Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A spit of sand at the mouth of the Russian River where hundreds of harbor seals have entered life will soon be dotted with mothers and their newborn pups as birthing season gets under way.
Watching over them will be human volunteers who, for three decades, have devoted their time to protecting harbor seals on the beach from throngs of weekend visitors whose enthusiasm for the coast, its ocean vistas and its wildlife can put at risk the pups and the larger seal population of up to 300.
Cobbled together by a few stalwart folks in 1985 to reinforce the efforts of state park rangers stretched thin along 14 miles of Sonoma Coast State Park, the Seal Watch program helped usher in an era of volunteerism that has sustained and enhanced state parks in Sonoma County ever since.
It started as a focused campaign to educate the public about the need to give the seals their space and has blossomed into a large, multi-faceted nonprofit organization whose contributions can be found throughout the beaches, neighboring watersheds and forests that make up the park system’s Russian River Sector.
From trail repair to tide pool tours, stream bed restoration to bird surveys, the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods provides it, relying on its base of about 350 volunteers and partnering with myriad public and nonprofit agencies aligned with preserving park lands and increasing human engagement with them.
“It’s a great program, and it has really expanded its reach,” said Andrea Pecharich, an environmental specialist with the Sonoma County Water Agency, one such collaborator.