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The nature of compromise in Arizona

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Thoughts from Desmond Johns, the Wild Forever Future Fellow working in Arizona.

In July, on a Tuesday, I rolled out of bed at 4 a.m. I reminded myself why I love wilderness while I got ready for the day.  I picked up my colleague at the casino south of Phoenix (it’s a good meeting spot!) and drove south to Tucson to catch the next leg of our carpool.  From there we headed even further South — past the border patrol checkpoint on US 90 and the charred landscape left after the Monument Fire to Bisbee Arizona, the Cochise County seat.  We were just in time for the 10 a.m. Board of Supervisors meeting.

That day Cochise County was considering a County Comprehensive Plan demanding to take part in decisions regarding management and legislative actions that would apply to federal public lands within the county.  This idea alone makes so much sense that part of me is amazed that the County has to make a policy to achieve a seat at the decision-maker’s table.  Sure, local governments should have a say in policies that will directly affect the lands surrounding where they live and work.  Duh.

The rub was that immediately following the demand of “coordination” the county took a clear anti-conservation stance on all issues.  The plan favors livestock grazing over wildlife, and states that off-road vehicles use should be unrestricted on public lands.  It declared that “Wilderness designation is not an appropriate, effective, efficient, economic or wise use of land.”  Ouch.

During the meeting, several locals and a few of my new conservation colleagues stood up and spoke against the county’s proposed stance on wilderness and other land designations.  While all supported the idea of the county having a seat at the table, no one spoke in support of the county’s attack on wilderness and other land designations.  Many questioned whether this plan had been appropriately circulated for public input as many local conservationists had only heard about the plan a few days before the Board of Supervisors was to vote.

What happened when no one from the public supported the County’s plan?  The major concession of a day was a general softening of the harshest language.  The plan now reads “Wilderness designation is not always an appropriate, effective, efficient, economic or wise use of land.”  Part of me thinks that hey, the door is still open.  The cynical part of me is less impressed — this is compromise in Arizona.

Before starting the long drive northwards, I took a few minutes to scrutinize the border fence so many Arizonans are demanding is necessary to keep us safe.  As I looked out at Naco, which has been sliced in two by the border fence I couldn’t help but ponder the dichotomy of Arizona’s relationship with the federal government.  We can’t get enough support in securing our border, and we are willing to make significant sacrifices in terms of our privacy and daily life to feel safe.  Yet when it comes to federal public lands and resources in our area, we can’t get the federal government out of the way fast enough, nor should we compromise.   I couldn’t help but wonder if the impasses in Arizona could be eased by backing away from extreme stances and a willingness to engage in a real conversation.

Greetings from Arizona: Introducing Desmond Johns

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

It’s Michael once again, and it’s my great pleasure to introduce you all to our other Wild Forever Future Fellow, Desmond Johns.

We couldn’t be more grateful to have attracted two such incredibly capable and thoughtful people (you can learn more about Fabiola Lao in the previous blog entry), and we hope you enjoy getting to know them better over the next year.

Here’s Desmond.


One month. I can’t believe it’s only been one month since I began my tenure as one of the first Wild Forever Future fellows with the Wilderness Society. One month that I’ve been working on passing wilderness and other special land designation legislation near Phoenix Arizona. In only one month I’ve immersed myself in getting to know the unique character of the proposed area, helping with the outreach effort, and learning the regional and local politics of land conservation. And yet I sense I’ve only dipped my toe into a pool that is a vast network with diverse histories.

I’m headed down this new career path because wild places are part of my identity. Hiking through mountains and splashing in streams were a huge part of my childhood in Colorado. Skiing alone through silent spruce forests and running from moose and mosquitos in Alaska are some of my best memories. Open space has become something my sanity requires. I think this need is what sent me scampering back to the Western United States after scoring a master’s degree in Oceanography in Maryland. I ran home to the West despite the fact that during my five years on the East Coast I had amazing experiences. I met many of my best friends, met my dude, and connected with my national heritage. I suppose nature called me back to the West. I think it’s called me again to shift away from research and towards conservation.

I’m excited to be a fellow with The Wilderness Society because it’s now my job to work towards preserving the most wild and unique landscapes that have shaped Arizona’s heritage. Arizonan’s somehow balances a gung-ho attitude with utter pragmatism in their region shaped by rich ethnic diversity and boom and bust cycles, all perched in an extreme and stunningly beautiful environment. Since moving back West, I’ve started to think that open space in the Western U.S. is being developed faster than we realize. I suspect as a society we don’t expect to ever run out of room, and I fear that our stout and unique character may diminish if we lose touch with our natural heritage. I hope to help make real contributions to conserving some of the West’s most amazing wild places and can’t wait to tell you about the laughter and frustrations that I encounter along the way.

