Ten Years for SYRCL – Interview with Gary Reedy, River Scientist

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Senior River Scientist Celebrates 10 Years and Transitions 

Former Science Program Director and Senior River Scientist, Gary Reedy has had the longest continuous employment in SYRCL’s 34-year history. Gary recently ended this run and is now a consultant, providing ongoing services to SYRCL in the areas of dam regulations, river policy and salmon restoration. We asked Gary about his unique background, insights and outlook for SYRCL and the Yuba River.

What did you come to SYRCL to do?

I was hired as the River Science Program Director in 2006.  The challenge at that time was to establish the credentials, accomplishments and outlook of a science-based organization.  At the time, SYRCL had a well-regarded River Monitoring Program but intermittently engaged in different scientific forums.  Along with another River Scientist (Katrina Schneider, my wife) hired at the same time, we set out to strengthen SYRCL’s engagement in regulatory and legal forums that could accomplish our goals of protecting the river and improving the watershed.  Another major challenge was to build a restoration program that involved both hands-on work for our volunteers and the large actions required to remediate historic impacts to our river.

What has been your favorite thing about working for SYRCL?

I cherish working for a community-based non-profit organization that is defined by people’s love for place.  I like to think that I am working for the river, and serving everyone who cares about the Yuba and our future here.  This type of service makes me feel blessed, especially when I make it out on the river.

What is the most valuable perspective that you have gained by being with SYRCL for over ten years?

The strength of SYRCL is love. This might sound surprising coming from me – the scientist-but it’s true. SYRCL was started by people who loved the river so much that when it was threatened with dams, they had to organize to protect what they loved. To this day, SYRCL’s Board of Directors and long-time volunteers keep giving of themselves because they love the river and our community. Nowadays, SYRCL is fed, not just by donations and grants, but by the way people find meaning through working together. I enjoy seeing how the AmeriCorps and new staff members so quickly discover passion in working toward SYRCL’s mission. And the love does not stop with staff and volunteers. I have been humbled to work with professionals from agencies or private companies who have donated their time to help us with our goals because they know the Yuba River and feel a deep appreciation for what we are doing.

What have been your favorite personal accomplishments at SYRCL?

My favorite accomplishments can’t be represented as personal because there are so many others who have contributed, or even led at times. I am pleased that SYRCL has established itself as a science-based organization with strong presence in multiple forums. I am pleased that SYRCL has on-the-ground restoration projects in both the headwaters and the lower Yuba River. I am particularly proud of the Hammon Bar Pilot Project because I originally faced many naysayers in the scientific community. Today the project has 3,000 thriving trees that we planted, and is regarded as a model of what should be done for riparian restoration at a scale of 50-100 times greater. Those contributions have been at the core of my work.

I am also grateful for some things that I have been able to contribute along the way. For example, I helped keep salmon tours going during some lean years with little to no resources, and this provided continuity between the SYRCL’s previous River Teachers Program and the amazing River Education Program at SYRCL today.

How has your position changed over the decade?

My work increasingly focused on regulatory and planning processes that require long-term engagement for the eventual outcomes of salmon restoration, improved river flows below dams, and better collaborative management of our river-related resources.

Three years ago, Rachel Hutchinson took over the Science Program Director role, and I could focus entirely on these types of processes, including the relicensing of hydropower projects. I did not seek out this transition in my early years, but I came to understand that some of our biggest accomplishments do not result from individual projects or campaigns, but from sustained engagement in processes that span periods of more than seven years. Dam removals in the United States, for example, typically take more than 20 years of active planning and science-based advocacy. I have seen turnover in agency staff assigned to forums concerning the Yuba River. SYRCL will be here for another 34 years, holding agencies accountable to action, and celebrating the eventual wins in our watershed.

What is next for you?

My work with SYRCL continues as a contracted consultant. This change allows me to focus on specific benefits for the river, such as enhanced flows below dams and fish passage, while staying healthy and inspired. Life is very good for me right now. My parents just moved to the area and my kids are at home for only a few more years. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve SYRCL and the Yuba River while necessarily gaining the flexibility required to care for my family. I’ll take on other clients in my consulting career, but when it comes to sharing my love for the Yuba, there is no other like SYRCL.

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