While handheld devices seem to rarely leave our hands, it’s important to remember that nature is also at our fingertips. (Courtesy Peter Alexander)

Restore our connection to nature in The City

Today is World Environment Day. While the whole world is celebrating and showing tremendous solidarity around combating climate change, many of us in the United States are feeling dismayed by our own country’s recent actions. However, in San Francisco, we remain committed to honoring the Paris Climate Agreement. One of our key obligations is to protect biodiversity and ecological systems, and this year’s World Environment Day theme is “Connecting to Nature.”

Some may think San Francisco doesn’t have much nature to celebrate, but in fact, we are recognized as an urban biodiversity hotspot. Our parks, natural areas, backyards and green spaces still harbor hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, untold diversity of insects, and 10 federally listed endangered species, including uniquely San Francisco species such as the Presidio and Franciscan manzanitas and the Mission Blue butterfly. An estimated 150 species of native bees still live in San Francisco, pollinating more than 450 species of indigenous plants in our wildlands, parks, community gardens and on hotel rooftops.

While San Francisco’s biodiversity is impressive, it faces significant challenges as a microcosm of the global biodiversity crisis. In April of this year, a group of scientists proposed a new Global Deal for Nature, similar in scope to the Paris Climate Agreement, in which 50 percent of land would be conserved for nature through habitat protection and restoration. This bold vision is inspired by “Nature Needs Half,” a campaign promoted by the Wild Cities network, of which San Francisco is a founding member.

At a time when the federal government is taking steps to reduce protections for our long-treasured public lands, San Francisco is charting a different course. Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors approved the Natural Resource Areas Management Plan, an important guiding document for conservation of biodiversity on lands owned by the city of San Francisco. Just a few weeks ago, the Commission on the Environment passed a resolution that outlines a comprehensive vision and concrete goals for the overall protection of our local ecosystems and biodiversity in our wildlands, parks and in the built environment.

World Environment Day is a reminder that connecting to nature in The City is not only possible, but something that makes San Francisco special. We know how to celebrate cultural diversity and today we are celebrating our biological diversity. It’s up to all of us to do what we can to preserve, restore and enhance nature where we live.

A good way to start is to take a moment and appreciate the nature all around us. When you walk through your neighborhood, take a listen to the birds and wildlife and see if you can identify any by sight. You might be lucky enough to experience a native coast live oak tree in Golden Gate Park or see the Mission Blue butterfly at the top of Twin Peaks.

We can also do our part to protect nature by making sure we pack-out after our next park picnic or use less-toxic alternatives to pesticides in our backyards to keep pollinators healthy and thriving. If you want to join other nature minded San Franciscans, volunteer with the Recreation and Park Department to restore habitat or join the California Academy of Sciences at their next Bio-Blitz to identify and track plant and animal species throughout The City.

While the daily responsibilities of life often get in the way, and our handheld devices seem to rarely leave our hands, it’s important to remember that nature is also at our fingertips. So let’s take a moment, San Francisco, and connect with the beauty of nature in our city today. Remember, all you have to do is look up and look around.

Debbie Raphael is the director of the San Francisco Department of Environment.

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