Working on the ground to build local support for public lands distinguishes CalWild from our better-known friends. We are the only California conservation group that can authentically work with local individuals and organizations and provide them with the policy knowledge and political relationships to make their interest in protecting their local public lands a reality. Our approach to developing champions has always been to work with them on local conservation bills. However, for years conservationists’ support in many critical areas has languished.
The reality is that the makeup of the conservation community and the communities in these regions will not look like they did in decades past. Growing partisanship, economic challenges, and demographic change guarantee it.
Fundamental to our vision of protecting the wild places on California’s “public lands” is the notion that they belong to everyone (see our Equity and Inclusion Statement). This ideal requires us to integrate that value in all we do and challenge the historic assumption that these lands are already accessible and inviting to all . That is why we launched the Public Lands Equity and Resilience initiative (PLER).
CalWild knows that future success depends on the conservation community improving in two areas:
- We need to diversify the demographics of our conservation community. We need to work more closely with people who are not participating in conservation efforts due to a variety of reasons including a lack of knowledge about public lands, a belief that they are not important enough or the “right” kind of person to be advocating for conservation, or simply that nobody has ever asked them to participate.
- We must find new and better ways to work more closely with those communities that share an innate love or appreciation for the beauty of nature and pristine, wild places, but are too often marginalized by conservationists.
The idea is the Public Lands Equity and Resilience Program is to address both of these by deepening our approach of equity and inclusion.
• Merced Wild and Scenic River corridor – In 2022, with a grant from the River Network, we were able to complete a community needs assessment along the Merced Wild and Scenic River corridor (State Route 140) looking at the need for improved interpretative signage, especially in Spanish. Our mission is to facilitate better stewardship and visitor services for the various communities that utilize the public lands and waters in this area.
• Pathways to 30×30 – Our Executive Director Chris Morrill is on the 30×30 partnership coordinating committee where he brings his expertise to help expand access to nature on California public lands.
Current Target Regions
CalWild is focused on building capacity in two locations and constituencies that are particularly important to our work: the southern San Joaquin Valley and the upper Sacramento River Valley.
The southern San Joaquin is an area that hosts many of the public lands in the southern Sierra and covers a number of Central Coast areas to the west such as the Carrizo Plan National Monument, the Diablo Range, and Los Padres National Forest. It is also home to a large Latinx population that uses public lands extensively, but have not been included in the public lands conversation nor given the tools to translate their use and community value of nature into mainstream public lands advocacy.
Our first San Joaquin Valley Organizer focused on connecting with those groups and empowering them to take a larger role in the advocacy of the public lands in the region.
The upper Sacramento River Valley is an area that is connected to a number of our campaigns including the Cannabis Removal on Public Lands (CROP) Project, the eastern side of our northwest campaign, and national forests and Bureau of Land Management holdings to the west, north, and east. While we don’t have a dedicated organizer in the region yet, we are looking to find ways to expand capacity and continue to grow the conservation advocates in the region.
Moving Beyond Geography and Demography
Focusing simply on specific locations or demographics misses the point. We know that our approach will need to be more proactively inclusive as we develop new proposals and create campaigns to protect and preserve California’s public lands. We are not only working towards inclusion of new groups, but working to empower them to protect the places they love.
CalWild works in every area of the state. Moving beyond focusing on the regions above, CalWild takes particular concern to proactively reach out to all stakeholders. As part of that engagement, we begin by asking them questions to understand how they use and enjoy public lands including: “How do you use public lands? How do you access them? What places are important to you? How are you impacted by public lands? What do you value about them? What are the needs when it comes to conserving and protecting local public lands? How might the sustainable enjoyment of public lands be enhanced?”
We know that this is the harder route to take, but in taking this approach we are confident that the achievements gained and the wild places protected from these efforts will be lasting for generations to come.
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