materials, creating the planting plans, and organizing the planting events. Once the trees are planted, Uriel provides support and bilingual education materials to the community to ensure that the trees are maintained and cared for.

Uriel has also developed a strong interest in conservation biology, and this fall he will be using his vacation time to travel to Panama to participate in a program tracking and studying jaguars in their native jungle habitat.

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Photo by Cris Benton

Join us in celebrating these four extraordinary Local Heroes at Bay Nature’s Annual Awards Dinner on March 26, 2017 at UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center. Click here to purchase tickets.

For more details about  sponsorships, please contact Associate Director Judith Katz at 510-528-8550 x105 or

To see photos from last year’s awards dinner, click here.

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