Wednesday, May 9, 2012

2011-05-09 "Lena Septimo: Helping to preserve wild Napa County" by SASHA PAULSEN from "Napa Valley Register"

We were following a Jeep that was bumping its way along a narrow dirt road. To the left was a mountain; to the right a sheer drop to a canyon — breathtaking views, in more ways than one.
The Jeep kept stopping so its intrepid driver could jump out to heave boulders out of the way. At one point the growth from trees proved impassable, so from the back of the Jeep she pulled a pair of loppers and went to work clearing trail. When these didn’t do the job, she went back for a saw, also in the rear compartment of the Jeep. What, we wondered, would she pull out next? A chainsaw, perhaps?
The driver was Lena Septimo, land projects manager at Land Trust of Napa County, the preservations group that since 1975 has put more than 30,000 acres in the valley under protection through preserves and conservation agreements. Part of her work, she explained, is documenting conditions both before an acquisition and after, to ensure compliance.
It’s work that keeps her out in the wilds a lot, and that’s what she likes.
This day she was shepherding a media group around the Dunn-Wildlake Ranch, a 3,030-acre stretch of land in the north county, which will now be permanently wild, thanks to the $28 million the Land Trust was able to raise to buy it for a permanent preserve.
Septimo, who grew up in the high desert of eastern Washington, studied natural resource conservation at Eastern Washington University before heading to Panama with the Peace Corps. There she worked on environmental education and conservation; and also met her husband, Eliecer Septimo.
The Peace Corps, she said, “is a great way to be abroad … a great way to be outside the tourist box.”
Returning to the U.S., she finished her master’s degree at Eastern Washington University before heading south to Napa County to take a job with the Land Trust four years ago.
Another aspect of her job, Septimo explained, is leading field trips out onto Land Trust preserves. “It’s a great way of getting people out into the Land Trust lands,” she said.
Along the way, she has learned to know these wild places as only a person who had spent the bulk of her time in them can: As her media charges sat high up on a mountain, admiring the views of the distant valley, they embarked on a discussion of whether or not the tree that shaded them was an oak tree.
“It’s a white Oregon oak,” Septimo told the duly impressed group. “It took some time,” she explained, “but I think I’ve got all the oaks now.”
When the Jeeps could go no further, Septimo led the puffing reporters on a hike up to the top of the aptly named Potato Hill, where the reward was a 360-degree view of wilderness — not a grapevine in sight.
Here was Napa County as it was and will now continue to be, she explained. The Dunn-Wildlake property, she said, is a “marquee that indicates the dedication of the Napa community” — and this, she added, is part of a tradition that goes back to the landmark 1968 Ag Preserve legislation passed by voters to protect the agricultural lands of the county.
“I think it’s pretty cool that Napa did such a thing back then,” she said.
Lena Septimo shows a touring group of reporters the map outlining the Duff-Wildlake property. The Land Trust of Napa County was able to raise $28 million to purchase it and prevent its being developed. Submitted photo

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