Skelton: How an otter is protecting California land and coast

Now we get it: California Gov. Gavin Newsom was first inspired to fight climate change and protect the environment by his childhood pet — Potter, the river otter.

Some of us thought Gov. Jerry Brown was a bit strange. But he didn’t cozy up to a river otter as a little kid. Nor was Brown particularly concerned about insects — at least that we know about. Newsom was and is.

Newsom told reporters about his early introduction to environmental causes last week while unveiling yet another executive order — this one to protect 30% of California’s land and coastal waters in their semi-natural state by 2030.

Not only would that help threatened animals, fish and wildlands, the governor said, but it would also slow global warming by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.

Give Newsom credit. It’s a noble and lofty goal. And probably achievable.

Too bad a forward-looking governor didn’t commit to that a century ago, before California became overrun with people, sickened by pollution and set ablaze by flammable wildlands. It’s not all the fault of climate change.

California has lost 95% of its wetlands since the early 1900s.

“It’s incredible, the loss of wetlands in the Central Valley,” says Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency. There have been successful efforts in the last 30 years to save what’s left, he says.

“That’s exciting. And it’s what we want to do more of — to stem that loss and maybe add some back.”

Back to Newsom’s early environmental training:

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The governor’s grandfather on his mother’s side, Arthur Menzies, who was imprisoned by the Japanese on Corregidor Island during World War II, returned “with one mindset,” Newsom said, “and that was a focus on California native plants. There’s a wonderful Menzies garden in the Bay Area.”

His grandfather “studied for decades — native plants and native species” of California, Newsom said. “I’ve always shared a little bit of that bias.”

His late father, William Newsom, founded the Mountain Lion Preservation Foundation and promoted a successful ballot measure that protected the cougars. The governor’s dad also became enamored with river otters.

“My first pet when I was a young child (was) a river otter,” Newsom said. “Some people have dogs and cats. I had a river otter — Potter the Otter.

“When I think about climate change, I think about animals. I think about plants. I think about insects. I think about farming…”

Last year, Newsom regaled a second-grade class in the fire-ravaged Sacramento Valley town of Paradise with a story about his pet otter.

“I’d get cozy with it,” he told the 7- and 8-year-olds, Times staff writer Taryn Luna reported. Potter slept curled up on little Gavin’s bed.

During the school visit, Newsom told reporters that his parents argued about Potter’s place in the family.

“There was the moment where the otter bit the mailman, and my mother said to my father, ‘It is either your son and daughter, or your damn otter,’” Newsom recalled. The governor jokingly added that Potter may have been “one of the reasons for the divorce.”

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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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