People in Your Neighborhood: Writer-photographer-scientist Budd Titlow continues environmental passion in PB
Budd Titlow — a wildlife biologist and emeritus wetlands scientist — has seen it all, mostly through the lens of a camera and from the perspective of a writer.
The Pacific Beach resident describes himself as a “vagabond,” having visited every state but Hawaii and putting down roots in many of them. After attending college in Florida and Virginia, he took jobs in Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia, among others. In all of those places, he’s kept a pen behind his ear and a camera in his hands.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from Florida State University, followed by a master’s in wildlife ecology and fisheries science from Virginia Tech, he began his professional career as a National Environmental Policy Act compliance specialist with the federal government. That included eight years with the National Park Service.
He then transitioned to consulting for private environmental and engineering firms, spending 25 years working with land developers to secure permits under the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act.
Yet his true passion lies in exploring environmentalism and conservationism through art — particularly writing and photography.
“The whole time, I got my primary satisfaction from writing, even though it wasn’t really paying much,” Titlow said, noting that he contributed as a freelancer for publications such as Empire magazine (the Denver Post’s Sunday supplement) and Colorado Homes and Lifestyles magazine.
Titlow also is the author of four books about natural history and environmental conservation. The most recent, “Protecting the Planet — Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change,” was a joint effort with his eldest daughter, Mariah Tinger.
Like her father, Tinger’s educational and professional endeavors have been rooted in the environment. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Trinity College and a master’s in sustainability and environmental management from Harvard University. Currently, Tinger teaches sustainability at Boston University and is pursuing a Ph.D.
Tinger said her interest in the natural world started at a young age, largely influenced by her father.
“The seeds [of environmentalism] definitely were planted with my dad when I was a kid. … We lived in Colorado, so the mountains were constantly beckoning,” Tinger said. Their family of five often went on camping, hiking and fishing excursions during her childhood.
With their shared passion and experience in environmentalism, the father-daughter duo decided to write a book together that focused on climate change.
“My daughter and I — as both of us being environmental science historians — felt like there was not enough information available about the environmental history of the United States,” Titlow said.
They secured a publisher for “Protecting the Planet” and were given only a year to write the 587-page book. At the time, Titlow lived in Florida and Tinger was still attending graduate school in Massachusetts, so the effort required a lot of coordination and cooperation. Titlow wrote the majority of the text — he’s “always writing, writing, writing,” Tinger said — while his daughter focused on editing and proper documentation, such as compiling notes and references.
The book, published in November 2016, is structured in two parts. The first half addresses U.S. environmental history, highlighting key figures. The second half features modern experts leading today’s environmental efforts. Many of the subjects were interviewed by Titlow and Tinger.
“I loved learning from [my father]. He has such a plethora [of knowledge] and is such a fountain of information about the environmental movement,” Tinger said. Her own lens about today’s climate served as a useful counterpart when co-authoring the book, she said.
Though the book hasn’t sold very well, Titlow considers “Protecting the Planet” one of his greatest accomplishments to date, partially because “it does address such a critical issue of the climate emergency.”
In addition to writing, Titlow is an award-winning photographer, with about 300 photo essays and 5,000 pictures featured in various publications. He always carries his camera with him, resulting in a diverse collection of photographs documenting wildlife and other natural scenes around the world, including the Galapagos Islands and Africa.
One of his highlights as a photographer, he said, was being selected for the British Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. The honor gave him the opportunity to travel to London for the awards ceremony, and his winning photograph was on display at the museum for a year.
“He’s wonderfully modest and humble for all the accomplishments and magnificent things he’s done with his life,” Tinger said. “You wouldn’t know [about them], because he’s not one to go on and brag about himself.”
In 2018, Titlow and his wife, Debby, moved to Pacific Beach to be closer to their younger daughter Marissa and their grandchildren, who live in La Jolla. Since moving to San Diego, he has worked as an instructor for the Ocean Institute in Dana Point and as a workshop lecturer for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC San Diego. He also serves on San Diego Audubon’s Conservation Commission and San Diego County’s Climate Action Campaign.
Recently, Titlow wrote and provided photos for a commentary in the Point Loma-OB Monthly about off-leash dogs at Ocean Beach’s Dog Beach posing a threat to wild birds in the San Diego River channel, an area Titlow said is “the best place I’ve ever been for bird photography.”
In his free time, Titlow enjoys visiting the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park and Balboa Park with his family. He said he particularly appreciates San Diego’s perfect weather year-round, granting him the freedom to experience and document the natural world whenever he wants.
— Editor’s note: PB Monthly’s People in Your Neighborhood series shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.