Archive for the ‘Mike Swezy’ Category

by Mike Swezy

award plaqueThe district was the recipient of the Conservation Partner Leadership Award for 2011 from PRBO Conservation Science (PRBO), awarded annually to a partner agency involved with conservation of birds and ecosystems. At PRBO’s annual membership meeting held May 15 at the Red Barn at Point Reyes National Seashore, the district shared the stage with other award recipients recognized for leadership and service, including the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service. The district has worked with PRBO since 1996 beginning with initiation of a long-term, watershed-wide monitoring program for land birds (aka “the songbird study”). This work provides a baseline to monitor ecosystem health especially when evaluated using data from a larger region. Recently, PRBO reported that when water district bird trends were compared with bird surveys for all of California, it found more species are stable or increasing on MMWD lands than in the rest of the state (read the report here).

PRBO Conservation Science is a non-profit organization founded in 1965 as Point Reyes Bird Observatory. PRBO does bird ecology research, creates management tools, leads field science training programs, and develops and delivers bird science education programs to advance biodiversity conservation in the west on land and at sea. PRBO scientists study birds because they are excellent indicators of environmental health: they are top predators, relatively inexpensive to monitor and widely distributed.

Other studies conducted on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed through PRBO include annual monitoring of northern spotted owls, evaluation of wild turkey populations, and evaluation of work projects in nesting birds. These and other regular studies on key species and habitats provide the scientific basis for MMWD stewardship of public lands and streams in Marin County.

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First Community Workshop Held September 22, 2010

by Mike Swezy

Mt. Tamalpais WatershedLovers of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed assembled at Bacich Elementary School in Kentfield on September 22 for an evening of lively discussion about forming an independent community-based “Friends” organization to support the district in maintaining the long-term health of the watershed. Just over 90 citizens—representatives from various interest groups including conservationists, bikers, hikers, equestrians and educators as well as a significant number of unaffiliated friends and neighbors of the watershed—gathered to provide feedback to the district and its consultant California Environmental Associates (CEA). We are in the midst of developing a model and business plan for the new venture that would promote stewardship, water quality and education.

As MMWD watershed manager, I laid out the history of the district’s evolving watershed management program and identified key needs that cannot be adequately funded by district monies alone. Ellie Cohen, president of PRBO Conservation Science, delivered the keynote, emphasizing the significance of the district’s lands as water supply and biological refuge for threatened species. She reiterated the need for private funding to support local conservation efforts that provide regional and even global benefit. Amy Dickie from CEA described the district’s process for developing a “Friends” organization, and Janet Klein, MMWD’s natural resources manager, led the attendees in a brainstorming and project prioritization activity. Board members Jack Gibson and Armando Quintero framed the discussion with opening and closing remarks that emphasized the need for active partners and stewards.

The draft mission statement of this as-yet-unnamed organization is “to promote community stewardship of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed to preserve and enhance its long-term ecological value for natural habitat, biodiversity, education, water quality and recreation.”

The draft goals for this organization are to:

  • Transform users of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed into active stewards of the resource who treat it with exceptional care.
  • Ensure that adequate financial and human resources are available for effective natural resource management of the watershed.
  • Serve a convening role for the many organizations that have a special interest in the watershed to collectively work towards a common vision for the watershed.

A meeting tentatively scheduled for October 27 will review a draft business plan for a fledging “Friends” organization. A third community meeting will be held in November. Additional information about this new organization will be available soon on our website, and updates will be published here on Think Blue Marin.

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Alex Forman Remembered

by Mike Swezy

Alex Forman Trail Dedication, January 9, 2010

The weather relented and the winter fog rolled back to reveal the hills of Fairfax and a gray-toned Mt. Tamalpais standing in witness of the formal dedication of the Alex Forman Trail, named in honor of Marin Municipal Water District’s recently deceased board member. On a cool January afternoon, nearly one hundred family members, friends, and MMWD directors and staff gathered at Sky Oaks to remember Alex Forman’s service to the water district and his personal connection to the watershed.  Fellow MMWD board members, Sierra Club colleagues and his wife, Lauren Vanett, all spoke with fondness and a certain clarity regarding Alex’s courage, intellectual integrity and abiding love for Mt Tam.  Lauren offered a blessing that captured the moment and gave us all images to meditate on as folks hiked the length of the newly christened trail to Lake Lagunitas after the dedication.

During the ceremony dogs barked, laughter rang out, and silent tears streamed as the trailhead signpost with the newly plated marker bearing Alex’s name was unveiled. The weathered redwood post, sunk deep into the mountain’s soil, was milled from an old redwood log salvaged from Kent Lake and carried a black fire scar, testimony to the mountain’s ancient history of death and renewal. I admit that when I first inspected the post at the trailhead, one of nearly a dozen installed along the trail’s length, I thought a cleaner, more finished post would have been better. I know now that the post was perfect for the moment, it was of this place and authentic—just like Alex.

