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30×30: California’s Reckoning with Environmental Resilience and Social Equity

Below is an op-ed published in the Fresno Bee written by CalWild’s Andé Sanchez with partners in the San Joaquin Valley, Pedro Hernandez of Audubon and Andrew Escamilla of California League of Conservation Voters.

For the full published version, click here.

Access to nature is a human right but for many in the San Joaquin Valley, a healthy ecosystem and local green spaces are often out of reach. Historical patterns of development and racial exclusion have fostered local and state policies that pressured communities of color into urban and rural neighborhoods without many basic amenities and have prohibited access to public lands.

This inequitable distribution to basic community infrastructure and nearby green space directly correlates with our region having negative public health outcomes and one of the highest concentrations of threatened animal and plant species in the entire country.

Further exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our collective need for access to the many benefits of nature—and the unjust experiences that many people of color have in the outdoors—is a problem that national, state, and local leaders can no longer ignore.

While 22% of California’s lands and 16% of waters are currently protected, this small percentage protected does not provide the resilience needed to meet the ecological and social priorities of the 21st century.

Following the lead of scientists, policymakers, and community advocates, California and the Federal government have now committed to conserving 30% of our lands and waters by the year 2030. This 30 by 30 (30×30) effort offers a more integrated path forward that acknowledges the interdependence of biodiversity, climate health, and human wellbeing. By increasing the amount of conserved areas and the level of protections for certain areas in California, this creates the unprecedented opportunity to protect the San Joaquin Valley from further impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss while supporting equitable access for localized public green spaces.

Recently, the Hispanic Access Foundation assessed areas nationwide that are the most “nature-deprived,” meaning regions with inequitable access to the outdoors. Compared to other places in the US, the report identified parts of the Central Valley as having both the highest proportion of people of color or low-income households and the most limited access to nature. Moreover, cities like Visalia, CA only have 2% of its city’s lands that are used for parks and recreation —  Bakersfield is not much better at a meager 6%. The inequality of safe and equitable access for San Joaquin Valley residents to open spaces is even more severe in terms of accessibility to public lands such as national forests.

We must follow the lead of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) communities who are playing a critical leadership role in developing strategies for conserving lands, waters, and wildlife. For example, Indigenous communities successfully manage or hold tenure over lands that contain 80 percent of the world’s remaining plant and animal diversity.

With another year of oncoming drought and wildfire, we can no longer afford to miss this opportunity to protect our precious lands or continue denying equitable access to these lands for BIPOC communities. We must protect spaces like the San Joaquin River Gorge Recreation Area, which is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills, while also prioritizing locally important spaces and the ecosystem services they provide for rural communities along the Valley floor.

With all this in mind, we encourage the community to participate throughout the community engagement process that the state is holding as part of its 30×30 implementation. With your help and participation throughout the process, you can advocate for the expansion of parks and open space, help benefit our economy through ecotourism, local jobs, preservation of natural resources, and provide environmental services such as clean air and water which further benefit our region.

For more information on California’s 30×30 process please visit the California Natural Resource Agency’s Expanding Nature Based Solutions page.