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Chris Morrill

Struggles in Congress and looking for new avenues to secure conservation wins: ED Report May 2023

By Chris Morrill, Executive Director

As CalWild’s legislative priorities continue to struggle in Congress, we are always looking out for new avenues to secure conservation wins.

Protect California Deserts Field Trip | Maricela Rosales

Historically, CalWild has done its best in identifying, recruiting, and supporting local activists. There is a long tradition in the conservation community of local people working for years or decades to protect the public lands they love. While that empowerment has always been a priority for us, in our newest campaigns, we’re doing our best to deepen that commitment to local communities. The best example is the effort to establish the Chuckwalla National Monument and expand Joshua Tree National Park.

Inevitably, in a structure that’s locally driven, the process is slower and sometimes more controversial. Bringing in many different perspectives on how a proposal should look, what the end goals are, and how the campaign should be run are hard, ongoing conversations. Although it can make for a frustrating campaign at times, it’s ultimately the right way to go about it for a campaign structure that has the greatest political chance of succeeding.

One of the biggest challenges we’ve encountered is that many communities lack experience advocating for their public lands. As a result, they may be unfamiliar with effective strategies for doing so, which can limit the number of “politically viable” areas for campaigns. This knowledge gap underscores the need for education and outreach to empower communities to effectively advocate for the protection of public lands.

In the past, large national groups have had strong local chapters and volunteers pushing federal agencies, like the Forest Service, for better management and protection of the public lands near their communities. That network is not as strong as it used to be, because the environmental movement has moved beyond the extensive volunteer network.

Differing perspectives and the benefits of local engagement

Merced River Project | Evan B. Dudley

California’s political map often makes it hard to build local Congressional support. As much as we are willing to engage with anyone interested in public lands, it’s clear that many don’t hold our perspective, which is that public lands management should prioritize conservation to ensure both the health of the landscapes and the opportunity for the public to enjoy the lands. Fortunately, this is not an insurmountable challenge. It does require more people who are based near public lands to get more engaged in their management. Frequent opportunities arise that provide us with opportunities to engage in the development of projects, land use management plans, and policies that will impact the public lands around us. That’s true at the national, regional, and local levels.

For the future of public lands advocacy and protection, we need to see more individuals at the local level getting involved in deep and meaningful ways, building relationships with local managers, and knowing those lands just as well as those managers. If a person regularly engages in public land advocacy, over time they will likely develop a better understanding of the landscape and hold a better memory of past decisions than the agency managers themselves.

This kind of work is hard and often thankless, but it’s essential. Plus, in the aggregate, it is the only way we’ll achieve ambitious goals like 30×30.

Thank you for supporting our work and getting involved. We encourage you to continue that commitment and find ways to engage even more deeply in the places that you care about. We’re here to support those kinds of efforts, providing guidance and experience. Neither of us can do it alone. We appreciate all you’re able to give towards healthier and better-protected public lands.


Please let me know your thoughts, comments, and questions by emailing me at cmorrill@calwild.org.