People in Your Neighborhood: Gabriele Wienhausen invites La Jollans to join her as stewards of environment

La Jollan Gabriele Wienhausen retired in April from teaching biochemistry and physiology at UC San Diego.
La Jollan Gabriele Wienhausen retired in April from teaching biochemistry and physiology at UC San Diego but has not retired from teaching others to protect local natural spaces.

Gabriele Wienhausen is as passionate about the local environment as she is about educating others to help protect it. The La Jolla resident retired in April from teaching biochemistry and physiology at UC San Diego but hasn’t retired her efforts to teach others to protect the natural spaces that have kept her here for nearly four decades.

Born, raised and educated in Germany, Wienhausen arrived in La Jolla more than 38 years ago for a 12-month stay to research biochemistry at UCSD, but she was so enamored of the university and the local natural environment that she and her husband never left, raising their children here as she continued her research.

While no longer an active professor, Wienhausen participates in the UCSD Emeriti Faculty Program as a mentor to UCSD students. She also has become a docent at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and earned certification as a California naturalist through the University of California Natural Reserve System.

Wienhausen also was recently named to the board of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, a nonprofit that she said works to “support long-term sustainable management of the San Dieguito watershed,” a vast corridor that stretches from San Pasqual in northeast San Diego County to Del Mar.

The conservancy hopes “to establish something that I find very exciting, which is a hiking connection, a trail, from the coast to the mountains called the Coast to Crest Trail,” she said.

Wienhausen said she’s also excited that the conservancy’s work is “happening in a highly urbanized environment,” balancing “urbanization and our need to be stewards of nature … an inherent conflict.”

The Rotary Club of La Jolla, in a joint online meeting with the Carmel Rotary Club in Haifa, Israel, heard a presentation about climate change, its effects on Israel and ways people can combat it on any continent.

Wienhausen answered questions from the La Jolla Light about her passion for ecology education and what she wishes locals knew about the natural spaces in their community.

Q. What do you hope to achieve on the conservancy board?

A. “What I see as an incredible opportunity is to make not only K-12 but also college-age students aware of the organizations like the conservancy and help create opportunities for students to get involved.

“I know from my experience here at UCSD and also from my experience with the Natural Reserve System that this generation of students is very keenly aware of environmental issues: sustainability, the need for humans to think about how we can live not separate from nature but understanding that we are part of nature. I find it very exciting to do what I can to help the next generation of students to develop an awareness and the skills to contribute and become the next leaders and stewards of nature in this world.”

Q. Why is ecology education important?

A. “The biggest challenge we are faced with is … developing environmental literacy, helping all of us understand the key principle of ecology, which is we are all connected. If you pull on one thread, everything will unravel, and that is a concept that I think we all need to understand.

“This area is a biodiversity hotspot. It is our responsibility to be respectful and be good stewards. We have to create something that allows us to live here and to do this in as much harmony and respect for our environment as we can.”

Q. What strikes you about the local environment?

A. “It’s so beautiful, everybody wants to come. It puts an enormous pressure on an extremely fragile environment. Human beings have to learn how to manage very precious resources.

“As a scientist, and my work with Torrey Pines and as a California naturalist, [I] appreciate deeply the uniqueness of this environment here. It’s one of the five most biodiverse places in the world. California is unique in terms of geology. It’s an exciting environmental place to be where you start to understand the importance of time, the importance of the big cycles that determine life on Earth in the most infinite way.

“We are also living in a place that 10,000 years ago very different people lived — the Kumeyaay Indians. It’s absolutely important for us to acknowledge this, to understand this and to learn from them and to invite them to help us become stewards the way their ancestors used to be.”

Q. What do La Jollans need to know about the local natural spaces?

A. “How fragile it is and how important it is that we as a community address the pressing issues. We as folks living here need to understand what it means to be protective of our environment.”

Q. What are steps we can take to do that?

A. “Having organizations like the conservancy that is doing outreach and education. Having docents and helping people understand that the Torrey Pines reserve is not just a big outdoor gym but a place for recreation and re-creation.”

Q. What are some of your favorite trails locally?

A. “I have so many! I would have a really hard time saying what is my favorite; I get so much joy out of … being happy where I am. I’m happy I can breathe the air here.

“During the [coronavirus-triggered] lockdown, all we could do was walk our streets and backyards, and I discovered how beautiful parts of our neighborhood are. ... It’s just gorgeous here.”

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