A Founder Remembers ...

Founder Dr. L. Martin Griffin celebrates the start of a Marin legacy

As Environmental Forum of Marin embarks on its 40th year of educating and training environmental advocates, its leaders, members, and volunteers recall the beginnings of an organization that has inspired so many to take action.  Along the way, there are stories of battles lost and won, of land protected for farming and habitat, and the tireless efforts of a group of remarkable, forward-thinking Marin citizens. 

At its 20th Anniversary celebration in 1993, Founder Dr. L. Martin Griffin reminded attendees of the long and arduous road he and others traveled to preserve the abundance and resources of Marin County and why the Environmental Forum of Marin was created. 

The Creation of the Environmental Forum Marin

L. Martin Griffin, M.D., M.P.H.

On this 20th Anniversary of the founding of the Environmental Forum of Marin, I'd like to remind the Forum of how it was created by Audubon Canyon Ranch and why.

The thirteen years of 1961-1973 were of great peril for the twin bays, Bolinas and Tomales of West Marin. All the seemingly unstoppable forces of uncontrolled growth came together: freeways, master plans, harbor districts and marinas, the water pipeline from the Russian River, bay and ocean sewage out-falls. Behind it all was the under-funded Point Reyes National Seashore, which brought to West Marin powerful syndicates of land speculators with political connections in Washington, D.C,. and Santa Rosa.

Speculators bought the southern Bolinas Ridge. Land Investors Research, based in Ross, encircled Sonoma State University with thirteen ranch purchases and toppled 9,000 acres of sheep and dairy ranches along Tomales Bay. They bought Pierce Point, the most critical ranch in the Seashore. They were helped by the Marin Supervisors, who zoned the Bolinas Basin for 100,000 people and later Tomales Bay for 300,000.

    Photograph (c) Tim Porter (2009)

In 1961, as President of Marin Audubon Society, I saw the danger of a freeway, obtained the option to buy the 507-acre Canyon Ranch, alerted William S. Picher, and persuaded the Board to buy it. We enlisted four Audubon Chapters and formed Audubon Canyon Ranch (ACR). We purchased other ranches and parcels around Bolinas Lagoon, including the option on Kent Island. I took a year off to lead the joint fund drive. We put the Harbor District out of business in 1969. The Bolinas Basin was safe.

That year, I persuaded ACR to turn north to help save Tomales Bay. I was again appointed land acquisition chairman. We bought strategic tidelands, uplands, Hog and Duck Islands, the delta of Walker Creek and were given the gift of Cypress Grove. Each purchase had a purpose: to stop filling or a subdivision. We were just one step ahead of the developers. We used other tools — agricultural zoning, wildlife habitat, zero discharges, erosion and geologic hazards. Stan Picher helped fund and I chaired the advisory committee of the Tomales Bay Environmental Study, coordinating the work of thirteen scientists, including Clerin Zumwalt, on soils, to form a framework of environmental sanity (protection) that has lasted twenty years. I wrote my thesis for the UC School of Public Health on the Environmental Health of Tomales Bay and enlisted my professors.

Stan Picher, Clerin Zumwalt, and I were soon worn out. We were running from agency to agency, to planning and Supervisors' hearings, rallying our troops who were fearful of speaking in public. We needed skilled help.

In this setting, the Environmental Forum of Marin was born in 1972 at a meeting of ACR directors Stan Picher, Clerin Zumwalt, Howard B. Allen, Mary Belle Van Voorhies, and myself.

Our purpose differed sharply from our docent training in nature interpretation and sought to train a cadre of volunteers to be effective and influential workers and speakers in the field of environmental planning and quality. This was the first experiment of its kind in the US. It was an idea whose time had come.

It was one of the most significant actions of our lives. We applied to the Junior league of San Francisco, and they voted to fund the Forum starting September 1972. The rest is history. ACR interviewed and contracted with Rembert Kingsley, Director of Natural Science Education Resources, to organize and supervise the course. Her staff eventually consisted of biologists Virginia Havel, Kathy Cuneo, Phyllis Faber, Ray Peterson, Nona Dennis, Mary Jane Baker, Dave and Maggie Cavagnero and others.

The founding class of the Forum started training in September, 1972. Later, the Forum became independent of ACR to give freedom for political action.

In 1972, I ran for director of the Marin Municipal Water District with Pam Lloyd, from the first class, as my campaign chairman, successor and later director of the Regional Water Quality Control Board. Many other graduates and instructors have had effective environmental careers. Altogether, 400 women and men have been trained.

 

May 5, 1993

 

 
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