Duncan McFetridge, San Diego’s (Eco) Warrior-Poet

By: Marco Gonzalez, Coast Law Group & Bruce Reznik, Planning and Conservation League

Duncan McFetridge, honored by Planning and Conservation League on June 14, has been a tireless, and often controversial, advocate for San Diego’s backcountry. He has been affectionately referred to as a “recalcitrant activist” by Carolyn Chase in Earth Times, and in a recent blog as “The guardian of the wilderness. The marshal in the war against urban sprawl…[The] old guy who lives in the forest…”

Honoree, Duncan McFetridge with PCL Executive Director, Bruce Reznik
Photo Courtesy: Kevin Roche

As the driving force behind the Cleveland National Forest Foundation (CNFF), Duncan has been behind many land and easement acquisitions that protected critical areas within the forest. Perhaps more importantly, he was the instigator for one of the most important environmental initiatives in the region – the Forest Conservation Initiative – that set large minimum parcel sizes for private inholdings within 70,000 acres of the forest that prevented sprawl.

Through his other organization – SOFAR – Duncan has been a thorn in the side of the County of San Diego and sprawl developers, challenging everything from individual projects to large general plan amendments, all the while focusing on protecting the forest, its watershed, and the region’s important agricultural resources. Twice Duncan unsuccessfully sought county initiatives that would have limited the size of subdivided lots in the backcountry, all at great personal financial, emotional, and spiritual expense.  While neither initiative prevailed due to misinformation campaigns fueled by developers, they helped shape the debate around land-use planning and protecting the region’s wild places.

PCL Board Member, Lorena Gonzalez, presenting PCL Local Conservation Hero Award
Photo Courtesy: Kevin Roche

Rather than retreat with his tail between his legs after those losses, Duncan turned his attention to city building, focusing on the importance of transportation and transit alternatives within the urban core as a means to make cities more healthy and livable – and to take sprawl pressure off of the forest and backcountry. That fight is ongoing today, including through his lawsuit challenging the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) adopted Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) pursuant to SB 375 that continues a road-building and sprawl-inducing land-use patters contrary to the intent of that law. Demonstrating how Duncan has influenced the debate, now even the California Attorney General is intervening to support the litigation brought by CNFF and the Center for Biological Diversity.

While many people know Duncan the outspoken activist, what fewer people know is that he is first and foremost a lover of animals. From a young age, he took in infirmed creatures, often nursing them back to health. He’s had innumerable cats, dogs, an old race horse, mules — he once even saved a bull, Romeo, who turned out to be the Buddha in disguise, touching the hearts of all who got to know him before his ultimate passing. He even risked his own life to save his animals when the cedar fire charged through the land around his home in Descanso, his image on the front page of the Los Angeles Times our only notice he had survived the fire himself!

And finally, Duncan is a master woodworker. Currently, at the San Diego Fair are two wood sculptures, both Chinese influenced and ornate masterpieces. The Lion adorns the entry to the woodworking exhibition, and won an honorable mention in the competition.

Duncan McFetridge, accepting PCL Local Hero Award from Bruce Reznik, PCL Executive Director
Photo Courtesy: Kevin Roche

People may be familiar with the term Warrior-Poet – an ancient tradition of dedication to developing the body and the mind as one. It has been said that the Warrior-Poet balances the cruel realities of the earth, while living by the standards of the heavens. In these terms, Duncan is San Diego’s “(eco) warrior-poet” in a never-ending battle against those who would destroy our natural heritage and way of life to turn a quick buck.

A renaissance man well versed in the classics of Greece and Rome, a philosopher and theologian, an ascetic… above all, the most dedicated and generous warrior San Diego’s Backcountry has ever known. One of a kind, not likely to replicated any time soon. And we owe him dearly…