Welcome to LA: Introducing Fabiola Lao

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

This is Michael Carroll once again, and I’m delighted to introduce you to one of the two Wild Forever Future Fellows.

We’re so excited to have Fabiolo and Desmond Johns as our inaugural fellows. They’ll be spending a year at The Wilderness Society working on campaigns in California and Arizona. Our goal is to help them find their footing in the land protection world and hopefully carve out a career path as a land protection campaigner.

You’ll be hearing from them over the course of their fellowship and what it’s like to take that first step in land protection work.

Here’s Fabiola.


Greetings from Los Angeles!

Yes, you read that right! You’re probably wondering why someone from The Wilderness Society is blogging from Los Angeles, of all places. To most people, Los Angeles is equivalent to Hollywood and its celebrities, and if one is to think of the outdoors, the beach is most likely the first thing that comes to mind. But there’s so much more to the town and region that I call home.

One of the nation’s biggest national parks, the Angeles National Forest, is my region’s private “backyard,” with beautiful vistas and clear and refreshing rivers. It is home to the San Gabriel Mountains, which has wilderness areas, but as we know, there are always more public lands that need to be protected. And this is where I come in.

My name is Fabiola Lao and I’m The Wilderness Society’s Public Lands Fellow. I’m the inaugural fellow of the Wild Forever Future Fellowship program, and for that I’m incredibly honored and excited. I recently earned my Master of Public Administration degree at University of South California, with an emphasis in environmental management and policy. Before graduate school I worked for almost three years developing policy advocacy campaigns for environmental health and justice non-profit organizations in California. I am a fluent Spanish speaker and writer, a skill that came in very handy when I worked with various Latino communities that were disproportionately impacted by pollution and faced a myriad of environmental justice issues.

Towards the end of graduate school I realized that I wanted to learn more about other areas of the environmental sector. I wanted to expand my professional knowledge base and learn new skills. In my personal live I’m very passionate about conserving, protecting, and respecting our natural resources and wildlife, so I contemplated the idea of searching for a job at an organization that focuses on conservation issues. However, I was a bit reluctant to even start my job search because for one, I didn’t have any experience working on conservation issues. Secondly, I knew that shifting gears from working on environmental justice issues to conservation ones was going to be an interesting adjustment. My reluctance didn’t last long because a few days after I had this fleeting thought about changing fields, a friend sent me the job description for my fellowship position. I knew it was a sign and I didn’t hesitate to apply.

It has now been a few months after the initial interview and three weeks into my fellowship. I have been learning so much already and have met new colleagues who I’m really looking forward to working with during my fellowship. I will be working on the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign, which is spearheaded by a broad coalition of non-profit organizations, community, and conservation groups who have come together to protect wilderness, and wild and scenic rivers in the San Gabriel Mountains.

A main goal of the fellowship is to recruit and develop the next generation of conservation and public lands leaders. As the first fellow of TWS’s Wild Forever Future Fellowship, I am very excited and honored to be given this amazing opportunity. I am really looking forward to gaining a comprehensive understanding of public lands conservation campaigns, and most importantly to me on a personal level, for the opportunity to share my passion for the environment and our public lands with the Latino community in the San Gabriel Valley. As a Latina and an environmentalist, being able to engage more Latinos in the conservation movement, a movement that we have historically rarely participated in, is both humbling and empowering.

Nature Smart

Monday, July 11th, 2011

We are not slowing down a force that inevitably will destroy all the wilderness there is. We are generating another force, never to be wholly spent, that renewed generation after generation will be always effective in preserving wilderness.  We are not fighting progress. We are making it. We are working for a wilderness forever.”

Howard Zahniser
Author of the Wilderness Act

“The future will belong to the nature-smart — those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real.  The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”

Richard Louv
Author of The Nature Principle and founder of the New Nature Movement

I’m Michael Carroll, and I couldn’t be more stoked to introduce you to the Wild Forever blog and the Wild Forever Future Campaign.  A team of us at The Wilderness Society have been planning and scheming to get this campaign up on its feet for more than two years, so I still can’t believe that we’re finally on the launching pad.  It’s been an amazing learning experience for us — to learn more about what the land protection community’s needs in terms of learning, to understand more about best practices in teaching and mentoring, and to learn more about what inspires each of us to commit ourselves to being and persevere as champions for land protection in the 21st Century.

