The Open Space Council Blog


Meet Raphaela, our Conservation GIS Intern

January 19, 2018


One of the best aspects of the Science Expansion, the project to update the Conservation Lands Network, is that it brings such amazing people together to think as a region. It’s a chance for old friends and colleagues to roll up their sleeves, step out of their silos, set aside their day-to-day work, to think big and connect more.

Ask any of us in the conservation world about the word ‘connectivity,’ and we will imagine large, contiguous blocks of land providing habitat to our region’s critters and flora. We will think about wildlife corridors providing connectivity between our wild places. 

But would we think about the connectivity of the conservation community? We here at the Bay Area Open Space Council are very grateful for the opportunity to serve as a ‘human corridor’ of sorts, connecting the conservation community to itself through projects like the Science Expansion. It is a privilege and an honor to get to do this work, and we’re thrilled to be doing it.

When the Science Expansion project concludes and the Conservation Lands Network is fully updated, well over 100 people will have served as Steering Committee members, Focus Team members, Peer Reviewers, or will have otherwise directly helped to update our vision for land conservation in the Bay Area. Countless more have created the 100+ datasets the CLN leverages, written the policies the CLN will highlight, and continue to work tirelessly to protect and steward the natural and working lands that make up the Conservation Lands Network.

So while much of our time is focused on the work itself, we want to take a moment to acknowledge the people doing the work. Thank you!

With the goal of highlighting the people who are doing this work, we sat down with the newest addition to the Council, Raphaela Floreani Buzbee, in the midst of her conservation GIS internship and asked her some get-to-know-you questions. We certainly are glad to know her and work with her, and we think you’ll enjoy getting to know her, too.


What drew you to want to work here at the Bay Area Open Space Council?

I’m passionate about land conservation and stewardship in the Bay Area and I knew I would fit right in with the like-minded staff and collaborators of The Council. I was initially really impressed with the Explorer Tool so I also knew this would be a great opportunity to flex my GIS brain muscles.

So far, I appreciate everyone’s dedication and the organization’s integration of many fields of study, jurisdictions and land managers. Having worked primarily as a field botanist, moving indoors for the winter months can be a drag, but the dynamic, collaborative and interdisciplinary workplace at The Council has been really invigorating!

What are you working on during your internship here at the Bay Area Open Space Council?

As the Conservation GIS Intern, I’m supporting the core team on the Science Expansion of the Conservation Lands Network. My primary role is to update all of the GIS datasets that go into the CLN. It may sound simple, but it involves sourcing and analyzing a lot of GIS information for the 10-county Bay Area- everything from county parcels to soil and wetland maps, from population density to maximum temperature coverage. It’s been really interesting to find all this information, process it and represent it appropriately.

In addition, I am also participating in many of the Focus Team meetings for the CLN and helping BAOSC staff with events like the upcoming Gathering on January 25th.

What is the latest project you’ve worked on?

One thing I’ve been working on lately is the vegetation maps for the CLN 2.0. A few Bay Area lands already have fine-scale vegetation maps, but for most areas the best available maps are from the US Forest Service’s maps of Calveg zones (EVEG).

First, I compared classification, abundance and distributions of different vegetation types in EVEG vs the 2017 Sonoma Vegetation Map. Now, with guidance from Tom and Stu, and great feedback from all the great botanists and land managers on the Vegetation Focus Team, I’m looking into ways to incorporate EVEG with additional data so that the CLN vegetation maps represent more of the rare habitats that would be prioritized for conservation. For example, I’m currently looking into ways to integrate wetland and stream data and local geologic information to stratify some of the EVEG categories into riparian or serpentine habitat types.

As a Bay Area native, where are your favorite outdoor haunts?

It would be unfair to choose favorites and even though I’ve lived in the Bay Area almost my whole life, there are still plenty of places I’ve never been. In fact, my new year’s resolution is to go to one new-to-me Bay Area open space each month of 2018.

If you must know, I have a particular fondness for areas that represent the mosaic pattern of vegetation types in the Bay Area. I’m always excited to visit places like Mount Tamalpais or Huckleberry Botanic Preserve, where even on a short hike you can pass through a multitude of plant communities and transition zones. Other favorites include Point Reyes (I’ve spent the past three field seasons working for the San Francisco Bay Area Network of National Parks), Ring Mountain, Big Basin, Mount Diablo, Sunol Regional Wilderness and the East Bay Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden.

It’s easy to be picky when there are so many spots to choose from. But to be honest all I really want is to be outside, eat snacks and look at plants.


Was there a moment when you decided you wanted to pursue a career in conservation? Tell us about that.

I grew up with a big garden where my parents grew a lot of our food. There’s even a handmade greenhouse for my dad’s cactus collection. Our family vacations were spent on long backpacking trips all over North America (I must admit I didn’t always appreciate this at the time). On these trips, my parents taught me names of plants and animals, we ate wild berries and I learned how to build fires and read maps. There were definitely some other really important lessons too, like how to observe your surroundings or to just be comfortable outside. I know that these experiences instilled an inherent appreciation and basic understanding of the natural world.

As a kid, you have to be adaptable and accept whatever situation you are in. So, this all seemed sort of normal until I went “away” to UC Berkeley. That’s when I realized I had had a unique upbringing. I spent my first summer of college at the UCB Forestry Field Camp outside of Quincy, California. It was a summer school program focused on ecology, land management and field science. This is where things really came together for me: it was the first time I comprehended there were even careers in conservation, or botany or natural resources.

So, I can’t say there was ever a “moment,” but there was definitely a movement towards the self-realization of values and interests that were with me all along.


Last question, just for fun, why do you love plants so very much?

There are plenty of obvious, often-stated reasons, like how plants provide us with food, oxygen and materials, and most people can agree that at least some plants are beautiful or important.

What’s really interesting to me though, is the vast diversity of plants. As humans, we’re able to build shelters, escape predators and gather resources. Plants on the other hand, have to adapt to whatever environment they can and therefore reflect the vast diversity of conditions on earth.

Here in the California Floristic Province and the biological hotspot of the Bay Area, the range of botanical adaptations to environments, predators, pollinators, and climates is certainly worthy of my affections!