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Mountain Man

Seth Adams is saving Mount Diablo


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Seth Adams, 42, has spent 17 years preventing garbage dumps, communication towers, reservoirs, and quarries from eating into the rolling hills of Mount Diablo. We sat down with the director of land programs for Save Mount Diablo, a Walnut Creek nonprofit environmental group, to talk about saving another 80,000 acres for our kids and reintroducing tule elk, pronghorn antelope, and the California condor.

Q: Why fight for the environment?
A: My values developed when I was a child exploring woods and streams. I read about heroes like John Muir and joined environmental groups. I fell in love with the outdoor world at the same time it was under assault. The woods where I grew up in North Carolina are now gone. I made it my life’s work to defend that world.

Q: How did you come to be a
A: guardian for Mount Diablo?
I came to California to study biology at UC Berkeley [in 1981] and fell in love with its landscape my first day. Once you’re exposed to the wide-open spaces of the West, how can you leave? Mount Diablo has one of the richest environments in the Bay Area, and that fascinated me. I was hired as Save Mount Diablo’s first staff person in 1988.

Q: What is the most critical threat to our open space?
A: Good, well-meaning people who just want a little bit of the country. Small “ranchette” subdivisions are more threatening than big developments, because they use tremendous amounts of land for very few people and seriously fragment habitat. A more specific threat is the expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir [in Byron]. The water district wants to double its size, drowning spectacular places like the Adobe Valley.

Q: What’s the political climate for land preservation in Contra Costa?
A: In the mid 1980s, this was the wild, wild West of planning, and we routinely lost development battles. [But now] elected officials and development policies are catching up with public sentiment. For the first time, all [of] Contra Costa’s cities will have to abide by urban growth boundaries, and that’s a major achievement. The boundaries are causing disputes in some cities, but we’re pretty close to a deal.

Q: How do you deal with developers?
A: We deal with some of the same people over many years, so we try not to burn bridges. Part of our credibility, and theirs, is doing what you say you’re going to do. We make deals. I have high environmental ideals, but I’m pragmatic. We focus on preserving what’s absolutely important and are willing to compromise on what’s less important.

Q: What current campaign are you most excited about?

A: We just signed the deal for the Mangini Ranch. Now we have to raise $1.45 million to purchase it. The ranch is adjacent to Lime Ridge Open Space, almost bridging the gap to Mount Diablo State Park. It’s surrounded by ridges with incredible views and has a wonderful diversity of habitat and species, including some that are endangered.

Q: What is your proudest achievement at Save Mount Diablo?
A: We reintroduced peregrine falcons. They had gone extinct there in the 1950s and almost vanished from the nation. In 1989, we created a program to bring the falcon back from the brink. Now, every year, the world’s fastest bird is nesting on Mount Diablo.

Q: Any regrets?
A: It’s a double-edged sword. Even before I began working with Save Mount Diablo, I was one of the few opponents of the Los Vaqueros Reservoir on Diablo’s east side. Roughly 1,600 acres of spectacular land were drowned by that reservoir. That is one of my personal defeats. The flip side is that an open space of 18,500 acres was acquired to protect the reservoir.

Q: How do you rally people who are not outdoorsy?
A: It doesn’t take somebody to be outdoorsy. It takes somebody [who enjoys lifting] their eyes from the freeway to see a beautiful mountain in the middle of the county. It’s amazing how many of our members have never been to Diablo, but they appreciate that there are still mountain lions and golden eagles living in our midst—and that it’s here for their kids.

Q: What’s next for Mount Diablo?
A: In 34 years, [the land preserved by Save Mount Diablo has gone] from 6,788 acres to 87,000. I want to double that north of highway 580; ensure that Diablo never gets cut off from the rest of its mountain range; and reintroduce tule elk, pronghorn antelope, and North America’s largest bird: the California condor. It flew over this area before Europeans showed up—and some have already been sighted.

For more information on the conservation efforts of Save Mount Diablo, call (925) 947-3535, or go to www.savemountdiablo.org.

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