Skip links

Executive Director’s Report, May 2020

By Chris Morrill, Executive Director

Public lands are vast and varied. They provide us with all kinds of opportunities for recreation and respite. Given the size of our public lands (over 40% of California alone), the many types of uses and recreation can find their space.

Although CalWild is always looking and fighting for protecting all of our wildest places, we also understand that other recreational activities have a place.

We work closely on our campaigns with off-highway vehicle groups, with mountain bikers, with hunters, with rock climbers among many, many others. We may not agree with them on everything, but we do our best to find common ground and find ways for all of us to enjoy public lands together. Ultimately, it is our goal to be compassionate and generous with the idea that they love public lands as well.

As we in California begin to open back up after weeks and weeks of sheltering in place, it is likely that we’ll find conflict in our public interactions. Nowhere will that be truer than in our parks and outdoor spaces.

What we’ve found, and I wrote about last month, is that our outdoor spaces are significantly more important to our spirits and health than we collectively ever knew or acknowledged. That probably means, for those of you in crowded parts of the state, you’ve come across people on your local and regional trails that aren’t adhering to the new social and public health norms of COVID-19.

They chose not to wear a mask. They got a little closer than you were comfortable with. Or maybe they were in a large group. Or perhaps they are new to going outside and getting on trails and didn’t follow the norms that you expect at your local trail or park.

Whatever the case, it seems a little harder to be forgiving these days. We feel that past social slights easily brushed off before COVID-19 have new meaning and urgency.

Like many of you, I am itching to get out. I miss the many beautiful parts of California that make my job so rewarding. However, I think it is important to remember that as we travel more widely or even get out locally more, we are going to run into challenges we didn’t face before COVID-19.

In the many rural counties that us urbanites adore and find solace in, they remain fearful about what travelers might bring and how a significant outbreak could devastate their communities. Many counties are also conflicted by the fact that their vitality relies on the very same visitors they are now fearful of.

This is the paradox of the challenge we face; the need to open up to economic activity and to continue to recreate in natural places and the real and lasting threat posed by this coronavirus.

Here are the two broad approaches I’m taking to this new phase of the pandemic. I welcome your feedback if your perspective differs, especially from those in other parts of the state.

First, it is our collective responsibility to adhere to public health recommendations. If that includes wearing a mask, social distancing or staying home. As people begin to travel we should consider not only the guidance of our region, but also anywhere we may venture. Even if your risk tolerance means you might be willing to do more, please consider the impact of those decisions on others. Be willing to adhere to these norms for their sake and comfort. The impact and reactions of individuals to the pandemic vary widely and we should all be respectful of that.

Second, be kind. Say hello. Be generous. This pandemic is hard enough without additional judgments and recriminations from others. Or having to deal with our own anger at those we feel aren’t being thoughtful enough or are breaking “the rules”. This is a time that we are all trying to figure out what the new normal feels like. Being forgiving and assuming that people don’t have ill-intentions are good places to start.

I continue to struggle with some elements of each of these. After ten weeks the need to get out may cloud my judgement, while my fear of the virus has made me less generous with others than I’d like.

Ultimately, I’m happy that more people are out enjoying parks and public lands. I’m happy that things are opening up, albeit in hopefully thoughtful ways. This next phase presents new challenges and there are plenty of ways we can embrace those that can make the situation better. I hope we’re up to the task.


Please let me know your thoughts, comments, and questions by emailing me at cmorrill@calwild.org.