Longtime Morongo Valley environmental activist Robin Kobaly was 6 years old when she discovered her fascination for plants. Her mom, who was interested in researching plants used by Native Americans, began taking her around the Morongo Basin identifying plants and learning all about them.
A lifelong interest was formed and since then, Kobaly has worked to protect the desert through conservation and education.
“It is my passion and my joy to share knowledge about the desert in hopes of preserving the desert that I love so much,” Kobaly said.
Kobaly was honored by the Joshua Tree National Park Association recently with the 2018 Minerva Hoyt conservation award for her contributions in education, research and preservation of the California desert.
Each year, the Minerva Hoyt California Desert Conservation Award recognizes individuals or organizations whose efforts in conservation, education or leadership led to a lasting contribution for the deserts of California.
Kobaly worked for 20 years with the Bureau of Land Management as a botanist, wildlife biologist and natural history interpreter. She served as acting chief of public affairs for the BLM, co-founded The Wildlands Conservancy and instituted the Sand-to-Snow Wilderness Project.
She was also the first preserve manager of the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, served on the independent science panel to provide input to the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan and is currently the founder and executive director of the SummerTree Institute, where she focuses on educating the community about the history of native plants through her programs, Discovering the Ancients and Saving the Ancients.
“It has been a true privilege for me to be able, through a series of career positions and special relationships, to work with my colleagues to affect positive legislation and start influential programs on behalf of our desert resources,” she said.
The Minerva Hoyt award was presented to Kobaly on May 7 at Covington Park in Morongo Valley by Frazier Haney, associate Southern California director for the Conservation Lands Foundation and a member of the BLM’s Desert Advisory Council.
At the time, she thanked Minerva Hoyt herself for paving the way as a female environmental activist.
“By the 1910s to 1920s, (Minerva) saw whole areas stripped clean of giant barrel cactus and all the other cacti and yuccas that had been so impressive — dug up by landscape workers for planting in Los Angeles gardens,” Kobaly said. “She did not want that to happen to landscapes in the area she fought to protect — the treasure we know today as Joshua Tree National Park.”
Kobaly said she hopes to continue that work throughout her life. Her current focus is on educating local people about ancient plants in the hopes that once they realize how special they are, more people will try to protect them.
“Plants only eight to ten feet tall can be over a thousand years old here in this desert,” Kobaly said. “I love these plants and I hope that if I can get other people to love them, they will work to protect them.”
To learn more about her classes, visit https://summertree.org.