Have you met hiking docent, Karl Mertz? If you’ve spent any time on Placer Land Trust’s preserves, you may have met our busy volunteer, but even if you haven’t met him on a hike, you’ve very likely benefited from his many volunteer efforts as a geologist.
Most people become geologists because it’s in their blood, Karl said. Their parents were geologists and grandparents before them. Others become geologists after taking a great geology class in college. Neither of those things happened to Karl, though. He earned his first bachelor’s degree in psychology and went back for a geology degree when he realized it would allow him to spend more time on the rocks and under the trees, where he most wanted to be.
It made sense then, that when Karl retired from teaching geology at Sacramento State University in 2007, and was in search of a way to volunteer his time while being outdoors, he called up PLT and volunteered his services. “I really wanted to work with a staff, rather than as the traditional weekend or evening docent,” Karl said. “I wanted to be involved on a day-to-day basis.” Since then, Karl has monitored property and collected data for PLT reports, volunteered as a hiking and geology docent, and as a special steward for Canyon View Preserve. In fact, the number of hours he volunteered for PLT earned him the title of Land Steward of the Year in 2008 and 2009.
Karl works with Stewardship Manager, Jeff Ward, to photograph preserves, inspect anything that’s out of order, and write property reports as required by law. Recently Karl participated in a project to survey Harvego Bear River Preserve for a carbon sequestration project. “We drew a grid and counted every tree within a certain radius,” Karl said. “We noted its species and height, and recorded the diameter of each tree as well as other vegetation.”
This is the first inventory ever completed, as far as PLT is aware, of carbon sequestration of oak woodlands, and PLT is working to register the project with Air Resources Board, which would be an innovative success for the land trust!
There are thousands of nonprofits where Karl could donate his time, but he chose PLT because of what he calls its “nuts and boltsy” approach to protecting land and watersheds with a very small staff. “PLT creates conservation in areas that don’t have a lot of land, and that’s hard to do,” he said. “It’s working with partners to protect not just postage stamps, but swaths of land, including working ranches.” On hiking tours, Karl is sure to let participants know that PLT never coerces land owners and that there’s no imminent domain at play.
But it’s not just PLT’s mission that’s kept Karl coming back for seven years: It’s the people. “Most volunteers will stay with a nonprofit for a about a year,” he said. “Volunteers tend to stay longer here, and that says a lot about the people who run the organization. It feels like a small family.”
If you’re interested in volunteering for PLT, give us a call. There are plenty of ways to pitch in. You may end up feeling about PLT the way Karl does. “It’s one of the best ‘jobs’ I’ve ever had,” he said.