Environmentalist of the Year

Environmental Awards 2023

Watch the video of the 2023 SCCC awards ceremony honoring Sonoma County environmentalists.

Environmentalists of the Year 2023

Sustainable Development Advocacy

Kathy Pons & Sonia Taylor

Kathy Pons (Glen Ellen) is a founder and current president of the Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA), a group that advocates for wise stewardship of the natural resources and sustainable growth in the Valley of the Moon corridor, and provides oversight of major development projects, water issues, and winery/event venue density.

Kathy was involved in forming the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Management Plan before the state mandate of GSAs, measuring water levels in volunteer wells to collect data about local groundwater levels. She focuses on the community impacts from development of traffic along Highway 12 through Sonoma Valley as well as planning for wildfire evacuation plans. Kathy’s long term and continued commitment to preserving and protecting the Valley of the Moon from on-going development pressures has led to tangible results in achieving these goals. Kathy and her allies will continue to express the concerns of the community with projects such as Kenwood Ranch, Sonoma Developmental Center, Hanna Housing Project and the Elnoka development.

Sonia Taylor (Santa Rosa), environmental, affordable housing and sustainable development advocate, will be recognized for her activism on many fronts. An indefatigable researcher with an insider’s knowledge of how government operates, Sonia works behind the scenes in the permit and planning process and has been involved with crafting policy positions on – among others – the Santa Rosa General Plan, Chanate Road development, and fire safety. Her graphic design skills have benefited many progressive campaigns. Sonia’s defense of CEQA, insistence on government transparency and enforcement of environmental protections have enlightened the public as well as decision makers.

Lifetime Environmental Achievement Award

Margaret Briare (Bodega Bay): According to her colleagues at Bodega Bay Concerned Citizens, Margaret Briare has been an unsung heroine of the Bodega Bay environment for more than 30 years. Her many accomplishments include helping protect a heron rookery on Bay Flat Rd from destruction, mapping wetlands, resolving code violations by the Harbor View development, and pressuring legal council for the California Coastal Commission Counsel to address violations of Coastal Act regulations. “Saving the Sonoma Coast (especially Bodega Bay) has been a longtime goal of mine since spending time here as a child when the bay was being dredged and the marina was being built.”

Norman Gilroy (Glen Ellen) is a tireless champion of the environment. “Retired” to the Sonoma Valley after 30 years with The Institute for the Human Environment, where he worked on environmental problem solving internationally, he has defeated proposals for a huge Amazon warehouse and a LPG tanker storage yard.

At the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), he served on the local Policy Committee and on CAFF’s statewide Board. He helped implement new earthquake-compliant facilities for Sonoma Valley Hospital, served for nine years on the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission, and now serves on the Advisory Committee for the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA). His current passion is saving the land and resources at the former Sonoma Developmental Center from over-development.

After decades of experience as an architect and planner, leading projects from design to completion, Norman has a brilliant capacity for synthesis of concepts and finding breakthrough solutions to complex issues. He is a team player who can gracefully bring people together by focusing on common goals and long-term impacts.

Youth Environmental Award

Galen Freed-Wilhelm: According to Tony Passantino of the Sonoma Ecology Center, Galen Freed-Wilhelm, is “An exceptional young individual whose unwavering dedication to environmental conservation, profound passion for reptiles, and remarkable accomplishments within our community warrant the highest recognition.”

Galen’s fascination with the natural world and his special interest in reptiles, set him apart as a contributor to understanding local biodiversity. He has documented an impressive 1,145 individual species on the Sonoma Developmental Center property, and he conducts regular naturalist walks at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, captivating audiences of all ages with his expertise and infectious passion. Demonstrating his commitment to the safety of both humans and animals, Galen relocates rattlesnakes from the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park campground to safer habitats.

In his own words, Galen says, “I have loved exploring and learning about nature since the time I could walk. I really like teaching people about animals and their behaviors, especially helping them overcome their fears.”

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Environmental Awards 2022

Watch the video of the 2022 public awards ceremony honoring Sonoma County environmentalists.

Environmentalists of the Year 2022
Fire-Safe Roads Advocates

When fires swept through Sonoma County in 2017 and 2019, thousands of residents were forced to evacuate on narrow, winding roads. This scenario has been repeated far too often throughout California since then with ensuing and sometimes deadly traffic jams.

