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Executive Director’s Report, December 2020

By Chris Morrill, Executive Director

There is little doubt that we have endured one of the most tumultuous, exhausting, and heartbreaking years in 2020. From the beginning with massive wildfires in Australia to the end with one of the worst COVID surges happening in California, it felt like a stream of never-ending collective traumas.

To recap what we’ve endured: a global pandemic, the ugliest and most troublesome presidential election in memory, the greatest racial reckoning in a generation, an economic recession that has crushed the most vulnerable of us, and wildfires that raged across California even turning the skies orange in a dystopian turn that actually felt somewhat appropriate for 2020.

My heart goes out to anyone who has lost someone to COVID-19 or endured economic hardship this year. In many ways I’m saddened by how we collectively reacted to the coronavirus. It has challenged many assumptions and pushed my ability for empathy and understanding for many of those lacking in their response.

As the year closes and I look back, there are a few things CalWild was fortunate to celebrate in our work. We endured multiple attacks on public lands over the last few years and fought back with passion and clarity. Many of you joined us along the way.

Despite everything else, we even made great progress on a number of our most important projects and campaigns. Here are a few the highlights from the year:

Passage of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA)/Permanent Funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund: In August, after years of work by many conservation groups, the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law. In addition to addressing the enormous maintenance backlog on public lands, it authorized the permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The LWCF now provides $900 million a year for conservation projects, a number of which we’ve worked on including the Sanhedrin Ranch acquisition. CalWild also played an important role pushing many California Congressional members to support the measure including Rep. TJ Cox into taking a leading role and Rep. Kevin McCarthy to vote yes on the GAOA.

Our Three Conservation Bills Pass the Full House: We have worked on our three major legislative efforts (Northwest, Central Coast, and San Gabriels) for many years. CalWild has built the on-the-ground support and has intimate knowledge of every piece of land and water in the bills making them ready to pass when the opportunity presents itself. This year, the bills got farther than ever. All three bills passed the full House of Representatives as part of the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act. They were also introduced as part of Senator Kamala Harris’ PUBLIC Lands Act. Finally, in a “hail Mary” attempt, the bills were included in the House version of the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act. Unfortunately, the bills didn’t make it in the final version of the NDAA, so we’ll be working to get these bills re-introduced next year. The good news is we’re getting closer!

Launching of the Public Lands Equity and Resilience Program: In February, CalWild launched our Public Lands Equity and Resilience Program. This effort came after our board adopted CalWild’s first Equity and Inclusion Statement in 2019. Additionally, the events after George Floyd’s death this summer laid bare the persistent inequities of our society and pushed CalWild’s board and staff to examine our role in perpetuating those injustices. The PLER Program is designed to center our core values of equity, inclusion, and access when it comes to protecting California’s public lands. As part of that effort, CalWild hired its first San Joaquin Valley Organizer, André Sanchez, who is already improving our connection to the lands and people in and around the Central Valley.

Progress Against Trespass Grows: Trespass marijuana grows on public lands are an intractable problem. However, the number and impact of these grows has increased in recent years. Drug trafficking organizations have set up operations on every corner of the state’s public lands using massive amounts of highly toxic chemicals. As part of the CROP Project, CalWild worked with our partner the Community Governance Partnership to elevate this issue with lawmakers and the public. The PLANT Act was introduced in 2020 aiming to get more money on the ground for reclaiming old grow sites and increase penalties on grows that cause serious environmental damage. CalWild worked closely with Rep. Jared Huffman and Rep. Doug LaMalfa to add other California members as co-sponsors. We also worked closely with Congress and the Forest Service to get more money on the ground for this issue and expect to make more progress this coming year.

We could not have accomplished any of these without the help of supporters like you. Thank you. CalWild staff is blessed to get to work on these issues and we know how important it is to you to protect public lands. We are moving into a new world in 2021 (hopefully in more good ways than bad), but our capacity to keep our eyes on permanent conservation victories depends on our work together. Our small, but mighty team is excited to work with you in the coming year for more victories for wild places.

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