Even as a boy, David Raetz, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSB/A) ’06, had a special connection to the beautiful wilderness around his home in Orange County, California, where he would happily collect snakes and other small creatures to care for. Today, he is working to protect this beloved and endangered ecosystem through his work at the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that tends to 50,000 acres of jointly owned, permanently protected wildlands and parks on the historic Irvine Ranch.
Protecting a rare ecosystem
The Conservancy was established in 2005 in an effort to protect and preserve the Mediterranean climate zone in Southern California, which includes nearly 40,000 acres of open space that has been designated a Natural Landmark by both the State of California and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
A new direction
Raetz joined the Conservancy four years ago after working for the Orange County Department of Education where he managed the environmental education program. In his role as deputy director at the Conservancy, Raetz is enjoying the next phase of his environmental career unencumbered by government process. “At the Conservancy, we have taken the best of the business world and the best of the government world and put them together in a nonprofit,” he explains. “We are results-oriented, and we are working at lightning speed to get things done.”
Currently, the Conservancy is in the midst of large-scale landscape restoration. “We have three restoration projects that are 100 acres apiece,” he says. The Conservancy—backed by hundreds of active volunteers—is working to remove non-native plants from the Irvine Ranch area and install native seeds and plants, many of which are from its own native plant farm. “We are taking areas that have been 100 percent degraded and trying to bounce them back to 80 percent restored,” he says. “We are trying to change the trajectory of a habitat, and each site will take six to 10 years before we reach our success criteria.”
Raetz oversees strategic planning, project management, budget and staffing, among other things. When he is able to get out of his office and into the field, he is most enchanted by the annual spectacle of wildflowers each spring. “Our wildflower displays are just phenomenal,” he says. “You’ll see one mountain that is orange, and then another that is purple.”
Although Raetz has an innate love for the environment, over the years he found that he needed additional skills to reach his career goals. After stints studying biology and archeology at other schools, Raetz enrolled at University of Phoenix to pursue a business degree. “I was at the point in my career where I had topped out without a degree,” he admits. “At the Conservancy, I was promoted from senior manager to deputy director, and it is due in part to my University of Phoenix education. I could immediately apply what I learned to the running of an organization, and it has helped me tremendously.”
Most of Raetz’s work is done in collaboration with partner agencies and volunteers, a skill he learned during his degree program. “When the Conservancy was started, we began working with many other groups,” says Raetz. “Because University of Phoenix promotes group work, it was natural for me to work this way.”
As for the future, Raetz is hoping to stay at the Conservancy for the long haul so he can make a difference in its upcoming, large-scale restoration projects. He also is committed to creating a culture of stewardship in the Orange County area. “The next step is to work on environmental education initiatives,” he asserts. “There are 3.5 million people in Orange County, and we have the opportunity to connect people to this unique habitat in a meaningful way, which is the most rewarding part for me.”
In good company: Mediterranean climate zones around the world
The Mediterranean climate zone, which supports a unique ecosystem, exists in only five small areas of the world: around the Mediterranean Sea, in central coastal Chile, the Cape region of South Africa, southwestern and southern Australia, and coastal California—including the wild lands and parks of Irvine Ranch Conservancy.