Barbara Salzman

Keep At It

Recorded: August 28, 2012

What lessons can we learn from an expert known for saving wetlands? Barbara Salzman speaks about her experience protecting wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Barbara Salzman is known for assembling teams to purchase property and restore valuable California wetlands. She has been a persistent presence in Marin County and has been involved with almost every significant wetland or bayland property in private ownership, and is now currently President of the Marin Chapter of the National Audubon Society.

Ms. Salzman moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1968 where she, as a young mother and social worker, began to learn about the natural environment by taking her young son to programs offered by the famous naturalist, Mrs. Terwilliger. As she learned about her surrounding environment, she became actively involved with environmental issues. She began reviewing development projects and found that in her area, wetlands along San Francisco Bay were being filled. Barbara understood the value of wetlands and was adamantly opposed to development on landfill. She has done more than many resource management professionals to protect native species and rare habitat, secure state and private funding for habitat protection and leaves a lasting legacy for ordinary people who want to make a difference.

Barbara Salzman: I really didn’t have an interest in the environment when I moved to California. I’m from a little suburb of Philadelphia called Upper Darby. When I grew up there, the only open space was the cemetery down the street, it was a Quaker cemetery. It was all, you couldn’t go in. The only county public park was way, many, many miles away. And so when I got here you know I got married, had a kid, a little kid and I went out with Mrs. Terwilliger and that’s what turned me on. The thing that I like about Audubon is it’s focused on wildlife and you know to me, if you get the wildlife right, you get, you get everything else.

Huey Johnson: A good indicator of quality.

Barbara Salzman: Yes…Comes in because it – they need what we need. We’re all needing the same, clean water, clean air. The reason we sort of got involved in all of this is because we began to realize that Fish and Game seemed to be buying properties other places and they had sort of an interest in a refuge in the North Bay and we felt neglected in Marin. And we decided that we would develop a campaign to protect Marin’s Bay lands, so our focus has been along San Francisco and San Pablo Bays.

Barbara Salzman: Audubon before me realized that you know people were looking at redwood trees and whatever and that they weren’t paying much attention to wetlands. So they had a very early list of wetland properties that they wanted to protect and so we built on that and got a list of properties that were still in private ownership. It took us a while to be able to purchase the first one, Triangle Marsh; it took us 4 or 5 years. We had really successful partnerships with you know many entities. The Open Space District has given us a little bit of money in the beginning of most of the acquisitions that we’ve done and that sends a message that, you know it’s an important habitat.

Barbara Salzman: We’ve done a lot of advocacy for protecting properties. This is one of the things that we realize too, that when you protect wetlands through a development process, I mean its better than not doing that, but you always end up with some development really close or you know, too close or too – there’s a compromise, you lose part of the wetland, it gets mitigated, you have to build it somewhere else and more often than that they don’t work. So that’s also what motivated us to get started to try and acquire property, because the people – because it was less effective than buying it and getting it in good hands.

Barbara Salzman: If you hang in there, my experience has been that you’re more likely than not to be successful in the end. But the other important piece is you have to have a vision. If you don’t have a vision of what you want, for example, we had the vision of wanting to protect the remaining Bay lands along San Francisco and San Pablo Bays you know, you’re not going to have as much motivation.

Barbara Salzman: So get yourself a strong vision and be persistent, be there and keep at it.

  • pam d

    Re: a small area of wt lands
    Coming from the west on Sir Francis Drake Blvd, there is a small area ( just before the on ramp to North Bound 101 )
    where I have watched egrets and the herons gracefully walk in the wet lands there.
    I have also witnessed large truck loads of wood chips being dumped there. ….and essentially filling the area in. Do not understand why our county or whoever is responsible can allow this to happen year after year..