Roy van de Hoek

Being a 'Political Biologist'

Recorded: July 28, 2012

Roy explains what motivates him to preserve Southern California wetlands, and why he considers himself a "political biologist."

Roy van de Hoek is a geographer, naturalist and field biologist. His scientific studies have been enhanced by spending much time in nature and working with the public and politicians on conservation campaigns along the California coast and Catalina. This self-described ‘political biologist’ is soft spoken, but determined. In 1997, Mr. van de Hoek was hailed as a “hellraiser” by Mother Jones magazine after he was arrested in the Carrizo Plains in San Luis Obispo County for allegedly tearing down fences and removing trees put in by the Bureau of Land Management, his former employer. In his defense, he said simply, “If you’ve made this a natural area, then you have to live up to what that means.” Mr. van de Hoek has led naturalist tours of the Ballona wetlands ecosystem near Los Angeles for the past decade, and provides materials links through his website,

Roy Van de Hoek: My passion is to work with the nonprofits that, with Marcia Hanscom and other activists. The Ballona Institute, the Wetlands Defense Fund and to be involved in a deeper education and teaching and being involved in science and conservation that way, just leading tours, going to meetings with Marcia, carpooling to those.

Huey Johnson: It’s nice that you and Marcia found each other.

Roy Van de Hoek: Uh huh. So she’s become a pretty good biologist and naturalist.

Huey Johnson: Has she?

Roy Van de Hoek: I think so and I just sit back and listen to her talk. And then she’s talked about that and she hasn’t been talking about the activism and the politics so then I’ll say something about the politics, so I’ve become kind of a political biologist to add to my other backgrounds, it’s kind of interesting.

Huey Johnson: That’s an interesting term I’ve never heard before; it’s a [unintelligible]. Why bother to save what many people would say might be a swamp when we could have a skyscraper there or a parking lot?

Roy Van de Hoek: Well there’s – there’s science and economics both, but let me start with beauty. It’s a beautiful place. The marshes, swamps are beautiful places. They’re the sounds that you hear there, the colors that you that you see, the moods, that has to always be the, I think the primary aspect is the beauty and then the link to the spirit in our soul. Then onto science and economics, there’s a lot of writing coming out about all the millions of dollars or billions of dollars of services that marshes, swamps provide to us from food that it provides to us, the water clean thing that swamps and marshes do with being a filter, the – just an infinite number of resources that haven’t been calculated even in some ways of how marshes help us.

Roy Van de Hoek: And you could even go back to people buying a pair of binoculars as economics or having a camera or pencil and paper to write about wetlands. As intricate as that, I don’t know and then for the science, it’s a great laboratory for teaching, for study. There’s a million questions to ask just as in a coral reef or in a rainforest, the swamp or the marsh is – needs to be up there in that same recognition along with coral reefs and rainforests and so we need more marshes and swamps.