Pamela Flick has dedicated most of her life to saving lives. As the program director for the California arm of Defenders of Wildlife, a national nonprofit that preserves native plants and wildlife, Flick is furthering the effort to protect the state’s 300 threatened and endangered species.
You must love being in nature to spend your career trying to saving it.
Having been raised outside Yosemite National Park, national parks hold a really important space in my heart. Yosemite fed my interest in the natural world and instilled in me a love of ecology and natural history and interpretation, so I could share my knowledge of the natural world with other people. You have to know something before you love something. Helping people gain a better understanding of the natural world is an important step in making conservation advocates out of anyone.
Do you get to spend much time in the field?
I became the California program director three weeks before lockdown, but I’ve been with Defenders for almost 17 years. Prior to taking the director job, I split my time working in the Sierra Nevada on forest and fire issues. The other half was on wolf recovery. (Dec. 28, 2021) was the 10th anniversary of wolf OR-7 (its tag name for tracking purposes) stepping into California—the first wild wolf to step paw into California in 90 years. It’s so exciting! In the 10 years since, we have three concurrent groups of wolves—somewhere around 40 different individual wolves—in the state. That’s really important progress. We’re on a trajectory to recovery.
Why is it important that we attempt to save endangered species, like the wolf, and their habitats?
This is one example of the more obvious connection between our conditions on the ground and how that affects humans and economic systems: The Chinook salmon are critically endangered. It’s scary. This, in turn, affects not only recreational fishers and tribal communities where salmon is so critical to their way of life, but also commercial fishermen. Some of the salmon fisheries are on the brink of collapse. Zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19 result from human-wildlife interactions. There is a significant body of scientific research that shows protecting more open space and preserving biodiversity protects us by reducing the spread of diseases, slowing the impacts of climate change, and improving air and water quality.
What’s your current focus?
One of the most pressing issues in our region and the western U.S. is drought. This past year was the driest on record; our state’s reservoirs [ran] extremely low. It’s really challenging not only for human needs and the farmers who grow our crops, but for wildlife and habitat that needs water and wetlands to survive and thrive.
What’s being done to help?
There’s a global effort (called 30×30) to protect 30 percent of our planet’s land and water by 2030. California is forefront in the effort with about 24 percent of land protected and 16 percent of wetlands. But California has lost more than 90 percent of our historical wetland habitats. If you drive up the Sacramento Valley, a lot of those fields that you see flooded and filled with dabbling ducks and geese are rice fields. Rice uses a lot of water, and those lands have become surrogate habitats for species. We’re figuring out how rice farmers can fallow or rest their lands in a way that’s still sensitive to the aquatic species like giant garter snakes that need those wetlands to live.
How can Sac Mag’s readers help?
Being mindful to conserve water whenever possible: Don’t run the water while you brush your teeth, install drip irrigation for your landscaping or, even better, opt for native plants in your garden, which not only tolerate lower amounts of water through the growing season, but you have the added bonus of supporting native pollinators. What might seem like minor steps along the way make a difference when it comes to conservation.