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Executive Director’s Report, August 2020

By Chris Morrill, Executive Director

The next decade of conservation

In the last two years, there is a growing momentum around the world to elevate land and water conservation as a tool in the fight against and adaptation to climate change, as well as the prevention of a growing mass extinction event.

The 30 by 30 campaign (preserving 30% of all land and ocean in the world by 2030) began in 2019 with a number of conservation groups and scientists calling for the goal’s adoption in the lead up to the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in October of 2020 (now postponed until May 2021 due to COVID-19).

Famed biologist E.O. Wilson first set a target of preserving “Half the Earth” with his book in 2016. Subsequently, many have answered the call and pushed for the 30 by 30 goal as well as seeing it as part of an eventual 50 by 50 campaign.

In addition to pushing the idea at the U.N., there are currently bills in both the Senate and House that would set a national 30 by 30 goal. Originally proposed by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and Senator Michael Bennett of Colorado (also cosponsored by both California Senators Harris and Feinstein), this bill is intended to respond to a growing chorus of scientists arguing that a 30 by 30 goal is the bare minimum to address the extinction, climate change, and biodiversity crises.

That mantel was being carried in California by Assemblymember Ash Kalra in the form of AB 3030. The state of California is a biological hot spot with over 11,000 species. From the desert to the temperate rain forests, from the Sierra to the coast, California is home to one of the most diverse landscapes in the world. It is also the reason many of us call it home and have worked to protect it over the years.

AB 3030 would have set in law a goal for California to reach 30% protected land and ocean by 2030. Currently, about 22% of the state’s land mass is considered protected while 16% of its ocean territory is also protected. The total land mass in California is about 104 million acres. Federal public lands encompass about 41% of that total while state land adds another 3%. Combined this is 44% of the state and by far the clearest place to find additional land protections.

Unfortunately, the Senate Appropriations Committee effectively killed this bill on August 20th, by refusing to allow it to come up for a vote on the Senate floor.  However, there is already talk about reintroducing this bill in the next legislative session.

That’s where CalWild comes in. We have supported the efforts of other groups to push AB 3030 in Sacramento as part of continuing California’s leadership on conservation and climate change, but that’s not our strength. Instead, we’re already planning for what comes after passage, which we expect next year.

How do we actually get to 30 by 30? Where are the most critical areas to protect from a biological diversity perspective? Where are the most acres? We know that if we add in all the estimated 9 million acres of roadless and wilderness-eligible lands we’ll already be close to hitting our 30% land target, but we still need to make sure these places remain wilderness eligible and survey new places we could add to that list.

We’ll need to build the local organizing capacity and a campaign in each of these areas. We need to reach out to tribes early and often and engage them in the 30 by 30 vision. The initiative will also need to address lack of access and other equity issues for all new designations. This is not easy or cheap, but we’re working on a plan and beginning to team up with lots of conservation groups across the state to make it happen.

We’re also asking what level of protection is sufficient? The definition of what constitutes “protection” will be critically important. Opponents of AB 3030 have pointed to data that claims 47% of the state is already protected, but they are counting all federal lands. As we’ve seen with logging projects in roadless areas in national forests and mining and oil leasing on Bureau of Land Management lands, these places are far from protected. Ensuring that the definition of “protection” is meaningful will be an important element of any 30 by 30 campaign.

The reality is we don’t know how this is going to work. We don’t know how or if we’ll be able to reach this lofty goal of 30 by 30. However, we do know that this is the most exciting momentum for statewide conservation in California since the 1984 California Wilderness Bill. We are ready to get to work and hope you’ll join us on this new 10-year journey for a wilder California.

Please let me know your thoughts, comments, and questions by emailing me at