Guess who won for the John Muir Association Conservationists of the year? Tom Rusert and Darren Peterie that’s who! If their faces look familiar they should. They’ve come to our last three beaver festivals and started their own nature event in Sonoma. Tom has been a beaver supporter since the early days, and recommended us to be a project of ISI, our new fiscal sponsor. This year they say they have a new display for the festival called “Binocular boot camp” with practice targets set up in the park. Their CBC4 kids has gone international and remains one of the most popular wildlife events in the hemisphere. Here’s something about their achievements from JMA.
Tom and Darren’s accomplishments are many. Tom and Darren co-founded Sonoma Birding based in Sonoma Valley, California in 2004 as a volunteer “citizen science” based conservation organization that established sustainable bird and nature-related activities and programs for all ages through a variety of partnerships in the United States and Canada. Tom and Darren went on to establish the first Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) for Sonoma Valley, the Wine Country Nature Lecture Series, and the “Spring Bird Count” for Sonoma Valley. In 2007 they founded CBC for Kids, a half-day “kid-size” event based on the traditional Audubon CBC but geared to youngsters (ages 8-16) and their families and developed other science activities and bird-related programs for kids.
In 2009, they founded the Arbor Day Celebration for the City of Sonoma and mapped the self-directed tree and bird walk of the 8-acre historic Sonoma Plaza in cooperation with the Sonoma Valley Visitor’s Bureau and the City of Sonoma. In 2010 they hosted the California Western Burrowing Owl Consortium and later teamed with the Sonoma Land Trust, AmeriCorps and private ranchers to establish 16 Burrowing Owl artificial habitats. Most recently, they established the Wine County Optics and Nature Festival, hosting major optics and binocular companies along with 30 nature nonprofits and astronomical societies attracting over 1,000 people in 2012 and 2013. They also created the North Bay Science Fair, a day-long “binocular boot camp”, and the Pt. Reyes Bird Festival Birdathon for Kids, and partnered with Wine Country Adventure Guide to highlight twenty-nine “hot” birding spots. Tom and Darren have received numerous awards for their efforts as well as media recognition.
When California became un-insane in 2013, Tom and Darren got married, so this is great timing to recognize their joint accomplishment on behalf of birds. I have a very distinct memory of my first meeting with Tom. He and Darren came to the beaver dam to talk about the possibility of beavers being included in their lecture series. We hadn’t met before but he knew Cheryl because he sometimes helped with releases for International Bird Rescue. He asked a series of very good questions and listened intently. I remember being short of breath and trying to hide that I was actually nervous, which by then almost never happened talking about beavers. When I finished with Martinez story he nodded and stepped back calmly, saying,
“Oh, I know who you are now. You’re someone who gets things done.“
In 7 years of beaver management and advocacy, I’ve never received higher praise. Congratulations Darren and Tom! We’re enormously proud and happy for you both and know John Muir would be proud of you too!