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Chris Morrill

Honoring our past, shaping our future: the renewed CalWild | ED Report April 2023

By Chris Morrill, Executive Director

For 47 years, the California Wilderness Coalition has been the leading statewide voice for California’s wild places. Our efforts to protect public lands have led to the protection of 13 million acres of wilderness and 1,500 miles of wild and scenic rivers.

Those of us who continue that work today are forever indebted to the many champions, both within the organization and at the community level, who have blocked logging projects, prevented destructive industrial-scale mining, and otherwise protected wild places on public lands from exploitation. The vision established with the founding of the organization continues to inspire us today. This work has never been easy or fast, but the major victories that the organization has celebrated show us what is possible.

4 of 5 CalWild's founders at our 40th Anniversary in 2016: L to R: Jim Eaton, Bob Schneider, Don Morrill, and Phil Farrell (Jeffrey Barnickol not pictured)
4 of 5 CalWild’s founders at our 40th Anniversary in 2016: L to R: Jim Eaton, Bob Schneider, Don Morrill, and Phil Farrell (Jeffrey Barnickol not pictured)

The context of conservation and environmentalism in 1976 is not the same as it is today. Climate change is our lived reality. We are grappling with the loss of hundreds of millions of natural acres in California to development or agriculture. That loss has decimated our state’s unique biodiversity, as it has in much of the world. In the last decade, we have also been challenged and changed by the broader awareness of America and California’s history of racism and genocide of Native people.

To further the great vision of our founders and early members of California Wilderness Coalition, we need to adapt and grow. That is why for the past few years, CalWild’s board and staff have wrestled with how we should move forward in continuing to protect California’s wild places.

With our effectiveness at the forefront, we are officially changing the name of the California Wilderness Coalition to CalWild. 


We have used CalWild as a shorthand name for over five years, so the name should be familiar to everyone. However, as we formally transition into our new name, it is important that we publicly state the significance of making it official.

First, we are no longer a coalition. When the organization was first founded it had a formal membership and it worked with those organizational members in the furtherance of wilderness protection. Second, while wilderness will remain our north star as the most protective conservation designation, we recognize that the complexity of the issues before us today requires us to use all the tools at our disposal.

This year, for instance, we launched multiple National Monument campaigns – and more are in the pipeline. We spend many years and countless hours engaging in land management planning processes in order to set temporary protections to hopefully pave the way for those permanent campaigns whether they be national monument or legislative. Additionally, CalWild is working more on issues that transcend individual protection campaigns, like public lands funding, trespass marijuana grows, and sustainable recreation. The most prominent of those overarching issues is the challenge of wildfire. In collaboration with partners, we are working to find ways public lands can be part of the solution to restoring the ecological health of our landscapes and protecting communities.

Wilderness and wild and scenic rivers remain our preferred methods for protecting the wild places in our state due to their permanence and strong protections. However, we know that in isolation those lands are not as healthy or as robust as they could be. Connectivity between these areas and the ability to restore landscapes on large scales is essential to the future health of California’s diverse ecosystems as they adapt to a changing climate.

We also recognize that the political environment is much different than it was in the 1970s. Despite some of the bitter fights that were going on in society at the time, many important conservation and environmental measures were adopted. Those successes continued throughout later decades as well. We remain steadfast in our belief that the conservation of wild places is a universal value and that there will continue to be opportunities that bring together political ideologies of all kinds. However, we would be naive to say that those opportunities were consistent and generally predictable.

A conservation movement to move important initiatives forward

Bighorn sheep. Photo: Riverside County Regional Park and Open Space.
Bighorn Sheep, Photo by Riverside County Regional Park and Open Space

In our view, in order to achieve the protections we seek, we need to create a conservation movement that has the political might to move important initiatives forward. The official change to CalWild, which includes a new logo and updates to our messages and style, are an earnest attempt to connect with a larger swath of Californians. We hope to bring in more people who have not historically felt a part of the conservation movement. By learning how people interact with our state’s wild places, we can better understand how their experiences connect to our work.

By continuing to grow CalWild’s membership and supporters, we are going to protect more of the remaining wild lands and rivers. This approach will allow us to adapt and grow while continuing to emphasize the critical importance wild places play in building our ecological and community health.

We hope you like this new look and will continue with us as we do our best to fulfill the organization’s original vision to protect California’s remaining wild places. Take a closer look at our rebrand here.

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