A trio of local leaders – Marylee Guinon, Judith Olney and Deborah Eppstein – have worked tirelessly for the Fire-Safe Roads initiative, with the goal of preventing similar scenes from unfolding again here in Sonoma County and around the State. As part of the State Alliance for Firesafe Road Regulations (SAFRR), they went head-to-head with the California Board of Forestry, the County of Sonoma and building and rural development advocates, and fought to change State regulations governing the fire-safe design of roads and new development approval in fire-prone areas.

Their efforts were rewarded in August 2022, when the BOF reversed its proposed adoption of looser standards and narrower roads. They continue their advocacy, following up with local jurisdictions to require implementation of the new standards.

Click to view SAFRR Presentation (pdf)

Lifetime Environmental Achievement Award

Willard “Will” Richards, this year’s posthumous Lifetime Environmental Achievement awardee, is remembered by his friends and colleagues at the Sonoma County Transportation and Land-Use Coalition (SCTLC) as a dedicated advocate for environmentally sound land-use and transportation in the North Bay.

As co-founder and chairman of the SCTLC, he lobbied for the SMART train, transit-oriented development near railways, and improved pedestrian/bicycle pathways. He was an expert on air pollution, and led research studies for 30 years to understand the negative impacts that atmospheric particles from power plants and major urban areas have on visibility in National Parks and wilderness areas.

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Environmental Awards 2021

Watch the video of presentation of the 2021 Sonoma County Environmental Awards
Four Sonoma County leaders were honored for their many years of dedication, focus and effective action in protecting the local environment.

Environmentalist of the Year 2021

Don McEnhill, the Executive Director of Russian Riverkeeper since 2001, is passionately committed to caring for the health of the Russian River. Under Don’s watch (and close-up observation of the River by kayak), Russian Riverkeeper has grown to provide a wide range of River-related services, including environmental education, River cleanup, park development, and programs for dealing with fire damage, erosion and drought. Don speaks for the Russian River in this difficult time of climate change, advocating for water policies and regulations that will allow the River ecosystem to thrive while balancing the needs of people. Don’s advocacy in this year of historic drought has been especially critical.

Lifetime Achievement Awards
Protection of the Sonoma County Coast

One of the treasures of Sonoma County, our natural and undeveloped Coast, is the hard-won result of over fifty years of activism and advocacy. This year the county is undertaking an update of the Local Coastal Plan, in which the future of coastal communities is again at stake, so it is timely to highlight the accomplishments of three very effective Coast protectors.

Cea Higgins has been a key figure for decades in cleaning up and protecting the Sonoma County Coast. She has worked with the Sonoma Coast Surfrider Foundation, organizing volunteers, cleaning up plastic and other trash, and educating about the coast. Cea’s contributions include marine mammal protection, ocean water quality monitoring, coastal trail promotion and coastal access for under-represented communities (as Executive Director for Coastwalk), working on the kelp forest ecosystem breakdown and climate adaptation, and advocating for the coast during the county’s Local Coastal Plan Update.

Michele Luna has been the Executive Director of Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods (first Stewards of Slavianka) since 1994, growing the organization into a powerful and respected voice for the environment of western Sonoma County. Beginning with protection of seals, whales and redwoods, the Stewards expanded, partnering with California State Parks and many other conservation and environmental stewardship organizations to bring people and the land together. The Stewards’ programs under Michele Luna have included restoration projects, fish passages, monitoring seals and sea lions in the Russian River estuary, volunteer trail work, training youth stewards, removing barriers to parks access, and fire ecology training.

Richard Retecki: As a planner for Sonoma County in the 1970’s, Richard worked on the county’s very first Local Coastal Plan. During his career, Richard Retecki has worked as a planner, grant writer and project manager for the county and the California Coastal Conservancy. He has completed an impressive list of restoration and parks projects that benefit the people of Sonoma County. As a volunteer he has served on the board of Coastwalk and the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation, helping to raise money for parks and for coastal access. Currently he is using his long experience with the coast as a founding member of the Save Sonoma Coast Group with the purpose of reviewing and recommending improvements to the Sonoma County Draft Local Coastal Plan.

Environmental Awards 2021 Read More »

Environmental Awards 2020

The 2020 Sonoma County Environmental Awards were presented at the SCCC & Sierra Club Sonoma Group’s
Holiday Networking and Environmental Awards Event

December 4, 2020


Inspiring Youth Awards

Jamie Nakama, the Youth Program Manager at Landpaths, excels at environmental education and bringing children out into nature. Even in the midst of a pandemic she organized a safe summer camp for kids and created multi-media zoom lessons for teachers and parents. Jamie is committed to justice and equity and is training and mentoring the most diverse team of environmental educators in the county.


