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Executive Director’s Report, Dec 2019

By Chris Morrill, Executive Director

For two years the Trump administration talked a very big game about exploiting our public lands. Much of the rhetoric focused on national monuments. Early on they went after two monuments in Utah – Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante. Action was taken reducing their boundaries and, despite lawsuits, are now threatened by extractive projects. Our expectation was that those were only the first efforts to roll back years of progress protecting public lands.

However, the bombastic rhetoric wasn’t matched with the adroit policy work rolling back public lands protections particularly in California When efforts were undertaken, they were shoddy and easily challenged legally. This has changed recently. In 2019 we saw how much harder our jobs are with smart, knowledgeable leaders including Andrew Wheeler as EPA Administrator and most importantly for us, David Bernhardt as Secretary of the Interior. What the administration figured out, to our detriment, is that a quiet, effective leader is better than a flamboyant showboat. Their attacks on California’s public lands will continue to significantly shape our work in 2020.

Recapping a good 2019

Despite their efforts, to date California hasn’t had any major actions against our public lands. We even had a number of huge victories this year. First and foremost, our California Desert Protection and Recreation Act passed with many other public lands bills in March of this year. CalWild worked on this bill since its infancy, which meant over a decade of work before we saw 375,000 acres of wilderness and 73 miles of wild and scenic rivers become reality. It was also the first wilderness bill to pass in California since 2009! As we discussed the bill with supporters, many awed that it passed in this political environment. I wouldn’t argue it was easy, or that success is ever guaranteed, but what it should convey is that our work can move in bipartisan ways when the opportunity arrives.

We took the optimism of many newly protected wild places to our three other legislative efforts: the northwest, central coast, and San Gabriel Mountains. While each of these bills have taken a different path, they all reached the farthest they ever have in 2019. In November all three bills took the last step out of committee and are now ready to be voted on by the full House.

Another key piece of our work has been forest planning. The Sequoia, Sierra, and Inyo Forest Plans  required long, arduous campaigns. CalWild has spent years with our partners organizing state and local feedback for the Forest Service. We are still awaiting the final plans for the Sequoia and the Sierra, which we expect to be particularly disappointing, but have received the final Inyo Plan. Though the plan wasn’t perfect, it was markedly better than where we started. After a lot of back and forth with the Forest Service, the final Inyo Plan increased the wild and scenic river miles from 129.1 to 265.4 and increased the wilderness from 37,029 acres to 59,929 acres. This will continue to be a key area of work in the coming years as plans in northwest California are in the works.

Two other projects showed great success in 2019. The first was our work on the Cadiz Project. After years of organizing and legal maneuvering the Cadiz Project finally came to an end. The California legislature passed SB 307, which requires the State Lands Commission to sign off that the removal of the 16 million gallons of pumped water, as proposed by Cadiz Inc., will not adversely affect the cultural or natural resources of the desert lands. Based on all the reliable data we’ve seen, this is likely a bar too high for them.

The second effort is our CROP Project, which we are working on with the Community Governance Partnership. This year, CROP brought the issue of illegal trespass marijuana grows on federal public lands to state and national audiences. The Project received great coverage on NPR’s Morning Edition and an AP story that was picked up by the Sac Bee, San Jose Mercury News, and New York Times. Like many of you, we knew about this problem for years. What is new is the amount of damage occurring all over the state and the increasing use of extremely toxic materials. We think this additional attention will mean greater policy action in 2020.

Outlining our priorities for 2020

It’s great to take stock at the end of what felt like a very long year. We know that many challenges will continue to come our way in 2020, but we’re working keep our eyes on the proverbial prize(s) by prioritizing a couple elements of our work. Here they are (in no particular order):

Maintain the progress towards full passage of the Northwest, Central Coast, and San Gabriel Bills

As outlined above, all three of these bills have moved farther than they ever had before in 2019. This coming year we want to continue that momentum to ultimately achieve over 600,000 acres of new wilderness and almost 600 miles of wild and scenic rivers. Our goals for this year include a full House vote on these bills and a hearing in the Senate for all three. For each milestone we hit we are closer to full passage as it becomes easier to get back to steps you’ve already taken.

Continue to organize and fight any and all attacks on California’s public lands

You may have seen our Top 5 Threats for 2020 over the last month. It highlights what we think are likely to be the biggest threats to California’s public lands this year. Fortunately, in anticipation of these threats, CalWild has been mobilizing our supporters, partners and allies. As part of our work we manage the Public Lands Defense Network (PLDN). We bring together many groups to talk about the most urgent threats and discuss strategies for combating them. CalWild also maintains a list of threats in Congress and projects by the Trump administration to keep all of you informed and able to take action. We know that in 2020 this foundation is likely to come in handy to mobilize against a number of pressing threats.

Integrate equity and inclusion into public lands protection and management

In 2019, CalWild adopted its first Equity and Inclusion Statement. Our board and staff both felt it an important step in living up to the ideals of making public lands available to all who want to enjoy them. To further that objective, we are working on hiring our first San Joaquin Valley Organizer and launching a new program. These are important issues for all of us to grapple with and we believe these are good first steps as we build a new generation invested in the care and management of our public lands.

Finally, as we close out 2019 and look to what 2020 may hold, I wanted to sincerely thank all of CalWild’s supporters. Our work only happens through collective efforts of dedicated activists on the ground, generous donors from around the state and the country, and from the great partnerships we build. You are the reason that any of the accomplishments and ambitions above are possible. Thank you for being there and joining us on our journey to keep California’s public lands wild.

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