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Executive Director’s Report, October 2021

By Chris Morrill, Executive Director

This month, California received its first major rainstorm in many months, even setting records around the state.

Within a day I began to see the obligatory stories that this doesn’t mean the drought is over. As someone who is consistently working on and thinking about natural resources in California, this boggles my mind. It takes me a long time to grasp how it could be anyone’s perspective that one rainstorm would mean the end of a major drought, no matter how big the storm.

My first reaction of frustration is eventually replaced with one of inquisition. If my work, the work of CalWild, and other groups working on natural resources issues is about conservation and sustainability, what does it say about us that this perspective exists and requires many stories in major news outlets every year to debunk. How are we not telling a story that connects people better with the natural processes around them?

In the case of this example one of the challenges is the clear division that exists between camps on the water issues (apologies in advance to you water folks for gross over-simplifications). However, many environmentalists use issues like drought and climate change to emphasize the dire nature of our ecological systems. Being an environmentalist myself, I’m partial to their perspective. But it’s important to recognize the impacts of dire communications. The biggest consequence is desensitization. While fellow environmentalists may be activated by these messages, they can be off-putting and even alienating to many people outside that space.

This is also too often true of the notion of wilderness or wild places. For too many, these ideas are things that happen far from them. The ideas and issues related to conservation aren’t relevant to the average person’s world or something that they don’t feel compelled to engage with.

CalWild is in the middle of our strategic planning process and recently hosted a retreat to talk through some of the issues facing the organization and the conservation movement more broadly. Near the top of that list was telling a better story. One that focuses not on the what, but on the why. A story that talks about the values we often assume to be universal, yet rarely communicate them in ways that connect universally.

As we move forward and combat the many challenges of our time, conservationists need to be better about sharing our values in ways that engage the broader public. I am convinced, as I’m sure many of you are, that the value of natural places can resonate with a much larger section of our society, but to date, it doesn’t. CalWild will continue to challenge ourselves to find new ways to tell the story of the importance of protecting wild places as key to creating a healthier and happier society.

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