Petersen retiring from Bouverie
John Petersen is retiring from Audubon Canyon Ranch (ACR) after 35 years as a leader in conservation science, habitat restoration, and nature education, something to which thousands of Sonoma Valley third through sixth graders can attest over the years. He has spent most of his career at the ACR’s Bouverie Preserve near Glen Ellen.
“The kids have been inspired and motivated after taking the course,” Bob Bales said, referring to the yearly ecology lessons and outings to Bouverie’s many trails. “What a gem having it so close to our school and community, too.” Bales is also retiring after many years serving as principal of Kenwood Elementary School, where Petersen’s wife, Carol, teaches the third grade. “We had to forge through the mud a few times, usually in springtime or fall,” Bales recalled.
Petersen considers Audubon Canyon Ranch an important community resource that has served school kids since 1982. He joined the organization in 1986 as the first resident biologist of the 535-acre Bouverie Preserve, with a master’s degree from Sonoma State. He has served the organization in several leadership roles since then, culminating in his appointment as executive director in 2014. He is the organization’s longest-serving employee.
As resident biologist in the 1980s and 90s, Petersen established Bouverie Preserve’s stewardship program, including oak and grassland restoration, and the Stuart Creek newt monitoring (now marking 30 years).
Speaking from his home in Sonoma, Petersen said there are over 250,000 kids participating in the programs overall, half of them from Sonoma Valley.
Petersen is quick to point out that ACR is not a part of the much larger Audubon Society that is focused on bird life.
“We started in 1962 to protect the west Marin landscape from some big development,” he said. “We are wholly independent. We raise revenue from many sources, not so much from state or federal funding. We have a modest endowment and we are growing, with foundation grants for specific supports and individual donors.”
The Sonoma Valley preserve was named after David Bouverie, a London architect who found a lifetime home near Glen Ellen and gifted his land to ACR. Perpetuating ecology education was integral to his gift.
There have been many programs and education efforts, two of which are Living with Lions and Fire Forward. “Fire Forward started in 2017, six months before the [October] wildfires,” Petersen said. “We were working with the community to bring prescribed fires back to the land and reduce the risk that has really taken off. We are working all over the North Bay, Petersen – from page 16
partnering with all sorts of agencies and individuals in fuel reduction. We want to be proactive in reinstating these indigenous practices.”
Just months after that first carefully controlled prescribed burn at the preserve, the Nuns Fire of Oct. 2017 burned 75 percent of the preserve’s wildlands and destroyed seven of its nine buildings, “including all of ACR’s program infrastructure on the preserve,” according to the ACR’s website at www.egret.org/ preserves_bouverie. The fire provided even greater incentive to get a handle on overgrown wildlands.
There is archeological and geological evidence that the earliest inhabitants of the region regularly set fire to the landscape to keep it healthy and productive. Suppressing fires has led to uncontrolled undergrowth that has become a major factor in spreading fire.
“Fires have been used by indigenous people for thousands of years,” Petersen said. “It has only been [the] last hundred years that we decided to stop all that, and there are consequences. We are now starting that [practice] and other fuel reduction programs to help remediate these terrible wildfires we’re having because of climate change.”
A more recent program is Living with Lions, which involves capturing, collaring, and tracking mountain lions. “The education arm to that is Lion Ambassadors, which will start again in classrooms teaching students about predators and their role in the ecosystem. We are helping to learn how to live cooperatively with apex predators.”
Nearly two dozen mountain lions have been collared since 2016 by the group, led by Dr. Quinton Martins, ACR Wildlife Ecologist and Principal Investigator. The results have been used to work with property owners and residents to keep livestock safe and give the lions a better chance of surviving to adulthood and beyond in one of the last remaining wilderness areas large enough to support them.
The original west Marin Audubon Canyon Ranch was founded in Stinson Beach to protect a heron breeding ground. There are two preserves in Marin: Martin Griffin in Stinson Beach, and Cypress Grove in Marshall. Sonoma is home to the Bouverie Preserve near Glen Ellen and Modini Preserve near Healdsburg.
The Bouverie Preserve is situated at 13815 Sonoma Highway. It has been closed because of the pandemic, but may open later this year.
“It’s been an honor to work for ACR these many ears,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed being with volunteers, especially at Bouverie. They take the kids out and have good, positive attitudes. Our volunteers and docents are excited to be there. The energy around all that is wonderful. That’s one of the things I enjoyed so much.”