In January 1976, five young activists - Jim Eaton, Don Morrill, Bob Schneider, Phil Farrell, and Jeff Barnick - founded the California Wilderness Coalition. Their mission: preserve the remaining wild places on California’s public lands. They rejected the notion of wilderness exploitation and championed the idea that all wild areas must stay wild. Over nearly half a century, we have permanently preserved 13 million acres of wilderness, safeguarded 1,500 miles of rivers, and protected special places from clear-cut logging, industrial-scale mining, road construction, and other destructive uses.
CalWild continues to be a respected and dynamic advocate for California’s wild places with staff and board members distributed throughout the state. We operate on an annual budget of roughly $1 million, allowing us to advocate for the protection of important habitats, recreational opportunities, stunning landscapes, and rivers spanning from the southern deserts to the redwoods of the northwest.
Wilderness is a legal designation as defined in the Wilderness Act of 1964. This designation, established through an act of Congress, permanently protects areas of undeveloped lands that are managed by the federal government and that retain their natural character and influence, without permanent improvements or human presence.
On the other hand, “wild places” allows for a greater personal interpretation of that word than the word “Wilderness”, which is defined by legislation, and which emphasizes these lands as being devoid of people. Native people have been in what became California for thousands of years, shaping the landscape. However, “Wilderness” designations remain the strongest protections for public lands, and we will continue to utilize this tool wherever and whenever appropriate and politically achievable.
§ How does CalWild work to protect rivers?
Similar to our land conservation work, we employ various approaches to our river protection work based on specific circumstances. Like a Wilderness designation for lands, a Wild and Scenic River (WSRs) designation is the strongest protection for a river, and it remains our preferred tool in the appropriate conditions. However, we deploy various strategies to block destructive developments, including recently pushing for Outstanding National Resource Waters of the United States (ONRWs).
Ever since we advocated for the Tuolumne River to be designated as a Wild and Scenic River in the historic California Wilderness Act of 1984, wild rivers have been a part of every one of our legislative protection campaigns.
Over 41% of California is managed by the federal government. As development has continued relatively unrelenting and companies have looked to exploit these lands, CalWild has focused on public lands for the greatest opportunities based on acres and remaining wildest places.
Most publicly managed land is not afforded protection from oil and gas exploration, mining, logging, excessive off-highway vehicle use and other destructive practices. Therefore, CalWild identifies areas on public lands with cultural, historical, scenic, ecological, and recreational significance, and works to protect them forever.
National Parks are managed by the National Park Service (NPS). The NPS mission is different from other public lands agencies, focusing much more on protecting of natural and cultural resources than the other agencies. Much more of California is managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The USFS and BLM have multiple use mandates that include logging, mining, and oil and gas development. CalWild plays a pivotal role in organizing communities and stakeholders in support of strong protective designations on these multi-use lands, which can, in some cases, be a first step towards the establishment of a national park. For the time being though, we aren’t advocating for any new national parks in California.
CalWild is working in several policy areas that impact federal public lands. We do that through any strategic avenue available to us. Here are our priority objectives in 2023:
- Pass the PUBLIC Lands Act in the Senate (which consists of (list the 3 house bills)
- Designate three new or expanded National Monuments (Chuckwalla, Berryessa Snow Mountain, San Gabriel Mountains)
- Push for more climate smart policies in the Northwest Forest Plan Amendment, Northwest California Integrated Resource Management Plan, and Mojave Trails National Monument Management Plan
- Continue to push for the restoration of California’s historic fire regime
- Lead on integrating public lands into the State of California’s effort to protect 30% of California by 2030 (30x30)
Scientists estimate that to curb the current global decline in wildlife and biodiversity, a full 30% of the Earth’s land and water must be protected by the year 2030. California has adopted this “30 by 30” goal, and CalWild plays a key leadership role in its pursuit. California’s protected lands currently constitute 24% of its area; an additional 6 million acres must be protected to meet the goal. This goal is also only an interim step towards protecting 50% by 2050. [MG1] CalWild’s leadership has never been more important.
CalWild is the only statewide organization dedicated solely to protecting and restoring the wild places and native biodiversity of California’s public lands. However, the conservation community is like an ecosystem: different organizations perform different functions. CalWild’s specialty and expertise is in protecting wild places on public lands, which offers the most “bang for the buck” in land conservation of all available approaches. More than any other group that works in California, CalWild knows the reality on the ground, in regard to both the land and the stakeholders. We work in concert with other organizations and are highly respected in conservation circles.
