Faces of Conservation: Sandi Matsumoto

"Protecting our environment is key to everything: our economy, our wildlife and our future."

Attracted by the sense of quiet and serenity that rivers provide, Sandi has dedicated the past eight years to preserving and protecting our rivers and wetlands. Sandi received her BA in economics from Yale and an MBA from UCLA. A new mother, she is spending her free time learning to fly-fish.

Sandi talks to us about her efforts to protect the millions of birds that depend upon the Pacific Flyway and the farmers who are making a difference.

Is it true that the Pacific Flyway is in jeopardy?

Sandi Matsumoto:

The Pacific Flyway is a major north-south route used by millions of migratory birds. Yet the stopover and wintering grounds in California’s portion of the flyway are disappearing. It’s not just about the land with these birds. It’s about water, too, and the water they need to survive is now diverted to cities and agricultural lands, resulting in a loss of 95 percent of California’s wetlands. We must figure out how these birds can survive.

What’s the plan?

Sandi Matsumoto:

With our partners at the National Audubon Society and PRBO Conservation Science we’re not only restoring critical habitat, but we’re working with farmers in the Central Valley, beneath the flyway to develop complementary, bird-friendly agricultural practices. The fields are flooded for rice production at critical times so the birds can use them for habitat, as well.

Is this is a changing role for water?

Sandi Matsumoto:

In California, we’ve come to the realization that water needs to do double-duty. No longer can we think of water as serving only one purpose—for agriculture only or for people only. In this case, water can have an economic benefit for farmers and support wildlife.

How is the project faring with the farmers?

Sandi Matsumoto:

There’s some skepticism among some of the farmers about working with environmentalists, but we’re seeing success. Natural resources are scarce, and the economy is challenging; we have to work together. This has to work for the farmer; otherwise they won’t participate.

So this is about community building?

Sandi Matsumoto:

That’s what we’re really good at—building relationships at the grassroots level. The farmers all know each other. They know us, too. To succeed, we must invest time in their community before they’ll engage with us.

What’s the future hold for this project?

Sandi Matsumoto:

This project can eventually affect hundreds of thousands of acres of a wide diversity of crops. We’re working to knit together habitat in Washington, Oregon and California. For myself, I think every day about my new baby and am passionate to ensure he will see these birds and play in these wonderful places that we are saving.


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