Initiated in 1975, this award recognizes people who, directly or indirectly, have made outstanding efforts defending critical regional resources, or advancing their better stewardship.
Nominated by: Bree Arthur, Julia Clothier and Doris Duncan
John Branscome works harder in his retirement than most people employed full time, and he does so in the service of youth and the outdoors. He continuously inspires students, adults and teachers throughout Sonoma County and beyond by fearlessly going where other outdoor educators sometimes fear to go and has thus earned himself the additional nature name of Critter Getter. Always willing to share a creepy crawly critter such as a millipede, centipede, salamander or scorpion with the students he guides outdoors, he knows it is these real life encounters that stay with students and inspire them to identify with and care about the natural world around them.
He not only inspires students during days in the field every week of the year, he also constantly works and dreams to create better places for them to access the outdoors by donating his time to improve buildings and facilities for local small non-profit organizations. John is a highly qualified union carpenter with 35 years’ professional experience in home, institutional and commercial carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and sheet metal work. Since his retirement, John has adopted Point Reyes National Seashore’s Clem Miller Environmental Education Center as one of his many pet projects. Over the past 5 years, John has spent hundreds of hours completing maintenance, repair and light construction projects including installing kitchen countertops, converting a derelict shed into a secure and functional workshop, repairing and refinishing picnic tables, building a firewood storage enclosure, cleaning and refinishing interior and exterior walls, floors and decks, rebuilding the entire compost system, repairing the summer camp canoe fleet, shopping for materials and supplies, and organizing volunteer work days. John practices ultra-low impact construction by reusing and salvaging materials whenever and wherever possible.
His work has made the Center a safer, more beautiful and more effective place for people of all ages and backgrounds to learn about the natural world. John never arrives empty handed; he always brings a tray of his famous homemade baked goods and, in May and June, buckets of roses from his home garden to share with staff. John's considerable skill, expertise, generosity, kindness and easygoing manner have made him a beloved fixture around Land Paths IOOBY Program and Bayer Farm, Point Reyes National Seashore Association and the Clem Miller Environmental Education Center, and the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue Center. In recognition of his considerable generosity and contribution, Point Reyes National Seashore named John Volunteer of the Year in 2011. John’s dedication, expertise, and heartfelt generosity inspire and touch the lives of staff, volunteers and learners of all ages. His work enables the nonprofit organizations with which he is involved to increase their reach and quality of service. We all agree that we would not be able to do the work we do without his considerable contributions. John Branscome is a true hero and dedicated environmentalist who more than deserves the award of Environmentalist of the Year.
Nominated by: Ken Wells
Richard Dale’s impressive performance in creating and leading Sonoma Ecology Center over the past 24 years epitomizes success through creating organizational partnerships. From the base of a small organization, Richard has forged a multitude of unique and effective community partnerships to achieve astonishing results. Such successful partnerships include the Sonoma Biochar Initiative, Team Arundo del Norte, North Bay Climate Adaptation Initiative, Nathanson Creek Preserve and Trailway, numerous water management partnerships, and the principal action on which this letter is focused—Team Sugarloaf, a five-organization effort to save an extraordinary state park from being closed due to California's budget crisis.
In response to the May 2011 announcement by the state of California that five Sonoma County state parks would be closed in 2012, Richard helped create a coalition of nonprofit organizations and local government partners to devise a collective solution to this challenge. While some began by staking out their organizations’ “territory” and vying to save particular parks, Richard advocated that all the organizations pool their respective areas of expertise and share both the burdens and glory of saving all five of these vital parks. Within a few months, all five Sonoma County parks had in place partnership groups working to keep them open, and the Parks Alliance for Sonoma County became a model for other counties.