California’s natural landscapes sequester tremendous amounts of atmospheric carbon, which plays an integral part in the greenhouse effect. Fossil fuel extraction on public lands is responsible for nearly a quarter of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, making public lands a net emitter of greenhouse gas pollution. By protecting, restoring, and appropriately managing our public lands, we can fight the effects of climate change. Public lands are also important in adaptation as both plants and animals need intact landscapes to find new habitats in a changing climate.
By creating more opportunities for families to get out and enjoy California’s wonders! We do not advocate for simply locking away places and throwing away the key. The places CalWild protects aren’t fenced off from the public; they are open to activities like picnicking, camping, hiking, and backpacking.
Absolutely! We promote non-motorized and non-mechanized recreational activities within Wilderness areas. These activities include hiking, horseback riding, backpacking, camping, birdwatching, rafting, hunting, fishing, and climbing. Furthermore, we have safeguarded numerous locations by designating them as Areas of Critical Environmental Concerns, National Monuments, and National Conservation Lands, among others. Our commitment also extends to protecting these areas from harmful activities such as logging and mining, ensuring that people can enjoy those places today and into the future. Visit calwild.org/adventures to browse a wide array of hikes, river trips, and other adventures you can enjoy in the areas we have worked to protect.
Fire has always been a natural part of California’s landscape, often ignited by natural factors like lightning strikes. Native people have managed landscapes with fire for thousands of years. The primary reasons California is now seeing the devastating wildfires of recent years are that for over a century, land managers suppressed fire instead of allowing it to burn through fuel buildup, more homes have been built in wildfire-vulnerable areas, and logging practices have created homogenous landscapes that are particularly vulnerable to wildfire.
The reality is that the fire challenges are different depending on which part of the state you live in. Generally speaking, the Sierra and Northern part of the state has not had enough fire and Southern California and our deserts have had too much. CalWild staff are involved in fire resilience and fire management policy discussions throughout California. These nuanced solutions are essential to achieving healthy landscapes and communities.
The best way to understand why a contribution to CalWild is an effective investment in our environmental future is to compare a donation to CalWild with other such investments. For example, the State of California routinely spends tens of millions of dollars to acquire land parcels for conservation. Because land in California is so expensive, these purchases are usually no larger than a couple of thousand acres in size, at most.
CalWild works on projects that protect hundreds of thousands of acres at a time. It’s a complex process, and sometimes a time-consuming one, but despite that, it is a far more effective approach to wholesale landscape conservation than purchasing land. Throughout our history, CalWild has protected more than 13 million acres of California lands as Wilderness, far more efficiently than could be achieved if that much land had to be purchased.
We—the public—already steward the lands and rivers CalWild is working to protect. We just need to lock in agreements to conserve and manage them better. That is what CalWild excels at.
Yes, it does. Lands held by different agencies are managed according to different priorities and policies. The Bureau of Land Management, for instance, does not list conservation as one of its operational priorities. (We’re working to change that).
With more than 40% of California’s lands managed by federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), CalWild is the voice of Californians to assure access, good land management practices, and stewardship for future generations. We work to help create and build support for federal legislation that secures strong and appropriate protections for wild lands and rivers in California. We start in the field and in the community. We walk the land and map it. We work in coalition with local activists and try to build understanding and often agreement among initially opposing interests. We help identify citizen advocates who help carry the preservation and recreation message to Congress.
Our work doesn’t stop there. Once a wild place is protected by designating it as a wilderness area or other designation, we monitor and respond to changes in federal management policy, administrative directives, planning, or legislation that impact public lands. We use outreach, public education, and constituency building to ensure protection. We also seek legal remedies in the courts when necessary.
Finally, each acre of public lands is required to have a management plan. These plans get updated periodically, but are often in place for a generation. The planning processes can take years and require an intimate knowledge of the land. CalWild is one of the few groups that is involved in these across the state.
First and foremost, we need to build our network among the forty million Californians out there. So, if you aren’t, become a member and donate, educate your friends on our work, and encourage them to advocate for their wild, too! CalWild is a grassroots, publicly-supported nonprofit organization that depends on the people of California to keep our work going.
We do! From focusing on marginalized communities in our organizing efforts to conducting conservation projects in disadvantaged areas of the state, CalWild works to engage tribes, people of color, and immigrant communities as a standard element of our work. Check out more about this work through our Public Lands Equity and Resilience campaign here.