Lauren’s trail blessing is offered below and will be a part of a forthcoming memorial along the trail.

A Blessing for All Who Walk the Alex Forman Trail

May you walk this trail with open eyes and hearts
not looking for anything,
yet spotting the Cooper’s Hawk circling overhead,
the polished deer bone below, the jackrabbit in the tall grass.

May you walk this trail in playful conversation
and profound dialogue, with cosmic awareness
and in layered silence.

May you bring barking dogs and skipping children,
babies in backpacks, teenagers, lovers, and friends.

May you feel soft earth and jagged rocks beneath your feet,
cool shade, gentle rain and filtered sunlight on your skin.

May you marvel at the beauty of the live oaks’ twisted limbs,
the smooth bark of the madrone, and the elegant grace
of the towering redwoods.

May you bring apples and almonds, dark chocolate and tangerines,
a water bottle, a thermos of hot ginger tea.

But most of all, may you bring your whole, curious self,
the way Alex would,
and walk this trail in wonder, grateful to be here,
in this moment, right now.

Lauren Vanett
January 9, 2010

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by Mike Swezy

“Why do we all think we own it?” remarked a co-worker the other day about the passion we feel about Mt. Tamalpais. She was speaking not as a water district employee, but as a resident of Marin, referring to this deep connection we feel to the mountain. Perhaps we love the place because it gives us the opportunity to renew a relationship with nature and discover something larger than ourselves. Maybe it is Mt. Tam’s natural beauty that is so precious and rare that we covet it. Or is it our own personal experiences gained from journeys on Mt. Tam’s trails that give us a sense of ownership?

The strong connection to Marin’s icon was evident at our open house held on September 9th at Sky Oaks Watershed Headquarters where staff presented Project Restore. As I explained in my previous post, Project Restore is MMWD’s effort to combat the proliferation of unauthorized trails on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed. Did you know that we have mapped almost 9 miles of new unauthorized trails since 2005? These trails fragment wildlife habitat, spread weeds, and cause inexperienced hikers to get lost. Project Restore is our effort to close “bad actor” trails and restore natural habitat.

Almost 50 interested citizens came to engage with staff about solutions to this vexing problem. Not all agreed as to our view of the problem, so you can imagine that not all proposed solutions were in alignment.  The comments we received fairly represent the diversity in the users of Mt. Tam’s trails. The common thread is our passion for the place. Bless us all for that.

What can you do to help? We offer the following:

1) Follow our watershed regulations
2) Stay on designated roads and trails (map)
3) Leave no trace
4) If you witness illegal trail construction report it to us (945-1180)
5) Become a volunteer / help us by becoming a Mt. Tam steward

It is my belief that if you come to Mt. Tamalpais to enjoy nature you have a responsibility to care for it too. What’s your belief?

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by Mike Swezy

If you are a frequent hiker in the vicinity of Bon Tempe Reservoir you probably noticed a mass of orange exclusion fencing and a lot of warning signs. What you are seeing is the launch of “Project Restore,” our new concerted effort to remove undesirable and unofficial trails on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed and to restore them to natural habitat.  Behind the fencing you will see a first class restoration of landform, erosion control, and revegetation to reclaim natural conditions. Watershed rangers will make a special effort to monitor closed trails and, if necessary, will issue citations to users in closed areas.

We heartily welcome visitors to enjoy the wonders of Mt. Tamalpais. There are 160 miles of official roads and trails on watershed lands available for your use. They are maintained so that they have minimal impact on the health of the watershed while providing a safe outdoor experience for visitors. In stark contrast to these official trails, the district’s 2005 Road and Trail Management Plan identified more than 53 miles of undesirable trails on Mt. Tamalpais. Since then watershed staff have mapped almost 9 additional miles of illegal trails.

These unofficial trails fragment native habitat and disrupt wildlife populations. Undesirable trails that don’t meet professional trail standards can increase sediment entering our reservoirs. They also provide pathways for invasive weeds to penetrate native wild lands and in large number can damage the natural beauty of the watershed. For hikers, the trails are a safety hazard, increasing the risk of getting lost because the routes are not mapped.

We need your help to meet our stewardship goals for the watershed. If you notice an illegal trail under construction please report it to our ranger staff. Consider volunteering with our monthly trail crew. Please stay on the authorized trail system—stop by watershed headquarters at Sky Oaks for a free map. Leave no trace. Let’s all work together to keep Mt. Tam special.

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