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The Climate Connection

The Climate Connection: Why I became a California naturalist

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After retirement, I felt a strong pull toward working on environmental issues in Napa County. Not sure where to start, I took a half day training with Napa Climate NOW! (for which I received a bamboo toothbrush and a metal water bottle), became a member of the Sierra Club (where I got a duffel bag) and lastly, Napa Vision 2050. These are just three of the maybe 20 environmental groups operating within Napa County.

I also met many passionate people at city council meetings, demonstrations, and Zoom events. Each person was absolutely devoted to the ecology of our community. I got busy quickly. There were letters to write, calls to make, and mostly, a growing awareness that if we are going to have any impact on the climate crisis, our work needs to be uncompromisingly now.

But the question was: where could I have the most impact?

Researching, investigating and digging for truth are my passions, but I also noted that without much of a scientific background or ecological knowledge, I was missing out on lots of reportable observations.

Last month, I risked a journey into the wilderness of the Sierras to join a week-long immersion class sponsored by UC Berkeley up on Sagehen Creek, 10 miles outside Truckee. The promise was that I would have a greater understanding of California’s ecology and would return to my community, ready to effectively engage. It also meant surviving a full week without phone service.

California naturalist courses are offered in 58 locations – desert, seaside, mountains, lakes and even the Oakland Zoo. Each means 40 hours of coursework, which can be done in one week or over several months, depending on the program. On returning home, there’s also the expectation of completing an eight-hour Capstone project, and 40 additional hours of community volunteering.

My wilderness sojourn turned out great. Days sped by with lectures, field trips, and conversations. Our teachers were UC Berkeley professors, biologists, habitat restorers, geologists and water experts.

The reality of the climate crisis was brought into every interaction. What we’re reading in the newspapers and on social media –well, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The very melting iceberg.

Scientists are all about data collection and observation. The Sagehen Field Station is an experimental forest, a joint effort of UC Berkeley and the U.S. Forest Service. All sorts of experiments are conducted by researchers throughout the world: wind velocity, bud burst, weather, meadow flowers, creek flows, wildfire trials, forest thinning, etc. The impact of their studies is framing the story of how an ice shelf collapsing in Greenland affects our natural world in California.

I also learned details. How each intrinsic aspect of life affects another. There were rocks to examine, marshes to walk through, creeks to fish insects out of, and flowers to admire. We found untouched meadows, flowing seeps and even a bear wandering through the camp one night.

Throughout the week, I realized that I’m not doing enough. Composting, recycling and walking to the grocery store is one type of action. But when it comes to weather changes, seawater rise, the heating up of our oceans, the permafrost and ice caps melting, what can I actually do?

The teachers in the course stressed that most change happens at the local level. And land use impact, which is decided by our local politicians, is the best place to start. In Napa County, we are losing our trees, grasslands and water. Wildlife is disappearing. Each of us holds a piece of the responsibility for this destruction, and each has the power to turn it around.

Change must be accelerated. That ice shelf that collapsed in Greenland in early summer? It could be having a synergistic effect on the globe today. Europe’s rivers are drying up, China is hotter than ever, floods have been shattering records.

For information on the UC California Naturalist Program, go to: If you go, you’ll get a certificate and a pin. I put mine on the shelf next to the toothbrush, water bottle and duffel bag.

NBC reports that scientists have found unambiguous proof that a phenomenon critical to predicting climate change exists.


Napa Climate NOW! is a local non-profit citizens’ group advocating for smart climate solutions based on the latest climate science, part of 350 Bay Area. Find daily posts at Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts @napaclimatenow or visit

Contributor Yvonne Baginski is a local activist dedicated to environmental and social justice. She is the founder of Share the Care and Born to Age, a Senator in the California Senior Legislature representing Napa and Solano Counties and a member of Napa Climate NOW!

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