3. Justice and Inclusion 1

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Justice and Inclusion in Native Plant Conservation and Equitable Access to Nature 1

Thursday, October 20 at 10:00-11:40 am, Pine Room

*note alternate instance of this session – Friday at 10am

Session Description: Low-income and communities of color continue to have less access to nature and career opportunities in the conservation field.  This session will showcase areas where the native plant conservation field can support movements to create more accessible parks, career pathways, and opportunities for those who have the least access to nature.

Session Chair: André Sanchez (CalWild, Madera, CA)

3.1    Green spaces, nature preserves in rural places for Economic, Environmental and Climate Justice

Rey León (The LEAP Institute)

Huron, California is a small rural environmental justice community in the Central California agricultural region that is the San Joaquin Valley. Huron, situated in a drought-stricken region, is one of the most disadvantaged communities in the state, and is acknowledged as one of the top four poorest in California. Indeed, a priority population.  In an area sitting just north of Huron, there lies 3000 acres of land that have been put out of production for decades, if they ever were. A sector of this area is a flood zone during storms. Over the ages, the storm waters flows through Arroyo Pasajero Creek (also referred to as Los Gatos Creek) have provided a water source that has allowed for vegetation to not only establish, but to allow the flood prone area to become a vivacious riparian refuge, providing habitat for several sensitive species and species of special concern. More importantly, this riparian area offers a potential opportunity for respite to community members and serves as a local underground water recharge plant, carbon sequestration bank, dust mitigation site, and has much greater potential beyond just those benefits.  This land is home to many flora and fauna and can become a greater natural resource where the ‘rooted’, ‘crawlers’, ‘two-legged’, ‘four-legged’ and the ‘winged’ can share and cherish a beautiful green space. We can see a huge opportunity for improving the region’s climate resiliency, enhancing nature preservation, and promoting community empowerment through several means including an accessible green space, creating an outdoor learning lab, natural resources job training and employment site, and eco-tourism hotspot. With this in mind, we will discuss the importance of this developing case-study and will call into action the conservation and native plant community to elevate the effort.

3.2    Test Plot

Jen Toy (Test Plot, University of Southern California)

Test Plot is a protest against our culture’s obsession with newness, disruption and shiny new projects. We ask the question, what if we focused on building an ethic of care and taking care of the parks and wild spaces that we have? In the public sphere, the management of our parks and open spaces is rarely considered with equal attention to that of the initial design. Funding for maintenance is not seen as “sexy”. The aesthetics of broken infrastructure and rampant invasives are in fact normalized. Increasingly, the frequency of climate crises such as fires and floods siphon resources. Tending the land has become about emergency fixes. At the same time, the general public’s understanding of their local ecosystems remains poor due to many factors such as racist policies like redlining and phenomena like the “Nature Gap.” Test Plot seeks to address these challenges by establishing longer term, care-based relationships between local communities and public lands. The strategy is twofold: Claim a piece of public parkland. Develop relationships with local seed collectors to establish new successional species, deplete the invasive seed bank, build back soil health and test and monitor what works over time. Secondly, do this work from the ground up. Create a coalition of community members, scientists, artists, students and teachers to spend time together with plants; to linger and wonder, to notice and observe, to pull weeds and to care. We’ve established seven Test Plots in communities throughout Los Angeles from Elysian Park to Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook and we are expanding north to the Bay Area. Each stewardship model differs and is flexible to meet the community where they are at. Our “tests” range from experimental water harvesting and selecting plants that may fare better with more extreme weather conditions to using coded flags to communicate maintenance needs. The goal is to engage people in learning landcare skills, support underfunded park maintenance, and build a community of stewards.

3.3    Forest/People

Taylor Parker, PhD (Sierra Nevada Alliance; Pelecanus, Inc; Intentional Ecology)

Forests and communities coexist inextricably together. Understanding the various histories, narratives, uses, engagements, and beliefs about forests, helps to broaden a deeper acknowledgment of the value of forests to the larger society. Developing a richer and more complex story of coexistence informs our current and future forest interactions to address issues of sustainability, extractive use, land management, recreation, carbon sequestration, and intrinsic valuation. Experiences studying and working with social justice issues of forest life in Belize and South Carolina are examined for how they contribute to building a Forestry Program focused on workforce development in California’s Sierra Nevada. Discussions of conflict histories in conservation spaces, indigenous people and ancestry, challenging ‘fortress conservation’ perspectives, and co-designing pathways for improving communities’ quality of life along with healthy forests are examined for these purposes.

3.5    Hands on the Land: Re-imagining land stewardship at a local scale

Brooke E. Wainwright (University of California, Davis; Hands on the Land, Davis, CA, USA), Rebecca Nelson (University of California, Davis; Hands on the Land, Davis, CA, USA), Alana M. Luzzio (University of California, Davis; Hands on the Land, Davis, CA, USA)

Hands on the Land is a student-run organization founded in 2021 and based in Davis, CA that currently serves Yolo and Lake counties. The goals of this organization are to cultivate a sense of place by engaging in hands-on projects on the local landscape, ultimately striving to reconnect all people with the land, restore ecosystems and their functions, and honor not only the indigenous people who first stewarded this land but also the land itself. Currently, our efforts are focused on McLaughlin Natural Reserve in Lake County, a 7000-acre mosaic of oak woodlands, chaparral, non-native grassland, riparian areas, and serpentine grassland, located in the inner north coast range. We organize monthly trips to McLaughlin for students and affiliates, made free by an ever-growing patchwork of funding sources. There, we assist with restoration efforts, plan and collaborate for future projects, and spend time learning about the ecosystem. We hope to host workshops with invited speakers (e.g., restoration ecologists, Traditional Ecological Knowledge practitioners, artists, environmental educators). We envision designing and leading free activities for the local community including bird watching, nature journaling for kids, and leading activities that combine art and nature. Additionally, we plan to devise and test innovative solutions for restoring ecosystems, which will require inclusive conversations among diverse groups of people. We will harness the power of people to restore the local landscape by removing barriers to connecting to the natural world and creating space for people to come together. At its core, our organization is committed to being actively anti-racist, promoting diversity within the fields of restoration, ecology, and environmental education, and creating equitable outdoor access. We are eager to learn from and collaborate with those who have experience in, and big ideas for any of these fields while welcoming those who might simply want to learn more and get their hands dirty.

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Giant Sequoia


Valley Oak


Moulton Niguel Water District

White Sage

H.T. Harvey & Associates Ecological Consultants
East Bay Municipal Utility District

Melo Gardens

California Poppy

Westervelt Ecological Services

Carol Witham

Jepson Herbarium
Helix Environmental Planning