Donor Profiles: “Leaving a Legacy for the Planet”

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For Board member Michael Herz, co-founder of the Oceanic Society and San Francisco Baykeeper, advocating to protect the world’s oceans, lakes and rivers is more than a career—it’s been his mission since childhood. 

Mike grew up on a small lake in Minnesota. He discovered his love for sailing during summer camp at 12 years old. An avid sailor to this day, Mike made the switch to ocean sailing and even completed a solo sail from San Francisco to Hawaii. 

Mike earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and his master’s degree from San Francisco State University before earning his Ph.D. in neuropsychology at the University of Southern California.

Mike took a year’s leave of absence in 1968 while teaching at the Brain Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, “which I’m still on,” he laughed. He then helped found the Oceanic Society in San Francisco where he served as the group’s executive director and started chapters in Puget Sound, Los Angeles and San Diego. 

During his tenure at the Oceanic Society, Mike started one of the first ocean monitoring programs in the country, where he worked with other Society members to patrol the San Francisco Bay by boat and air to spot polluters. His proudest achievement was helping secure the first jail sentence for polluters in San Francisco Bay. 

“A boatyard owner was illegally dredging polluted sediment from his boatyard and dumping it elsewhere in the ocean,” Mike shared. “One of our members kayaked out at night to document the pollution, and we reported it to the EPA’s criminal investigation service, which resulted in an indictment and a one-year jail sentence for the boatyard owner.”

In 1989, Mike co-founded San Francisco Baykeeper to help protect the Bay from pollution. Environmentalists were eager to create their own waterkeeper groups, and now there are over 350 waterkeeper groups across the world—all part of the Waterkeeper Alliance. 

In 1991, the Oceanic Society merged with Friends of the Earth. Mike saw firsthand Friends of the Earth’s grassroots approach to advocating for clean and healthy waterways and oceans and quickly became a member of FOE. He has since served two terms as Chair of the Board. “FOE’s worldwide network means it can have a much bigger impact than most organizations based in just one country,” he said.

Now approaching 85, “finally reaching middle age,” he said with a grin, Mike has no plans to slow down his advocacy and is eager to ensure his generous support for the planet continues for years to come. This is why Mike included a gift in his will to Friends of the Earth as part of his legacy for the planet. “Friends of the Earth is an amazing organization doing worldwide work, and I want that work to continue after my lifetime,” he said. 

Moving forward, Mike says the biggest challenge facing our planet is climate change. “Friends of the Earth will continue to turn the dial back on climate change,” he said. “We must reduce the impact of climate change for the next generation.” 

Mike’s message for those who are deciding where to direct their charitable giving for the environment is simple: “Friends of the Earth delivers more bang for every buck than practically any other environmental organization.”

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