Bridging the gap between common enemies

12/06/2012

Richard Plant’s more than two decades of conservation work might not stand out in area known for churning out environmentalists.

But his 24-year tenure as a director with the Marin Resource Conservation District was not only defined by his planting of thousands of trees and protection of more than 20 miles of waterways across the county. It was marked by his sympathy for the livelihood of ranchers and farmers.

“He wasn’t somebody who sort of sat in a chair and made big decisions,” Nancy Scolari, who has served as executive director for the district for about 15 years, said.

That work ethic was acknowledged Tuesday, when county supervisors commemorated Mr. Plant, an Inverness resident, for bringing to the conservation district an environmental awareness that helped to preserve agricultural land. The recognition came two months after Mr. Plant announced he will relinquish his seat on the district board to Terry Sawyer, co-owner of Hog Island Oyster Company.

Mr. Plant’s work was largely in the Lagunitas watershed, where he often was seen “down in the trenches,” Ms. Scolari said, testing soil and refining studies meant to prevent erosion and improve fish populations. “When he wanted to learn about a project,” she said, “he learned about all aspects of it.”

Supervisor Steve Kinsey described him as a “bridge builder” whose “deep respect for agriculture” brought certain “environmental sensibilities” to the board, which for long has consisted mainly of ranchers and farmers.

“He had the right type of personality,” said Mr. Kinsey, who credited Mr. Plant with strengthening ties between agricultural producers and environmentalists that are often strained by differing views of conservation.

After his election in the late 1980’s, Mr. Plant, who was the first director without a background in agriculture, worked to draw involvement from water districts and the state’s Department of Fish and Game.

The support helped lift the district out of the “dark ages,” said Steve Doughty, the owner of Point Reyes Vineyard Inn and Winery who has served for about 12 years as a director with the district. Mr. Doughty said Mr. Plant was a “magnet that drew everybody together” and “made the environmental community aware of what [ranchers and farmers] were doing.”

Mr. Plant, a retired builder in residential construction, said his respect for agriculture deepened over the years as he grew familiar with the “problems faced by ranchers who are trying to make a living off agriculture.”

Mr. Plant will stay involved in his new role as a chairman for the Lagunitas Creek Advisory Committee for Marin Municipal Water District. He also will spend time fishing and tending to his vegetable garden at his home in Inverness, where has lived with his wife, Leslie, since the early 1960’s.