You could say that Ariana Katovich, Earth Island Institute’s Director of Restoration Initiatives and one of the first Brower Youth Award winners, was born to fill her current job. Katovich doesn’t remember a day when she wasn’t concerned about the environment. There was no grade-school revelation, no pivotal hike in the woods. She has always been an environmentalist. “There was no single incident that changed my awareness,” Katovich says. “It was always just there – my interest in the environment, my concern for wildlife.”
Katakovitch emobides EII’s mission to give young activists the tools they need to be truly effective.
That concern, however, did not turn to action until college. Born in the Chicagoland area, then spending much of her early life in Southern California, Katovich was prompted to get involved by a burgeoning appreciation for the Santa Barbara coast and the lands that border it.
Santa Barbara County is in a vulnerable position on the California coast. Historically protected from development by its relative remoteness from centers of population, the county is squeezed between the metastasizing Los Angeles Basin and the growing Central Coast. Wildland is turned to farmland, farmland to suburb. Seawalls are built to protect development from natural changes of the beachscape.
It was damage to the shoreline that prompted Katovich to co-found the Shoreline Preservation Fund, an organization that emerged from a student ballot initiative to bill each UCSB student three dollars per quarter to fund coastal protection, education, and research. Approved by an overwhelming margin, the SPF now funds hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of community projects each year. By funding the restoration of (and interpretive docents for) sensitive dune habitat for the western snowy plover, the endangered bird had 119 eggs hatch in 2005, up from none in 1999. A formal SPF course on shoreline and watershed conservation is now being taught at UCSB. “The vision is now reality,” says Katovich. “The local environment is being restored, and students are learning about the threats to our coast and are engaged in solving the problems.”
For her work with SPF, Katovich was awarded one of the first Brower Youth Awards in 2000.
After being graduated from UCSB, Katovich worked as an organizer with the Sierra Club in the Santa Barbara area, educating the public and advocating action on issues as diverse as petroleum thinner spills in Guadalupe, offshore oil drilling, and protection of the Gaviota Coast. That last campaign won national attention – and not a little controversy. The Clinton administration advocated bringing those 200,000 acres of undeveloped Southern California shoreline under the protection of the National Park Service. In 1999 Congress directed the NPS to conduct a study of the feasibility of creating a Gaviota Coast National Park. The idea was spiked by the Bush administration in 2003.
By 2004 Katovich had become a respected figure in Santa Barbara County politics. But she was restless. “I was starting to feel a little bit like a big fish in a small pond,” she says. “When [former EII Board President and UCSB instructor] Bob Wilkinson told me that Earth Island had an opening for the director of its restoration programs, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get wider experience.”
As Director of Restoration Initiatives, Katovich is responsible for disbursing about $250,000 per year to small-scale Southern California restoration projects. In each year, about 20 sites receive funding from Earth Island, from money amassed when EII won a lawsuit against Southern California Edison for dumping heated water into the ocean from its San Onofre nuclear power plant. Katovich’s work regularly takes her from ravaged watersheds in Northern Mexico to the halls of power in Sacramento. She embodies Earth Island’s mission to give young activists the tools they need to be truly effective.
“Ariana brings great enthusiasm and talent to our restoration work,” says Earth Island Executive Director Dave Phillips. “We’ve followed her career since she won the Brower Youth Award, and are extremely pleased to have her aboard.“
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