Janina Turner, Energy Program Coordinator, The Climate Center. Janina tackles the climate crisis from every angle: education, policy and protest. Her work has focused on expanding Community Choice Energy within California as well as organizing with the Sunrise Movement in Sonoma County, a youth-led movement to stop the climate crisis while creating millions of good jobs. She inspires those around her to fight for what’s right from climate to racial justice.

Local Produce Rescue

While best known as a top local chef, Duskie Estes has been a committed and dynamic sustainability advocate for many years, while supporting local food and small farmers. Recently she has focused on the issue of food waste through her work as the Executive Director of Farm to Pantry, connecting the dots between food waste as one of the top drivers of climate change, and the urgent need for food for families in our community.

2020 Ernestine I. Smith “Environmentalists of the Year” Forest Champions

2020 has been Northern California’s fourth consecutive year of major wildfires, one of the many serious consequences of climate change. As our forests transition to adapt to climate change, people must adapt as well. While continuing to protect the traditional roles of forest as wildlife habitat and an essential element of watersheds, we must re-think our relationships with fire and the landscape to safely adapt human communities to wildfire while maximizing carbon storage in forests and other ecosystems.

We would like to honor three leaders who are addressing these issues:

Rick Coates, Director of Forest Unlimited, has worked on forest protection for decades, collaborating, organization-building, educating, and planting trees. Under his watch, Forest Unlimited has marshalled volunteers to plant over 33,000 redwoods and oaks, form watershed groups, and oppose local logging of old growth and other irreplaceable forest areas.

Chris Poehlmann, in his 15 years volunteering (7 as President) with Friends of the Gualala River, led successful movements to stop several major logging, vineyard and development projects in north-west Sonoma County. Chris was instrumental in pulling together legal action, fundraising, protests, publicity, and collaboration with other environmental groups to stop these projects, which would have hugely impacted the forests and watersheds in the north-west county.

Maya Khosla is a Wildlife Biologist, Film Maker and Writer. Her background and interests converged following the 2007 fires to make her an unparalleled communicator about fire and forest ecosystems. Her films, Searching for the Gold Spot, and Firewise: The Scientists Speak, raise urgent questions about the current approaches to fire safety in the Wildland-Urban Interface and the demand for forest ‘thinning’ by timber and biomass industries.

Environmental Awards 2020 Read More »

Environmental Awards 2019

2019 Ernestine I. Smith “Environmentalist of the Year”

Woody Hasting’s energetic work around organizing to stop new gas stations from being built in the County has been one of the success stories of the year. “Sometimes we win!”

Following a 2018 campaign in Petaluma to stop a gas station from being built next to a school, an effort began to stop a new gas station project on Hwy 116 near Cotati. This campaign was picked up and amplified by Woody and in the end the application was withdrawn.

Many people pitched in to stop the gas station projects, but Woody brought an urgency and clarity of purpose that has transcended the individual campaigns. He has engaged environmental groups around the County, and urged a forward-looking response to climate change – invest in building renewable energy, not obsolete fossil fuel infrastructure.

For the last decade, Woody has worked at the Center for Climate Protection, using his organizing skills to promote Community Choice Aggregation in general and the formation of our local CCA, Sonoma Clean Power.

Lifetime Environmental Achievement Award
When Pat & Ted Eliot moved to Sonoma County in the 1980’s, they began volunteering to preserve open space and create public trails. They were involved in passing the ballot measures that set up and funded the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space district.The Eliots helped create the Sonoma Mountain Preservation Group and the Sonoma leg of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and advocated for open space in the upcoming plan for the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center. Between them they supported and served on the boards of Landpaths, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Madrone Audubon, Point Blue Conservation Science and many other organizations.

Their actions helped to permanently save open space in Sonoma County and to open it up to the public.

Environmental Awards 2019 Read More »

Environmental Awards 2014

Sonoma County Environmentalist of the Year

Stephen Fuller-Rowell

Special Recognition

Wendy Krupnick, Queen Bee

Lifetime Environmental Achievement

Anne Teller and family (Oak Hill Farm)

Outstanding Educators, Projects and Programs Award

STRAW: Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed

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