Beyond the Boardroom

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Jamison Watts

Author: Alexandra Russell and Sarah Treseler
July, 2016 Issue

Jamison Watts has served as executive director of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) since January 2013. As a great, great grandson of John Muir’s sister, Margaret Muir Reid, conservation runs in Watts' blood. He grew up reading Muir’s writings, which were proudly displayed in his childhood home in Contra Costa County. His interest in conservation led him to earn a degree from UC Davis in environmental biology with an emphasis in conservation biology. He spent the next 12 years as a field and wildlife biologist, while earning a master’s degree in biological sciences. He’d previously held the position as executive director of the Northern California Regional Land Trust (NCRLT).
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Walnut Creek, which was a small town back then, with a strong agricultural heritage. My grammar school was located next door to Shell Ridge, which is protected rangeland. I think that upbringing was the genesis of my land ethic and why protecting agriculture is so important to me, personally and professionally.
What was your previous position like?
During my years at NCRLT, I increased its budget by nearly 600 percent and tripled the acreage protected from 4,800 to 15,100. The majority of my work focused on protecting farm and ranch land, as well as raising public awareness of the importance of watershed protection and land stewardship. In addition, I led the creation of a thriving local food system program for Butte, Tehama and Glenn counties.
What do you love to do outside of work?
I spend time with my 5-year-old daughter, ride my bike (both mountain and road), hike, garden, walk my dog, skydive and backpack.
 Are you more of a dog person or a cat person?
Definitely a dog person. I have a big, goofy labrador-airedale terrier mix named Samson.
 Do you live by any particular motto?
Suit up and show up. God will do the rest.
If you could look into the future, what would you want to know?
How long will our species survive?
What controversial topic do you relish debating?
Donald Trump as president of the United States of America.
Describe a magical childhood moment.
My first backpacking trip to the Sierra Nevada.
Do you have a pet peeve?
Contempt or bias prior to investigation.
What’s the most unusual food you’ve ever eaten?
Squirrel and grits in Mississippi.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in life, and who taught it to you?
It’s not reality that shapes us, but the lens through which we view the world that shapes reality. It’s something I picked up from a TED talk on life hacks.
Describe one of your happiest life moments.
After spending 15 years in Chico, my family moved to Petaluma so I could join MALT.  We bought a 65-year-old house in west Petaluma in the fall of 2013.  From November 2014 to January 2015, our 4-year-old daughter was constantly sick. On her fifth birthday, we discovered mold in one of the bedrooms and decided to have the house inspected.  The results showed a very high spore count of a mold species known to negatively affect health.  We decided to move out and sell the house and were displaced for the next 9 months before buying a new home in October 2015.  That first night in our brand new home was one of my happiest life moments.
What do you love the most about your job?
Protecting farmland is more than just protecting food production and the rural landscape. There are many less tangible cultural and social benefits that aren’t always taken into the equation, such as the quality of life, rural economy and local heritage. Marin County has taken those land values seriously and to heart. Through my position at MALT, I’m able to join that conservation effort.



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