A Synopsis of SERCAL Conferences: 1994–2017

Spring 2017 Ecesis, Volume 27, Issue 1

This year’s conference theme, “Looking Back, Leaping Forward” was developed to allow all those who are fortunate enough to work in the restoration field to take a moment from the hustle and bustle of moving our profession forward into the future and allow us to reflect on our past work. 

There are lessons to be learned from our previous projects if we stop and take the time to listen. Sometimes those lessons may be readily apparent, such as looking out over a successful emergent marsh complex or a restored hillside. However, sometimes the lessons may take a little more effort to see. Your riparian restoration project was successful in terms of plant survival and cover but what functions and values does it provide? Is it replacing those lost at the impact site? Has there been recruitment by species you didn’t plant or seed? Could you use those species next time?

While working on the conference I began to ponder on SERCAL’s past and future. We have a tremendous Board of Directors and Administrative Director who I am confident will continue to move this organization forward! 

I’m already looking forward to the 2018 conference that my friend Ralph Vigil (HRS) is planning in Southern California. I first met Ralph in 1990 when we both worked at Sierra View Landscape (later, Restoration Resources, and now part of HRS) — I was a greenhorn from Massachusetts and hadn’t a clue about restoration. Looking back, I learned a lot from Ralph and those first projects we worked on — the same ones that inspired this year’s conference theme.

The 2018 conference in Southern California is SERCAL’s future. Let’s look back at our past
SERCAL was the inspiration of a small group of restoration practitioners back in 1991 who wanted to create an organization that focused on restoring California’s native ecosystems. SERCAL’s founders included names that may be familiar to many of you. To those of you who don’t know the names, please let me introduce the Steering Committee that met at the Kern River Preserve, 23-24 March 1991, to discuss and finalize the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws for SER-CA, the California Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration: Peter Fuhrman, Lisa Posternak, Gail Newton, Robert Taylor, Angela Dellavalle, Jim Pyle, Bruce Handley, Ted St. John, Betsy Landis, Cheryl Conel, Doug Hanford, Richard Buckberg, John Rodman, Mary F. Platter-Rieger, Ronald Tiller, John Ekhoff, John Rieger, and Gerhard Bombe. 


Since its inception, SERCAL has strived to provide its members with educational and networking opportunities to further and improve the work of restoring our native habitats. Thanks to SERCAL’s archivists (Susan Clark Coy & Julie St. John), I was able to look over our first conference brochures. Over the years our conference themes, plenary speakers, and session topics have well represented California’s diverse landscapes… just take a look at the boxes on these two pages! 

SERCAL’s first two gatherings, in 1991 and 1992, were regional symposia. The 1991 event was held in Oakland; Region 3’s Symposium on Vernal Pools. The 1992 event was held UC Riverside; Region 5’s Workshop on Restoring Southern California Sage Scrub & Grasslands. 

In 1994, we held our first conference in Nevada City — Restoration in the Bioregional Context. The plenary speakers that year were Freeman House (Mattole Restoration Council), John Olmstead (Independence Trail), Diane Jacobs (State Lands Commission), and Don Falk (SER). Things were pretty chill at the 1994 conference as evidenced by these conference activities:

  • May 6, 1994 (7:00-8:00 pm): Ecological Restoration Humor (including the renowned restoration singer Mr. Woody Debris and an inspirational lecture by Dr. Milton Smoot of the Northwestern Seminary of Ecological Restoration)
  • May 6, 1994 (8:00-9:00): Campfire Social
  • May 7, 1994 (4:30-6:00 pm): Your choice of volleyball, softball, or the SERCAL board meeting

Conferences followed in Santa Cruz, Yosemite Valley, and San Luis Obispo and by then we were off to the races. 

Shortly after the 1999 conference in San Francisco (which was co-hosted with SER), Board of Directors — John Coy, Mike Evans, Jeannette Halderman, Curt Boutwell, Joyce Hunting, Cindy Roessler, Lisa Ashley, and Bo Glover — filed new Articles of Incorporation to become recognized as a state and federal non-profit organization. By doing so, SERCAL became a stand-alone organization.


My first SERCAL conference was 2003 in Pacific Grove. I don’t recall specific lectures or posters but I do recall walking, birding, and playing Frisbee on the beach! I couldn’t attend in 2004, but in 2005 I co-taught a workshop at Bass Lake. After the conference wrapped up I went to the hotel bar for a beer with John Coy who suggested I join the SERCAL board. Great advice from a great man.

For the Mammoth conference in 2010, Board Member Michael Hogan suggested we recognize, in memoriam, the contributions of Andrea Mead Lawrence for her conservation and preservation work in the Eastern Sierra. This presentation inspired incoming President Mark Tucker to create the President’s Award to recognize individuals or organizations for their contributions to ecosystem restoration. The first award was presented to Mike Kelly at SERCAL 2011 in San Diego. This tradition will continue in Davis!

One thing I learned by reviewing our conference history is that no two conferences have been exactly the same in terms of duration, format, or content. Conference themes and session topics generally develop around the conference location and the issues of the day but are further enhanced by the board members, session chairs, and members who bring their own unique flavor to each conference. SERCAL is a restoration melting pot!

In closing, I’d like to say Thank You to SERCAL’s founders & our current leadership — it is because of their vision and commitment that I will be seeing you soon in Davis! — by Harry Oakes

This article would not have been possible without the assistance and institutional knowledge of Susan Clark Coy & Julie St. John who have long dedicated themselves to SERCAL.



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