As I write this, my thoughts are filled with the remarkable set of challenges we face on a global, national and local level. I wanted to give you an update on our current situation and share how I see Big Sur Land Trust fitting into the conversation around solutions.
It’s been four weeks since our Marks Ranch property burned, and fires are still raging across California. The Dolan Fire is not yet contained, and our Arroyo Seco Ranch is now supporting air operations to help with suppression. With air quality across the West ranging from unhealthy to hazardous this past week, I heard many people describe the view outside as “apocalyptic.” The daily rising of a red sun conveyed that something fundamental is amiss.
For those who feel a deep conviction to protecting California’s lands, waters and wildlife, it has always felt like a critical and often uphill battle. As we witness the unprecedented 3 million-plus acres already burned in 2020, we are living a future that has come faster than we had hoped. My conversations with land trust colleagues around the state are rooted in tough questions: What does this mean for the future of conservation and land stewardship? What new roles are land trusts being asked to step into in service to land and community?
Answering these questions has felt more urgent as we experience the devastation of a changing climate in real time. These unparalleled mass fires arrived on the heels of a global pandemic and a national reckoning on racial justice. For many of us working in conservation organizations these issues are converging and reshaping how we plan for the future.
Before the pandemic, I attended a conservation lecture series featuring the social entrepreneur and author Van Jones. Van shared that while working in Oakland for a non-profit focused on justice for incarcerated youth, he discovered nature and the outdoors became a place of mental refuge. As he spent more time in nature exercising, eating local healthy foods, and learning about clean energy solutions, he became what he called an “unlikely environmentalist.” He realized that “the environment was the only thing big enough that could capture all of humanity’s issues.”
So, what does this convergence of all these issues mean for the future of Big Sur Land Trust’s conservation work? For starters, it means that we must invest more in actively managing our forests, oak woodlands, coastal dunes, riparian areas, and rangelands to sustain their critical functions of storing carbon, cleaning water, enriching and rebuilding soils, and providing habitat to support humans and wildlife. We must continue to apply adaptive management strategies, consider new scenarios given a changing climate and double-down on green infrastructure projects using nature as a solution.
Our work must continue to evolve as we strive toward being the kind of partner our communities need. As we restore our preserves post-fire, we are preparing our lands to be ready for the next fire. Given that this is the second time in four years that BSLT properties have been called into service to stage fire-fighting efforts and help protect surrounding communities, we must balance our dual roles of maintaining and enhancing the conservation values of our lands while supporting efforts to protect our communities from the devastating impacts of wild fire.
We must also think broadly in terms of how our work is foundational to other social issues. Land and access to land has been at the center of both wealth-building and oppression since the beginning of our nation’s history and land conservation has not been immune to this. The ability to access all the benefits that nature and a healthy environment provide (clean water, fresh air, a place of refuge, etc.) should be available to all Monterey County residents, no matter what community we live in. BSLT is committed to engaging more people in our efforts, while lifting up voices that have been historically underrepresented in land-use and conservation planning.
As local, national and global citizens, we are in the midst of enormous change. We are all in this together and your continued commitment gives me great hope. Keeping our perspective broad, our actions local and our values of healthy lands, heathy people and healthy communities front and center is the best way for BSLT to remain effective while making progress towards a more just and sustainable future.