Ian Signer began collecting butterflies when he was just 7 years old. As he watched local farms and orchards give way to suburbs, he noticed some local butterflies were becoming less common. During his sophomore year of college, he caught a butterfly that he couldn’t find in guides or at the university entomology museum. He finally managed to identify it: a rare subspecies isolated by suburbanization to a single set of hills surrounded by sprawl. For the sake of future butterflies, he stopped collecting that day.
Ian has spent the past 20 years as a conservationist and environmental educator, working in formal and non-formal education settings in multiple languages and cultures across six continents. For his Conservation Action Project, he will work in his home state of California, connecting an underserved community to the conservation of habitat for the Lange’s metalmark, a local butterfly on the brink of extinction. He’ll be working close to where he grew up, in Eastern Contra Costa County (East County), an economically depressed region founded on coal mining in the late 1800s. Industries such as PG&E and DOW Chemical continue to be important here, where they employ much of the diverse local population.
Ian will host an ecology institute in collaboration with the California Institute for Biodiversity, East Bay Regional Park District, Delta Science Center, and California State Parks, focusing on empowering educators to contribute to local conservation through hands-on investigations and citizen science. He’ll focus on providing tools, training, mentorship, and formative evaluation that will help translate sometimes abstract conservation concepts into concrete community action.
He’s hoping that subsequent action will focus not only on the conservation and restoration of Antioch Dunes, the unique landscape where the Lange’s metalmark lives, but will also improve overall ecosystem health and raise awareness of and local pride for the amazing species and resources of this part of the San Francisco Bay Area.