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The reality of change and adapting: ED Report October 2022

By Chris Morrill, Executive Director

In 1976, when CalWild was founded, many of the public lands in the United States were under serious threat. They were not seen as opportunities to protect biodiversity, locations for respite, or an important part of our collective cultural and natural history. Instead, public lands were engines of extractive growth. The modern environmental movement grew from the destruction and exploitation of these lands and waters. 

The approach of “economic extraction at all cost” included clear-cutting huge timber harvests that resulted in most of California’s forests being second and third-growth forests. The dedicated work of volunteers and activists, like those early volunteers with CalWild, helped protect millions of acres including now more than 15 million acres of wilderness.

Photo by Winning the West

Over those decades of work and activism, we’ve seen a significant evolution of public lands agencies that now must seriously account for conservation as one of the top priorities in a “multi-use” approach to public lands management. The current approach, which significantly raises the importance of conserving public lands, also captures the priorities of the majority of Americans

We are forever indebted to the activists who did the hard work and laid the groundwork for the new conservation movement. Their tireless efforts, in an even more combative atmosphere, have protected so many of California’s wild places for us today.

The Reality of Change

Our work to protect wild places in California for future generations continues. However, we’re not in the 1970s any longer. The reality of the challenges that face our public lands and conservation more broadly, are not what they were when CalWild was founded. Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River designations remain key tools in our fight for better protection of public lands and we will continue to avail ourselves of them wherever and whenever possible. 

However, in order to ensure that we work to achieve the ultimate goals of those Acts (i.e., to protect wild places), it’s important for us to remain flexible and utilize all the tools at our disposal. 

As we are all too aware, there are new challenges confronting the protection of wild places. Those include political partisanship limiting Congress’ ability to move forward on important environmental legislation. We are also living with a decades-long effort to undermine public lands agencies’ funding which has made their ability to get good work done nearly impossible. And of course, there is the overarching environmental challenge of our times: climate change.  

Given this new context, we should all be more flexible about how we approach these problems, putting the protection of wild places at the forefront of our minds, rather than being fixated on the specific tools we need to get there. It should also push each of us to approach these issues with a degree of humility as the threats are diffuse and the solutions less clear than when conservationists were confronted with massive clear cuts. The issues of conservation, ecological health, and environmental systems need nimble minds and complex understanding as the reality around us changes.

Growing and Adapting Together

We believe wholeheartedly that activists like you and our many partners at the local, state and national level are up for the challenge. CalWild will continue to do the hard work of thinking about and identifying the most critical needs of our public lands and the tools most likely to get us there. However, no one individual or organization has all the answers with so many new possibilities before us. 

My hope is to continue to work with you and others in the conservation movement to grow and adapt and see our public lands further protected and much healthier. I welcome your feedback and ideas and encourage you to think critically about the many issues before us. Let me know what you come up with and we’ll continue this conversation well into the future.


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