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Orange County’s Environmentalists Today

Updated: May 6, 2023

This article will spotlight the work of just a few of today’s environmentalists in Orange County, and by no means encompasses all the amazing work being performed by local environmentalists. To all of those that actively push towards the preservation of local habitats, we thank you.

Image Credits: Reform and Sustain

Ariane Jong is the co-founder and project manager for the local environmental activist group Reform & Sustain. As a PhD student and research scientist at the University of California, Irvine, she also works with the UCI Flood Lab by contributing to research into affected communities, using simulation technology. This characterizes flooding and erosion dynamics, keeping a focus on stormwater infrastructure in southern California and factors like fire cycles, precipitation, and sediment and debris that clog that infrastructure. Jong worked with regional agencies like the Riverside County Flood Control District to improve emergency planning, as well as to manage and implement water quality and volume monitoring plants. Her aim is to raise public awareness on the relationship people have with the natural environment, and she hopes to contribute to efforts in mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change for the good of our community, ecosystems, and future generations. To find out more about Reform & Sustain, go to their website.

Image Credits: OCEJ

Raised in Santa Ana, California, Patricia Jovel Flores is the Project Director of the nonprofit Orange County Environmental Justice (OCEJ), the nonprofit that paved the way with research and investigation for the lead-contaminated soils throughout predominantly Latin American communities in Santa Ana in 2018. Working with OCEJ, UCI Newkirk Fellows and OC Coast Keepers, door-to-door surveys were also conducted in areas of Orange County that faced the highest pollution burden. This used a research method called PhotoVoice with the purpose of creating community dialogue on Orange County water quality, while also documenting the water quality and amplifying the voices of those experiencing the highest pollution burden. Flores organized a grassroots organizing collective in Orange County called Colectivo Tonantzin that addressed the rights of day laborers and domestic workers. Her work also extends to working alongside Acjachemen and Tongva activists to Protect Puvungna and other sacred sites in Orange County. If you're interested in getting involved with OCEJ, you can look for future events here.

Image Credits: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Dr. Alex Guenther is an international leader in atmospheric and terrestrial ecosystem research and has developed numerical modules widely used to simulate biogenic reactive gas and aerosol emissions for air quality and climate modeling. Dr. Guenther led development of the Model of Emissions of Gases and Aerosols from nature (MEGAN) tool which the EPA and the California Resources Board use to regulate air quality. Currently, Dr. Guenther works with AirUCI to research anthropogenic emissions and their chemical transformation in the atmosphere, as well as to research climate-carbon cycle feeds, fires, land cover change, remote sensing, tropical deforestation, global change in arctic and boreal ecosystems, terrestrial ecosystems, and climate policy. Dr. Guenther is also the senior scientist for the research firm Byers Scientific that aims to address air quality and air emission challenges. If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Guenther’s work, please check out his page here for more information on his role with Byers Scientific.

Image Credits: LinkedIn

Dr. Dick Zembal is the Natural Resources Director of the Orange County Water District, the Principal Investigator of Coastal Endangered Species for the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy, and is the Natural History professor of Saddleback Community College. He started the Clapper Rail Recovery Program with the Chula Vista Nature center where birds were bred and released into local wetlands. This program was then adopted and supported by the U.S. Fish & Service, SeaWorld San Diego, San Diego’s Safari Park, the U.S. Navy, the port of San Diego and the California Department of Fish and Game. Dr. Zembal worked with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in the late 1980s to increase the endangered Ridgeway Rail’s (previously named the Clapper Rail) population. The population was 240 birds in 1992, and now there are over 1,000 birds - but the species remains listed as endangered. He has since been named the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Recovery Champion. Dr. Zembal is also a partner with OC Habitats and Project Grow as a biologist with our Upper Newport Bay Algerian Sea Lavender (Limonium ramosissimum) Removal project.

These four passionate and hard-working environmentalists are just a few of many, many brilliant scientists and activists working to preserve the environment in Orange County and beyond. OC Habitats highly encourages all readers to find out more of the environmentalists in your own community and backyard, and getting involved. You can make a positive impact on your environment by joining local conservation organizations and events near you! Our team at OC Habitats welcomes all new volunteers to join our upcoming events, check out our Eventbrite listings, if you’re feeling inspired by the work of these wonderful environmentalists to do amazing work for your local environment.

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