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Margaret Owings, Influential Environmentalist, Jan 21, 1999

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 21, 2010 4:12 am    Post subject: Margaret Owings, Influential Environmentalist, Jan 21, 1999 Reply with quote

San Jose Mercury News (CA) - January 22, 1999

Margaret Owings, who saved the sea otter and then became the most influential woman in the California environmental movement, died Thursday in her A-frame home at Grimes Point on the Big Sur coast she fought to protect. She was 85.

The cause of death was not disclosed, but she was reported to have suffered from diabetes.

Owings had been a protector of wildlife from the day in 1957 she watched with her binoculars as a rifleman killed a Stellar sea lion near her home.

For the next 40 years, she pushed for laws to stop a proposal to slaughterthree-quarters of the California sea lion population. Though perhaps most popularly known for that work, and for founding the Friends of the Sea Otter, in 1968, she also lobbied to eliminate the state bounty on mountain lions.

As a state parks commissioner, she was influential in preventing Caltrans from paving over old-growth redwood forests, and she helped prevent the Pacific Coast Highway from being straightened into a four-lane freeway. She also helped lead the fight to restrict development on the scenic central coast, particularly Big Sur.

''If not for the efforts she led, which involved hundreds of others,'' said Zad Leavy, executive director of Big Sur Land Trust, ''Highway 1 would be a freeway, the California sea otter might well be extinct, and the wild, unspoiled coastline from Carmel to Hearst Castle would be covered with housing subdivisions and fast food restaurants.

''She's going to be irreplaceable, her energy and her enthusiasm.

''Four million people a year from all over the world travel Highway 1 through Big Sur. And if not for her leadership, it wouldn't be protected. It's a national treasure.''

Owings is best known, however, for her support of the southern sea otter, nearly extinct early in the century but resurgent by midcentury. When Owings heard fisherman blame the otter instead of over-harvesting for a decline of their abalone fishery, she became the otter's chief public relations practitioner.

The fishermen said the otter couldn't coexist with shellfish in one area because the otters eat abalone and other mollusks before they have a chance to reproduce themselves.

Nonsense, she said.

''The abalone and clam industry has declined because of greed. Human greed,'' she had said. ''The fishermen don't want to share. They themselves can, and have, taken as many abalone as they wanted. But if they see one otter lying on its back eating an abalone or a Pismo clam, that just drives them wild.''

She formed Friends of the Sea Otter, which now has more than 4,000 members, and made sure the public fell in love with the playful critters.

The otter was finally designated a threatened species when its numbers fell to 200. By the 1980s, it had recovered to 2,000, although deaths have increased in recent years.

Margaret Wentworth was born April 29, 1913, in Berkeley and earned a degree from Mills College, where her father was a trustee.

She married Malcolm Millard in 1937, had a daughter, Wendy, and divorced. In 1953, she married Nat Owings, a founder of the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

She was one of the founders of the California Mountain Lion Foundation, and helped lead efforts to pass Proposition 117, passed by voters in 1990, to ban sport hunting of lions and to set aside $30 million a year from the state's general fund to buy wildlife habitat, a fund which now is California's leading source of state money to buy new parks.

An artist and poet, Margaret Owings had lived alone in her ocean-front home after the death of her husband in 1984.

In December, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Press published her ''Voice From the Sea, and Other Reflections on Wildlife and Wilderness,'' a collection of her essays, poetry and art. Jane Goodall, chimpanzee advocate, wrote the preface, and the foreword contains words novelist Wallace Stegner had written before his death.

Owings was widely honored. She received the National Audubon Society Medal in 1983, and was recently listed by the society as among the 100 most influential environmentalists of the century. She was given the United Nations Environment Program's Gold Medal Award and the U.S. Department of the Interior's Conservation Service Award, among many others.

The Sierra Club recognized her contributions and made her an honorary board member.

She was given an honorary doctorate from her alma mater.

She was a protector of wildlife from the day in 1957 she watched with her binoculars as a rifleman killed a Stellar sea lion near her home in Big Sur.

She defended otters against the claims of abalone fishermen.

Edition: Santa Cruz/Monterey
Page: 1B
Copyright (c) 1999 San Jose Mercury News


Margaret Owings
San Francisco Chronicle (CA) - January 25, 1999

Margaret Wentworth Owings, an author and tireless advocate for wildlife, died Thursday of heart failure at her cliffside home, Wild Bird, in Big Sur.

Mrs. Owings, 85, fought to save sea otters and mountain lions and led campaigns to protect the oceans and forests. Her efforts garnered numerous national and international awards.

She was born in 1913 to to Frank and Jean Wentworth in Berkeley. She graduated in 1934 from Mills College and the following year completed graduate studies in art at the Fogg Museum at Harvard University.

In the 1940s she led successful campaigns to block development on beaches along California's central coast. She married Nathaniel Owings, a founding partner in one of the nation's leading architectural firms, and together they campaigned to limit development in Big Sur.

Mrs. Owings was most closely identified with her work to save sea otters, a cause she championed as president of Friends of the Sea Otter from its 1968 founding until the early 1990s. She also led a campaign to end hunting mountain lions in California.

Mrs. Owings was a state parks commissioner from 1963 to 1969 and was a leader in many environmental groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, the National Parks Foundation, African Wildlife Leadership Foundation and the Environmental Defense Fund. She was a founder of the Rachel Carson Council, created to combat toxic substances in the environment, and a member of the Big Sur Land Trust.

She received awards from the Children's Health Environmental Coalition, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Sierra Club and United Nations Environment Program, among many others.

Mrs. Owings spent the last months of her life preparing a compilation of her writings and artwork, "Voice from the Sea: Reflections on Wildlife and Wilderness." Published only weeks before her death, the book covers five decades of her crusade.

Mrs. Owings is survived by her daughter, Wendy Millard Benjamin of Colorado; a stepson, Nathaniel Owings of New Mexico; her stepdaughters, Emily Owings Kapozi of Novato and Jennifer Owings Dewey and Natalie Owings Prael of New Mexico; a brother, William Wentworth of Walnut Creek; nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 8 a.m. February 7 at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The family suggests donations to Friends of the Sea Otter, 2150 Garden Road, Suite B-4, Monterey, Calif. 93940 or the Mountain Lion Foundation, Box 1896, Sacramento, Calif. 95812.

Edition: FINAL
Page: A20
Copyright (c) 1999 The Chronicle Publishing Co.


San Jose Mercury News (CA) - January 27, 1999

MONTEREY -- A memorial service will be held Feb. 7 for environmentalist Margaret Owings, who died Thursday at age 85 of heart illness on the Big Sur coast.

The Sunday morning service at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 886 Cannery Row, will begin at 8 a.m.

Owings, founder of Friends of the Sea Otter, spent 40 years as a protector of the sea otter, the sea lion, the mountain lion, old-growth redwood forests and the central California coast from freeway construction. The Audubon Society recognized her as one of the 100 most influential environmentalists of the century.

PHOTO: Owings

Edition: Morning Final
Page: 3B
Copyright (c) 1999 San Jose Mercury News
Claire Martin
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