Teresa Mathis Savaikie January 7, 1961 – July 21, 2021
Longtime environmental activist Teresa Savaikie passed away at her home on July 21. She was 60 years old.
Teresa began loving the birds first, those in her back yard in the lush native habitat she made for them, and then in the larger world. Her love of small creatures lead to her many years of environmental work in the SCV and her prominent place in the hearts of all that care about our valley and the creatures that inhabit it.
“She had a pure energy that I miss” said Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity. The Center was one of the first national organizations that Teresa contacted in her efforts to save local endangered species. “She was tireless in her river protection efforts, attending meetings, doing press, writing letters. She was on fire with her activism, all while raising a family. She had kind of transformed from a regular suburban mom into a super activist with the passion and drive that is so very rare. In a sense, she was like one of the rare species on the river that she fought for.”
It most likely all started two decades ago when a hike along the river was disturbed by strange buzzing horns. It turns out they were noise makers placed there by Newhall Land to scare away the rare nesting birds that might have slowed their building plans. After Teresa contacted wildlife agencies, the noisemakers were removed and Vireos could return to their nests in peace. That was only the start.
A strange smell from the sanitation outflow to the Santa Clara River prompted a discovery that water with excess ammonia was being discharged into the river. That quickly ended with a phone call or two.
She took a fish bowl into a Council meeting to show the Council living proof of the local fish (an arroyo chub) that would be destroyed along with red-winged black birds’ nesting areas if the wetland was not protected.
She hiked the proposed CEMEX mine area with a herpetologist who discovered the presence of arroyo toads, prompting new surveys and slowing the process for the CEMEX mine which has now been stopped completely. She documented the presence of rare toads in fast disappearing wetland areas throughout our valley, hoping to save their habitat from development.
In 2005, American Rivers listed the Santa Clara River as among the most endangered in the country. Teresa was instrumental in organizing the huge press conference and rally to announce this National listing and bring attention to the many rare creatures whose habitat was disappearing.
After helping to negotiate a settlement with the Auto Mall over its banking of the Santa Clara River, she was able to see part of her long time dream of restoring Bouquet Creek come to fruition. The negotiation resulted in a $25,000 donation towards creek restoration planning. Now with this project (located on the east side of Central Park) nearly complete, we believe the City should place a memorial bench there or even a bronze plaque on the bridge abutment to commemorate the person that originated the idea of this beautiful place. And, of course also to honor her many other actions to protect the our local environment, the Santa Clara River and all the creatures that live in our valley.
The Kids Rally at Bridgeport Lake that stopped the homeowners association from poisoning the migrating birds, including Coots and ducks was yet another news worthy event that had two City Council members speaking up for her actions. Calls to the City to object to tree trimming during nesting season prompted City Hall to change the trimming routine away from the nesting season and look for nests before cutting.
Teresa believed the river and its creatures were a gift to our valley that should be loved and cared for.
And she did all this while raising a family and battling cancer.
The death of her son, 14 year old son Wyatt, hit by a car near her home six years ago, was devastating to her, taking a physical and emotional toll from which she never really recovered. However, she turned her grief to civic activism, fighting for lower speed limits and better signage.
These last few years were not kind to Teresa. Painful health issues made her life difficult. Now she has left for a brighter new day.
Good bye Teresa Savaikie.
We will miss you.
And so will all the birds and other small creatures that you worked to protect.
A memorial service will be held at Eternal Valley on Saturday, Aug. 14, beginning with visitation at 12:30 p.m. It will be a community led remembrance.
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