Sierra College professor, curator, editor honored with national award
In a ceremony this spring at John Muir’s former house and orchards, now a National Historic Site, the John Muir Association named Sierra College Professor Emeritus Joe Medeiros, Conservationist of the Year.
For 40 years, this award has gone to those dedicated to carry on Muir’s legacy of protecting the environment. The honor went to Medeiros for his 35 years as an educator and his efforts and passion to protect the Sierra Nevada Mountains, not to mention, said one colleague, his sense of humor and story telling.
Medeiros earned his master’s degree from California State University, Fresno in 1974 and took a full-time position at Modesto Jr. College. He taught biology and botany during spring and fall semesters while each summer, for the next nine years, he worked as a ranger in the High Sierra southeast of Yosemite at the Devils Postpile National Monument.
Some 60 years before, around 1910, engineers had planned to blast to pieces the postpiles and use the rubble to build a dam in the San Joaquin River. Before this geologic wonder was demolished, John Muir and collaborators persuaded the federal government to stop the dam project. President William Taft signed the executive order in 1911 that protected the site, along with 800 acres of wildland and the 100-foot high Rainbow Falls, creating the national monument that later became the summer playground of the Medeiros daughters.
Among Muir’s greatest contributions, said Medeiros, were launching the preservation and conservation movements that caused the National Park system to be established; and his eloquent writings that inspire nature lovers to this day.
“He encouraged people who are tired and weary of the relentless business of life to go outside and take a saunter, preferably somewhere wild, the wilder the better,” he said.
During his 16-year tenure at Modesto College, among many other initiatives, Medeiros organized staff members and students to participate in conservation events and projects like restoring wetlands in California’s Central Valley. He was the principal organizer of the popular Great Valley Museum of Natural History. As he would throughout his career, he sought to foster appreciation of and concern for nature.
In 1990, Medeiros came to teach botany, ecology, and environmental studies at Sierra College.
As a mentor and educator, Medeiros has organized hundreds of field trips leading several thousand students over the years into nearby mountains and forests. Through annual and wildly popular Earth Day celebrations, with lectures at high schools and colleges, and in talks to community groups, he has reached thousands of people. For several years, he has been talking about climate change — from the perspective of the oldest known tree species on Earth, the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine.
Over the centuries, bristlecones have suffered major climate shifts, migrating up or down the slopes to accommodate changing temperatures and precipitation.
“As the cause of the current warming cycle,” he said, “I wonder whether it will be us modern humans who deal the death knell to the bristlecone, so resilient to other natural fluctuations and catastrophes.”
Recently, Medeiros has been talking with younger folks, starting with his three grandchildren. He speaks to their elementary school classes, leads trips for youngsters at nature preserves like those of the Placer Land Trust, and hands out nature guides to teachers and parents.
Medeiros believes that our youth will find a way to protect what they love and “there’s plenty to love about wildness and nature.”
Source: Seirra College
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