Saving The Bay through Meaningful Partnerships: Meet Bay Hero John Bourgeois

John exploring Alviso Slough

“Fishing was a part of my childhood. We’d hop on our bikes and go fishing for hours. It was a nice way to spend a weekend day, and there were always lots of bayous to explore.”

Even as a little kid growing up in southern Louisiana, John Bourgeois knew he wanted to do more than just marvel at wetlands. He wanted to protect them.

“This sounds weird, but I feel deeply wronged by what we’ve done to the environment… and it’s always informed how I interact with the natural world.”

Decades before he took the helm as Executive Project Manager for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, John set his mind on studying biology and ecology in his home state. To him, Louisiana faces “no bigger environmental issue than wetland loss.”

Initially, John hoped to solve the state’s challenges as an environmental lawyer. Spending one college summer as an intern in Washington, D.C. was all it took to change his mind.

“Seeing how the sausage is made in D.C…. I decided I would rather go into the technical side than the legal side.” John sensed the path toward significant wetland restoration would be “very long and political” if he spent his career in Washington. He also found it disheartening to watch “really bright people, a year or two out of law school, doing pretty menial work in congressional offices.”

Bedwell Bayfront Park, one of John’s favorite SF Bay views (photo credit: Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle)

So, John shifted gears to research, eager to build up wetlands on a faster scale than policy work allowed. He carried out studies in the “mangrove swamps of Micronesia” among other locations, gaining more and more experience in coastal restoration.

Ultimately, in joining the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, John says he landed the “perfect combo of what I thought I’d be doing — it unites science, policy, and has the applied aspect all in one.”

In many respects, the role of Executive Project Manager puts John at the center of a spider web. On a daily basis, he communicates with “regulatory agencies, local municipalities, utilities, research institutions” and a range of other groups.

Gaining support for a project with multiple phases and mighty goals presents a variety of challenges. But John says the secret to forming meaningful partnerships is quite simple: you just have to be honest. “We’re on a long-term path to success, but you might have to admit to some short-term failures, and it’s really appreciated, that transparency.”

John says he’s found it truly rewarding to collaborate with Save The Bay throughout the years. “I engage with Save The Bay on multiple levels – including working closely with [Habitat Restoration Director] Donna Ball addressing on-the-ground restoration efforts or salt pond sites.”

John alongside Donna Ball, Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Director

He’s also far from disappointed at the pace – or impact — of Save The Bay’s policy efforts. “Save The Bay’s work is not just an important part of our project, but so critical to the Bay Area restoration community.” John says Save The Bay’s decade-long push for Measure AA proved “fundamental” for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project to move forward.

John is grateful for this, as he enjoys the chance to share its story with diverse crowds. “Throughout high school and into college, I was active in debate and acting. I think both have helped me tell a story, tailor my message to difference audiences so it sticks.”

Now, with help from long-time partners like Save The Bay, John gets to watch his favorite kind of wetland story unfold: “the bulldozers moving dirt, local species coming back, Bay waters flowing again, habitat establishing — I’m the most excited seeing these on-the-ground results.”

 

**Save The Bay will honor John Bourgeois as one of a select group of Bay Heroes during our third annual Bay Day celebration – October 6, 2018. Learn how you can dig in, vote, or donate like a true Bay Hero: bayday.org