To honor Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we're talking with members of our conservation community about their experiences and relationship with public lands.
Here, we talk with Elyane Stefanick, Conservation Lands Foundation's California Program Director.
What's your favorite memory in a National Conservation Lands unit or other public land?
My all-time favorite memory in the National Conservation Lands was visiting the Cadiz Dunes in Mojave Trails National Monument for the first time. I arrived in the late afternoon and was greeted by members of the Native American Land Conservancy who shared the Salt Song with me and other conservation partners. It was a privilege to hear the song, embrace the sacredness of the area, and acknowledge its significance to the community. I watched the sun set, the sky turn orange and a full moon rise over the Old Woman Mountains. It was a spectacular sight.
Tell me about someone who has influenced or inspired your work?
One of the most inspiring leaders I’ve ever worked with was a man named David True. He was my supervisor at the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County where we worked for a program that offered alternatives to incarceration for youth and adults. He was a true believer in restorative justice and that everyone, particularly young people, deserve opportunities to thrive. I never knew passion for a cause until I worked for David. He inspired people to be their best because he truly believed in every individual. David taught me to lead with my passion, to listen and empathize, and to not give up.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I grew up splitting my time between my family that lived in Half Moon Bay, a small agricultural town near the beach that was barely known to the rest of the Bay Area, and my family in urban communities of the East Bay. I wasn’t aware of it then but I learned to code-switch at a young age so that I could fit in and make friends. It resulted in me feeling like an outsider wherever I went, a challenge that I still grapple with today. On the other hand, experiencing many of the opportunities and challenges the Bay Area offered in the 80’s and 90’s, including racial and economic disparities, diverse cultures, music, urban sprawl, traffic, and rural living taught me to be empathetic and shaped my early perspectives on life that I carry with me today.
What do you do when you aren't caring for our National Conservation Lands?
I thrive doing any kind of physical activity in the outdoors and I love sharing those experiences with my family. Hiking, biking, running, camping, surfing, fishing, if it involves fresh air and smiling faces, I’m a go. Also, not many people know that I have a passion for dance and practiced Hula and Ori Tahiti for nearly ten years. I’m on a hiatus to keep two small humans alive but will be back on the stage again soon, hopefully with at least one kiddo by my side.