A Lesson in Activism from Phil Pister

A Lesson in Activism from Phil Pister

Written by Kathy Turner

In mid-January the world lost one of the world’s most impactful conservationists, environmental biologist, Phil Pister. Phil Pister spent the majority of his career working as a district fisheries biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game (now the Department of Fish and Wildlife).

Pister’s moment of infamy in conservation circles began in 1969 when he found himself facing a crisis. As told by the Aldo Leopold Foundation, he and his colleagues had been monitoring a small remnant population of the Owens Pupfish.

Owens Pupfish

Once believed extinct, the Owens Pupfish was found to have survived in one small pond in a desert marsh near Bishop, CA. By the summer of 1969, the pond had almost completely dried up. When Pister recognized the dire conditions he and an assistant jumped into action, capturing and caging all the remaining fish, about 800 individuals, intending to relocate half of them to a nearby safe spring. Pister then sent the others to get dinner. When he returned that evening to begin the process, the fish were stressed, and some had died. He then made a snap decision to scoop up all the remaining pupfish and move them immediately to a spot nearer the springhead. He had only two buckets to work with in his truck. In the dark, he filled the buckets and carried them across the rocky desert. “I distinctly remember being scared to death,” he would later write. “I had walked perhaps fifty yards when I realized that I literally held within my hands the existence of an entire vertebrate species.

So, Pisters’ is an interesting, maybe even heart-warming story but what does it have to do with our mission at Byrd’s Filling Station? No, Phil Pister is not an uncle, relative, or former mentor. What resonates with us is one person’s single-minded focus of taking action when it was most needed and ACTUALLY saving a species! We all know we are in serious danger of damaging our Mother Earth beyond recourse, yet despite this knowledge it is hard to change our personal habits. Never has the phrase “think globally, act locally” held more truth for each of us. Every choice we make to side-step single-use plastic and opt for reusing a container, a bag, or a bottle, is one less landfill-bound plastic object living on in our environment for millenia. We recognize the gargantuan nature of the task to eliminate plastics from our life but couldn’t we each do just a little? Couldn’t we refill one item in our pantry, one product from our cleaning supplies, maybe one shampoo bottle? With any luck we wouldn’t have to walk across a desert with a 30-pound bucket of fish in each hand, but one man’s willingness to do just that, did save the pupfish.

Over Phil Pister’s 94 years and the focus of his life’s work, he was asked many times, “what good is the pupfish?” His reply was always the same, “what good are you?“

At Byrd’s Filling Station we are committed to conveniently providing sustainable, eco-friendly products to reduce the carbon footprint for a cleaner greener future for every one of us.