The Roth Family Donation Sparks a Legacy of Environmental Education and Research


William and Joan Roth (far right) with SSU Preserves Director Claudia Luke (second from left) and their children (left to right) Maggie, Jessica, Grandson Willem Vorster and his mother Ana Roth.

Less than a year before his death this May, William Matson Roth was thinking of Sonoma State University (SSU) and the nature preserve that he and his family's philanthropy had created in the hills above the campus.

In their most recent "gift of generosity," William and Joan Roth, and their children Jessica, Maggie, and Ana, donated a 40-acre parcel at the top of Sonoma Mountain to cement the future of the 450-acre Fairfield Osborn Preserve they had helped create.

"At SSU, we teach students of all ages and from all disciplines about the importance of their connections to local environments - something that they can carry with them throughout their careers," says SSU Preserves Director Claudia Luke.

"The Roth family's generous donation and history of giving has created a legacy of learning for generations."

The property carries a "forever wild" conservation easement with the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District that blocks any future development or access roads through the Preserve.

fairfieldosborn.jpgThe Roth's initial land donation of 221 acres in 1972 to the Nature Conservancy was made in honor of Joan Roth's father, Fairfield Osborn. Osborn was a well-known naturalist, writer, and conservation advisor to several U.S. presidential administrations.

In 1948, his book "Our Plundered Planet" was published, a prophetic work in which he warned that the earth's resources were not inexhaustible and that the ecological web connecting all life could be broken by thoughtless, irreparable action.

His family has taken that to heart. Osborn Preserve has become a symbol of a family's hopes, generosity and love of the land.

In 1997 when the property transferred to SSU, the Roth family expanded their initial gift by adding 190 adjacent acres with education in mind. It doubled the size of the Osborn Preserve to 411 acres.

Since the University took ownership and management of the land, programs at the Preserve have expanded to create transformational environmental and research experiences for students in all disciplines. These run the gamut from performing arts, engineering, biology and environmental studies to anthropology, social sciences, and business.

One of these is the Osborn Environmental Sensor Network, a sensor-to-screen network built by students for students in engineering science, computer science and environmental disciplines.

preservesfieldwork.jpgFor the past 32 years, Fairfield Osborn Preserve has also provided natural history education and land management programs for university students, elementary school children, and the public.

Hundreds of 3rd-5th graders annually visit the Preserve where they interact with plants, soil, water, rocks, insects and animals in ways that help them understand their interconnectedness with and relationship to our planet.

The Osborn Preserve also hosts research projects from many academic institutions and environmentally focused non-profits, the most significant of which concerns the continued study of the spread and the impacts of Sudden Oak Death Syndrome.

SSU now owns a total of 450 acres of property on Sonoma Mountain that includes its 2,300-foot high northern ridgeline.

Luke says the new donation is also a crucial component of a regional habitat corridor that connects the Blue Ridge and Mayacama Mountains to Point Reyes National Seashore.

The corridor allows animals with long-ranging roaming needs like the mountain lion to move freely throughout the region.

"The Roth's dreams have been heard, they are in safe hands, and are on a trajectory to change the world." Luke says.

ABOVE: SSU biology class with Preserve educator Suzanne DeCoursey studies watershed issues.

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