One of the groups formed by Richard is “Team Sugarloaf,” a partnership of five non-profits with the shared goal of keeping Sonoma Valley’s Sugarloaf Ridge State Park open. Team Sugarloaf is structured as follows: Sonoma Ecology Center leads the 5-member effort, managing the park’s natural resources in coordination with State Parks staff. United Camps, Conferences, and Retreats manages the campground (the primary source of the park’s ongoing revenues); Sonoma County Trails Council maintains the Park's backcountry trails; Valley of the Moon Natural History Association trains and coordinates volunteers; and Valley of the Moon Observatory Association operates the observatory. Since assuming responsibility for the park in June 2012, Team Sugarloaf has proven an unparalleled success.Richard’s inspiring illustration of the benefits of strategic partnering has helped Parks Alliance organizations find ways to keep Jack London and Annadel State Parks open as well. Team Sugarloaf is just one of the lasting partnerships Richard has built over the years. His successful pursuit of the partnership model at the community level has brought interest groups together for the common good, providing a path for action that can lift Sonoma County out of its divisive clashes over water, land, climate, and other limited resources. Recognizing Richard’s proven approach with the Environmental Center of Sonoma County’s prestigious Environmentalist of the Year Award would send a clear signal that our community’s problems can indeed be resolved if we work together in good faith to achieve common objective.
Nominated by: Jenny Blaker, Jane Neilson, and Brenda Adelman
Stephen Fuller-Rowell has been a tireless advocate for water issues in Sonoma County ever since he came to Sonoma County more than 20 years ago. Whether it was monitoring wells, understanding the relationship between upstream development and groundwater, recognizing the connection between loss of riparian cover and its impacts on salmon, examining the links between gravel mining in the Russian River and clean water, or vineyard frost protection and low river flows, Stephen was involved. He has been active with and contributed to the Town Hall Coalition Water Committee, Community Clean Water Institute, the Sonoma County Forest Conservation Working Group, the Sierra Club Sonoma Group Water Committee, the Atascadero Green Valley Watershed Council and the Southeast Greenway Campaign.
Stephen advocated for the addition of a Water Element to the 2000 revision of Sonoma County's General Plan (GP 2020), and his continuing efforts helped to realize that goal. As a member of the Sierra Club's Water Committee, Stephen moderated a 2004 forum on the status of the County's groundwater supply. This led to the formation of the Sonoma County Water Coalition, aimed at creating countywide groundwater management. Under Stephen's co-leadership, and with his substantial contributions of time, computer skills, and materials, SCWC now includes 31 member organizations representing more than 24,000 concerned citizens, and addresses nearly all aspects of water quality and supply, including protecting instream flows, daylighting culvert-bound creeks, protecting riparian zones, and habitat conservation issues.
Stephen’s interest in water issues started when he was very young. When he was 13 years old he did a school geography project on the creek in his neighborhood in England. He rode his bike to where it started and followed it to all the way to its confluence with the River Ouse. When he came to Sonoma County he began to monitor wells and creek flow in the Redwood Creek watershed 5 miles west of Sebastopol. When he became Chair of the Town Hall Coalition Water Committee, people around the county began to ask him how to monitor their wells, and he started doing workshops in exchange for lemonade and cookies.
Stephen has consistently applied his curiosity, his capacity for reading in depth, painstaking attention to detail, and careful research to a wide range of water-related issues. He has engaged with and encouraged others to engage with the political process, speaking, writing, lobbying politicians and policy makers, and working skillfully and collaboratively with others to influence County policy on issues as wide-ranging as well monitoring, groundwater, gravel mining, riparian corridors, timber, forestry and vineyard ordinances and the Southeast Greenway Campaign in Santa Rosa.
Stephen has earned the respect of many through his tireless advocacy for safe and healthy water for all of us in Sonoma County, both for humans and for the ecological systems and processes on which life depends.
Nominated by: Maria Potter
As President of Friends of Gualala River, Chris Poehlmann displays leadership, creativity, and perseverance in his efforts to protect the watershed he calls home. He possesses an uncanny ability to prevail by articulating common goals, turning adversaries into allies, and inspiring others to get involved in protecting redwoods and water resources. His leadership recently generated enough support to make it possible to overturn the largest proposed forest to vineyard conversion in the history of California (the so-called “Preservation Ranch” project) resulting in the successful protection of nearly 20,000 acres in Northwest Sonoma County.Following this victory, he did not give up but continued to fight for the environment by successfully presenting a legal challenge to prevent another large clear cut on former Kashia Pomo lands in Annapolis: this one proposed for vineyard development by Artesa/Groupo Cordoniu. Keeping the big picture in mind, he has not been alone in his efforts. His perseverance is a true inspiration for others, especially young environmentalists with common goals and no idea how to get these things done. His work protecting coastal redwoods directly addresses climate change issues and will long outlast his lifetime. For this, he is well deserving of formal recognition as Sonoma County Environmentalist of the Year 2014.