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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

SAN FRANCISCO BAY NWR COMPLEX: Diversity Champion Makes Difference in Pacific Southwest Region

Region 8, March 8, 2012
Kimby Wells (r.) receives 2011 Diversity Champion Award for the Pacific Southwest Region from Marge Kolar, the region's Chief of Refuges.
Kimby Wells (r.) receives 2011 Diversity Champion Award for the Pacific Southwest Region from Marge Kolar, the region's Chief of Refuges. - Photo Credit: n/a
Youth Conservation Corps employees Raul Ortiz and Federico Lopez install a boundary sign on the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Youth Conservation Corps employees Raul Ortiz and Federico Lopez install a boundary sign on the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. - Photo Credit: n/a

By Doug Cordell, San Francisco Bay NWR Complex

“We can see the influence we’re having on the youth,” says Kimby Wells, talking about her award-winning work on the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) summer employment program at the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “It’s exposed them to careers they wouldn’t have considered otherwise. One of our high school participants from a couple of years ago is now in college studying natural resources management.” 

On Feb. 15, 2012, Wells, an environmental education specialist at the refuge complex, received a plaque honoring her as the 2011 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Diversity Champion for the Pacific Southwest Region. The honor illustrates the importance the Service accords efforts to reach out to traditionally underserved communities.

“I’m really happy to know that the management of the Service appreciates the value of public outreach for conservation,” Wells says.

East Palo Alto, CA is one of the most underserved and economically disadvantaged communities in the San Francisco Bay region; it also directly abuts the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Since the inception of the YCC program at the San Francisco Bay refuges in 2007, diversity in the workforce has been a major consideration. Wells recognized the need to reach out to the East Palo Alto community and build appreciation for the natural resources in its back yard. By hiring local youth for restoration work on the refuge, she understood it would provide not only economic opportunity and important life skills for the participants, but would foster environmental stewardship in the community for the wildlife and habitat on the refuge.

In 2011, five high school students from East Palo Alto and neighboring Menlo Park were selected for the refuge’s YCC crew. Most had little or no experience in restoration; for four out of the five, it was their first paying job. But over the course of an eight-week employment, they found themselves doing sheet mulching, sowing and transplanting native plants, operating a bicycle-powered irrigation pump, making signs, weed-whacking, and working at the State Fair. They also developed leadership skills, giving presentations to other students in the community, as well as to interns from local businesses and NGO’s.

“They learned they have an ability to make an impact,” notes Wells. “That’s empowering. It also gave them a sense of pride in their work—something that will be valuable whatever work they do.”

Of programs like the YCC, she adds: “I think the Service needs to do more of this kind of work. Our neighbors are often unaware of what’s going on at a refuge. But they can have the greatest capacity for impact because they’re nearby.”

In its award nomination of Wells—who, prior to her three-plus years with the Service, did similar work with the National Park Service—the refuge complex observed, “As a result of Kimby’s efforts… we have engaged locally diverse communities in the stewardship of the nation’s wildlife heritage.”

For Wells, the success of the effort was its own reward.

“By working with these youths,” she explains, “we were reaching others in the community. That has increased awareness. Now more folks in East Palo Alto know about the refuge and the restoration work we’re doing.”

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Contact Info: Doug Cordell, 510-774-4080, doug_cordell@fws.gov