Introducing Shay Brown

Meet Solano Land Trust’s Conservation Project Coordinator
By Samuel James Adams

Shay Brown joined Solano Land Trust in February, making her the first new hire during the pandemic. Shay grew up in the Bay Area and holds a bachelor’s degree from U.C. Santa Barbara and from American University a dual master’s degree in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, which she earned while studying on campuses in Washington D.C. and Costa Rica. When I called her, she was making GIS maps in her Oakland apartment.

I have held job titles with “coordinator” before and, in my experience, that title involves doing a great many things and no one thing overwhelmingly. What does a conservation project coordinator do?

The outdoor part involves annual monitoring of the conservation agreements that we manage. So I go out to see that the landowner is maintaining the agricultural uses of the property. If there are roads on the property, I’m driving around to set photo points to take photos to see if the conditions have changed over time. If there’s no roads, I’m hiking around doing that.

The indoor part involves a lot of GIS mapping, which I love. I also help Tracy with applications for new conservation agreements and in working through the paperwork for the agreements that are already concluded.

I also help folks in other departments. I’m helping Jasmine with one of her public volunteer programs and helping Di with her programs and field trips.

Is your monitoring just to assess agriculture or are you noting wildlife and natural features?

For each conservation agreement, we write a baseline report saying the conditions to maintain on the property. I’m basically checking if the conditions are still being met for the value of the property. Some are just pure agriculture, but some have habitat and scenic value written into them.

Some properties protect Swainson’s Hawks, which need a specific foraging habitat. Some landowners might have specific riparian management plans happening. If they’re on a river, for example, they may be managing an area along the river as habitat for wildlife or managing it for water quality.

I find it interesting seeing how farmers use their properties. It’s been really cool to see how much our farmers care for the quality of the soil. And everyone is being innovative and careful with their water usage because the whole county—the whole region! —is in a drought.

What were you up to before you found this position? 

Right before this I was doing a fellowship with the forest service for six months, doing the baseline reporting for different federal wilderness areas in Florida. When COVID started I came back to California and worked in several different wilderness areas in the Inyo and Sierra National Forests.  I also worked as a wilderness ranger in Washington State for four seasons. So I have a lot of experience in the field, which is definitely what drew me to want a career in environmental policy.

Was agriculture always a focus of yours?

I’ve kind of worked adjacent to agriculture. During and after college, I worked at the produce section of a food Co-Op. I also volunteered as an education and outreach and volunteer coordinator, so I helped organize farm tours and talks with people who were involved in the local food systems. I’ve always liked gardening and farming, and in grad school many of my environmental policy courses were centered around agricultural policy.  

I do feel like jobs that are in agriculture and related to agricultural policy aren’t super common in the Bay Area, so I am content and happy in my position at the land trust!

In your role, you visit private properties that most people don’t see. Could you mention something exciting you’ve seen on one of the properties?

On one of the agreements I monitor I saw what I think was a juvenile cougar. That was awesome! I was with a landowner, and we had no idea what it was. But I looked up pictures later and it looked like a juvenile. It’s a reminder that we are out in nature. It is someone’s ranch, but there are other things happening out here.