Faces of Conservation: Sasha Gennet

Sasha Gennet brings her lifelong passion to the frontlines to preserve California's Central Coast.

Sasha Gennet brings her lifelong passion for nature and her PhD in ecology from UC-Berkeley to the frontlines to preserve California’s iconic Central Coast. Her latest work involves partnering with ranchers and other community members to protect the land, water, plants and wildlife in the area.

We talked to Sasha to find out what inspires her efforts and sparks her love of the land.

How do ranching and conservation relate to each other?

Sasha Gennet:

Central Coast rangelands are some of the last large, intact grassland and woodland landscapes in the region. Grasslands alone harbor half of the rare species in the state. Since more than 60 percent of the Central Coast is privately owned by ranchers, they’re natural partners in our conservation efforts.

How does this relationship affect Californians?

Sasha Gennet:

Conserving ranchlands is critical to not only our own well-being but the well-being of numerous other species as well. A tremendous amount of water flows from these properties. Nestled among numerous family ranches are some key waterways?the Salinas and Pajaro rivers flow to Monterey Bay, and Alameda Creek flows to San Francisco Bay. These waters supply our communities with drinking water and sustain farms throughout the region. Native aquatic species like steelhead are completely dependent on it.

These are critical water sources for this part of the state, and these lands and waters are highly threatened by development and climate change.

Is there something about water that inspires you?

Sasha Gennet:

It’s not just water?I’m incredibly passionate about all of it: water, animals, oak trees, grasslands. Being out in the field is incredible. It’s where I find peace and come back to my humanity.

How does a conservation scientist work with ranchers?

Sasha Gennet:

Ranches and a robust ranching industry are key to the success of conservation in the Central Coast region. We work together to protect the water supply, wildlife and the ranching industry through conservation easements, research and community partnerships. The people are fantastic.

Is that one of the best parts of your job?

Sasha Gennet:

Yes, working with and learning from the ranchers is the best. They’ve been out on the land for their entire lives; their families have been there for four, five and sometimes six generations. These people are the history of California. It’s an honor to share knowledge and help each other achieve our mutual goals. It’s incredible to see a vibrant family, living on a vibrant landscape, making a living while doing great conservation work at the same time.

You’re conducting research on restoring these landscapes?

Sasha Gennet:

Yes, I’m studying how to most efficiently conserve grasslands with the most biodiversity?native wildflowers, burrowing owls, snakes and other species. I’m determining how to accurately identify the most valuable areas so that we can develop methods for conservation that can be shared with others.

What got you started in conservation?

Sasha Gennet:

It started when I was a second grader in Florida; my class adopted a manatee. I learned so much about wildlife, water and nature, and that’s when I fell in love with it all. Now when I see the look in an eight year old’s eyes the first time he’s looking at a wildflower through a hand lens, it’s simply wonderful.

What’s next for you?

Sasha Gennet:

I became a mother to a beautiful baby girl last May, and this experience gave me a new lens to look through. I’m now thinking about what the world will be like for her. I want her to have clean, fresh water; good food; the opportunity to see butterflies and beautiful plants; and room to run around in nature.



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