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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

DON EDWARDS S.F. BAY NWRC: One Man’s Vision: A Refuge on the Bay

Region 8, January 15, 2013
The late Art Ogilvie.
The late Art Ogilvie. - Photo Credit: n/a
Art Ogilvie's son, Jon, accepts a framed map of newly named Ogilvie Island from Anne Morkill, manager of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex
Art Ogilvie's son, Jon, accepts a framed map of newly named Ogilvie Island from Anne Morkill, manager of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex - Photo Credit: n/a

By Doug Cordell, Public Affairs

One of the unsung heroes of the decades long effort to create the San Francisco Bay’s first National Wildlife Refuge is the man who came up with the idea, a visionary Santa Clara County Planner named Art Ogilvie.

According to Florence LaRiviere, founding member of the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, it was the late Ogilvie who, in the mid-1960s, first brought a group of citizen-activists together to discuss the possibility of a refuge on the Bay.

“I saw a notice in the paper one morning,” she recalled. “It said something like, ‘If you’re worried about what’s happening to the lands along the Bay, come to my office—I have an idea about how we can protect them.’”

The notice was signed by Art Ogilvie, and some 20-30 people, including LaRiviere, showed up in response. The work they began that day eventually led to a 1972 law creating the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge—later re-named the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in honor of the Bay Area Congressman who introduced the legislation.

On October 31, 2012, over 100 enthusiastic supporters, including U.S. Reps. Mike Honda and Zoe Lofgren, gathered at the refuge to celebrate its 40th anniversary and recognize local heroes like Art Ogilvie who were instrumental in making it a reality.

To commemorate Ogilvie’s unique contribution, a small island on the refuge was named in his honor. At the Halloween day event at the refuge’s Environmental Education Center in Alviso, Calif., Anne Morkill, manager of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, presented a framed map of Ogilvie Island to Art’s son, Jon, who had flown in from Arizona for the occasion.

Morkill noted that while the creation of the refuge was the result of many people’s efforts, “certainly one of the most important [advocates] was Art Ogilvie.”

In accepting the map of Ogilvie Island, Jon Ogilvie spoke of his father’s passion for preserving the wild lands around San Francisco Bay. Speaking after the event, he expanded on his father’s motivations.

“My dad was a passionate preservationist. He wanted to save things for future generations.”

His father’s passion did not come without costs, however. As the fight to protect undeveloped lands around the Bay heated up, Art Ogilvie became something of a lightning rod.

“We used to get threatening letters in the mailbox,” Jon said. “But my dad was very strong-willed. When he wanted something, he went after it.”

LaRiviere noted what a singular accomplishment it was to establish a refuge on the Bay.

“There were no urban refuges at that time,” she explained.

She credited Ogilvie’s unusual determination with much of their success.

“He was very soft-spoken,” she said, “but he had a strange ability to keep us interested in doing the legwork. Part of it was that he expected it to happen. He never said, “We won’t get it done. He was a gentle soul, but he had a goal he was persistent in pursuing.”

Following the celebration at the Environmental Education Center, attendees were shuttled to a nearby levee to see the latest step forward for the historic South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project—a high-tide pond breaching that brought San Francisco Bay waters rushing into 130 acres of refuge land.

Jon Ogilvie was there to witness it on his father’s behalf.

“It was a bit overwhelming,” he said of the day’s events. “But I’m highly honored. It’s so wonderful to have my dad acknowledged for his contributions. How many people have that kind of impact?”

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