When renowned conservation scientist Peter Raven discovered the evergreen shrub Raven’s manzanita at the age of 14, he was tramping about 1950s San Francisco as if it were a natural landscape! A budding botanist, Raven explored the wildlands of San Francisco to satisfy his appetite for discovery and stumbled upon the last wild individual of the now federally endangered plant. Greg Gaar, Haight-Ashbury ecological activist extraordinaire, grew up playing in the San Miguel Hills as late as the 1960s, when the area around Twin Peaks was “finally” developed for housing. The remaining grasslands of Twin Peaks are still habitat for the federally endangered Mission Blue butterfly.
San Francisco’s natural heritage is alive, not only in adult memories and historic photographs, but also in the here and now. Many children are learning about, connecting to, and tramping around local natural areas because of San Francisco’s participation in ecological restoration and stewardship of rare plant habitats. The city harbors 20 rare plant species, five of them federally endangered or threatened, including the Raven’s manzanita.
Every weekend, hundreds of community stewards fan out across the city to make natural history. They volunteer with local, state, and federal agencies that manage San Francisco’s natural lands to conserve biodiversity and rare and endangered plant and animal habitats. The tiny Franciscan bioregion – which stretches north and south along the coast no more than 10 miles from the city of San Francisco – is internationally recognized, comprising the Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve, a unit of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program.
Nature in the City was founded in 2005 because despite the celebration and stewardship of San Francisco’s remaining indigenous habitats, Franciscan biodiversity is in crisis.
The city’s wild lands and watersheds are severely fragmented; invasive weeds degrade local ecological health; ecologically insensitive uses of open space hurt local biodiversity and habitat via pollution and erosion. Government natural resource management budgets are being slashed, land is divided into postage-stamp-sized lots, and agencies are unable to plan or manage collaboratively with a holistic watershed and ecosystem approach. Some agencies do not even actively manage their rich natural areas to conserve biodiversity.
Many San Franciscans are unaware of their local biodiversity and unfamiliar with their watershed. Modern people are culturally disconnected from nature’s web, and believe that nature can exist and be experienced only in large reserves such as Yosemite or Point Reyes, that we cannot interact harmoniously with nature in the city. In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv refers to this alienation from nature as “Nature-Deficit Disorder.” “[A] challenge remains to overcome the polar distinction between what is urban and what is natural…
we have tended to see the most significant forms of nature as occurring somewhere else – often hundreds of miles away from where most people actually live…”
Nature in the City is the first organization wholly dedicated to the conservation and stewardship of biodiversity in the Franciscan bioregion. In order to protect and restore the city’s biodiversity, we must reconnect people with their local urban nature. If we can educate and organize, empower and foster local stewardship, we help catalyze urban ecological protection and restoration. To address the critical lack of an interagency collaborative and ecosystem approach, we have formed a Steering Committee of local ecological leaders as a first step toward unified citywide Franciscan nature conservation and stewardship.
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