Marcia Hanscom

Working Alone

Recorded: July 28, 2012

Marcia was inspired to do environmental work after she read Al Gore's book. She began to learn about the environment by being a volunteer and working with others. For the past twenty years, Marcia has dedicated her time to preserving wetlands in Southern California.

Marcia Hanscom has dedicated over 20 years to the defense of wetlands in the Southern California region. She was first drawn to help save the Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach where she lived when she started her career in public relations. Ms. Hanscom was soon a member of the local Chamber of Commerce followed by the local Sierra Club chapter where she later became president.

Ms. Hanscom was instrumental in getting the State of California to acquire a valuable 600-acre parcel including the Ballona wetlands, an estuary that was the last significant open space in Los Angeles. She well understood the need for educating the public and the power of the pen; so she enlisted the help of both volunteers and many journalists in the area to take on the cause to restore the Ballona wetlands. As co-director of the Ballona Institute and the Wetlands Defense Fund, she is one of Southern California’s most indefatigable heroes for the earth, courageously standing up to big developers, including the government.

Huey Johnson: Anyway I’m looking out on the Los Angeles skyline on one hand I guess and the sea on the other and it’s all held together by a few people and you are kind of a champion. How did you get into your love of saving marshes?

Marcia Hanscom: It was interesting because it had to do with the place near where I lived in Huntington Beach. I lived by the Bolsa Chica Wetlands and I would ride my bicycle by there regularly and I was having some just sort of thinking in my life where I was at the time that I wanted to get off of, out of the fast lane and into doing something different. But I didn’t really think I was going to give up my business or anything. I had just read a book by Al Gore that said things were in bad shape here on the planet and I thought I needed to do something, it really moved me to do something but I didn’t really know what I was going to do and as I was riding by Bolsa Chica all the time, just happened to come across the Sierra Club booth and decided I would volunteer in the Sierra Club because I found out that you couldn’t really move your credentials from being in business into environmental work that easily and being a volunteer might be a way to find my way into the environmental arena.

Huey Johnson: What are some stories of the struggles you’ve had?

Marcia Hanscom: Mostly it’s had to do with as you say, having to stand alone often times and learning how to build a real solid group of people around me so that I wasn’t standing alone so much. And also really there’s been a bigger challenge in terms of political influence than I thought when I got involved. I learned from my father who was a veteran, when he didn’t get his veteran’s check, he would go to the White House or to the senator. I learned from him go to the top. So I always have done that in everything I do and have some sense of success, although I don’t know that I – these days I’m not really counting success as having saved a place or won a victory because I don’t know that those things are very permanent and that’s one of the sad things I’ve learned. But what I do think the success is in helping wake up more people and opening more eyes to how important nature is to us, we’ve forgotten that in this world.

Huey Johnson: What preparation should a person have if others say somebody to follow your example, what should a person do

Huey Johnson: For a young person and they’re looking for some commitment and decide they want to try and maintain the permanence of a place?

Marcia Hanscom: I think some of it is learning as much as you can, talking to other activists but also to learn the science and more than that, to learn yourself. I mean to me a spiritual sort of grounding of place is really the most important thing to me. If I don’t spend time walking around the Ballona Wetlands and spending time just being in nature and having nature’s voice sort of speak to me, then I’m not as strong to do the work I need to do. That’s what allows me to do this and to sometimes have to be standing alone being attacked by whoever by taking the stand that I am. In Los Angeles there really is quite a bit of nature here, it’s just a matter of helping people see it. And the people – and finding the people who do see it and getting them together to help make that chorus a little bit louder so people can hear it.

Huey Johnson: So you’re growing a cause.

Marcia Hanscom: Yes, yes.