Our hope for this blog is that it’s a place of reflection on learning.  We’ll be asking many different people in the land protection movement — some who are just starting out and some who have been doing this work for decades — to tell us what they are learning each and every day. We’ll also ask them to share what inspires them to push forward and literally reshape our landscape.

So let me start this conversation by reflecting on two people that inspire me.

The first person is perhaps the greatest of visionaries of the land protection movement — Howard Zahniser, known by folks at The Wilderness Society as Zahnie.  We feel that close to him because he was the first president of The Wilderness Society and its sole staffer for years. He’s the grandfather of the modern wilderness movement and the original author of The Wilderness Act — the most forward-looking, ambitious vision for the future the wild places, and the most powerful tool we have to protect those places.

He was creative, articulate, ambitious, and tenacious.  It took decades for The Wilderness Act to wind its way through Congress and be signed into law.  In fact, Zahnie didn’t live to see the signing by Lyndon Johnson, but we like to think that he knew his dream would come true.  I think many of us see him as the embodiment of the model land protection champion.

But what amazes me the most about Zahniser was that he was a people person.  He believed with all his heart in the importance of connecting people to wild places, and that these places were important to bringing people together.  His “untrammeled world” (a phrase he used often in his writing) always included people and was always meant to benefit us all as people and communities.

The other person who inspires me is someone who I believe is a new visionary for our movement — someone who shares the same values as Zahniser and carries his vision into the 21st Century.

I was floored when I read The Nature Principle by Richard Louv.  I believe it’s the new manifesto for conservation work and a key lesson for supporters of wilderness to learn and practice.  The book follows up on his first, Last Child in the Woods, where he coined the term “nature deficit disorder.”  He believes we’ve become disconnected from the natural world, and we’ve lost a lot because of that.  To put it in terms that Zahnie would have liked, we have become “trammeled.”

The Nature Principle is a call to arms, making a powerful case for the urgency of protecting the great outdoors.  He expands upon the original vision of Zahniser to recognize and honor the importance of our neighborhood parks and backyards… the green spaces all around us.  He reminds us of a fundamental difference between Zahniser’s time and ours.  When Zahniser was scribbling notes to figure out the wording of the Wilderness Act, people worked, played, and lived outdoors.  We don’t do that now, and so every little green space is all the more precious to each of us and to our communities.

Both these guys are talking about protecting a landscape that is about and for us… and that protection requires an act of creation — a garden, a park, a hiking trail, a wilderness area.  So creating green spaces and wild places is as essential as ever in the 21st Century.

To my mind, Louv takes Zahnie’s vision into our current time and gives us a road map for the future.

What I take away from these visions, and these men, is that in whatever way we are champions of green spaces and wild places, we are champions for people.  It’s about connection and quality of life, clean air, and clean water for us all.  For me, as a life-long conservationist, I am fighting for people, their families, and their communities, and I appreciate that this work is and requires an act of creation.

So what I keep hoping to learn from Zahnie and from Richard Louv and from anyone who will teach me is how to be more effective in engaging more people, bigger and broader communities, in protecting wild places and green spaces.  I work with an incredibly well-educated group of people who are experts in biology, economics, and environmental policy.  They are all very important to the movement, but I want all of us in the land protection movement to be life-long students of communities and to learn the art of bringing communities together around a landscape, or around a park, or in their own backyards.  As Zahniser and Louv remind us, our strength, indeed our future, lies in our communities.

I’m still figuring it all out — how to be in and connect with a community that’s much larger than I first thought — and I hope that through the Wild Forever Future Campaign, I can learn more from my peers and from those just starting our their career in this movement.  I hope we can discover more about these nature-smart communities, and our nature-smart future, together.

Oh, if you’re interested in learning more about Howard Zahniser, you might was to read Doug Scott’s book, The Enduring Wilderness:  Protecting our Natural Heritage through the Wilderness Act.  And you should definitely pick up a copy of The Nature Principle.

How do we learn to be 21st Century land protection campaigners?

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Through the Forever Wild Blog, we share the insights from all those involved in protecting wild places about what they hope to achieve, the support and training they hope to get, and the many lessons they have learned in the work to protect America’s wild places.