Following Governor Gavin Newsom’s October 2020 executive order and President Biden’s May 2021 directive to conserve 30% of California’s and America’s land and coastal waters by 2030 — the 30×30 initiatives — there is broad consensus that achieving this goal is both necessary and important. Why is this important? Because our land and waters contain the planet’s biodiversity — from the smallest organisms to the largest predators. When species are diminished, it affects whole ecosystems, and when ecosystems suffer, their ability to provide clean water, clean air, pollination and the many other functions we rely on is vastly reduced. So, the question is: How do we get there?
By the state’s own estimates, California has already protected 24% of its lands in a “legally durable” — that is, permanent — manner. In fact, we estimate that more than a third of the land in POST’s working area is protected. But scientists have determined that the goal of 30% serves only as a starting point, and that for our future climate and environmental health, it’s necessary to protect at least 50%. There is still much work to be done.
A recent report called “Pathways to 30×30: Accelerating Conservation of California’s Nature” lays out a roadmap for the state’s initiative. It was put together by the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), the agency responsible for implementing the Governor’s order. I was thrilled to see that they chose to feature Coyote Valley — protected in large part by POST — for the cover of the report! It’s a critical landscape that is often used as an example of the type of project that is key to achieving 30×30 goals.
In case you don’t have time to read all 72 pages of the report, here is a summary of its recommendations that most directly apply to POST’s work.
The three primary goals of 30×30 are completely aligned with POST’s own mission and strategy:
The “Pathways” report outlines numerous strategies for approaching this work. Here are the ones most relevant to us:
The CNRA is creating a State-Federal interagency team to identify and acquire lands that meet 30×30 priorities. Additionally, the team will work with local communities to identify and acquire lands in park-poor communities that can be made available for public access.
Significantly for POST, the interagency team will prioritize acquisition of unprotected lands that are adjacent to currently established public lands to expand and improve habitat and achieve climate benefits. It’s like filling in the missing “puzzle pieces” of unprotected lands that have resulted in our area over several decades. Among other climate adaptation benefits, filling in these gaps will alleviate the fragmentation between conserved or restored habitats so we can achieve viable wildlife passage across the landscape. This prioritization aligns perfectly with POST’s science-driven approach to land protection.
It was promising to see that the report commits to “leverage Federal and State funding sources” and “include funding for restoration and management with new acquisitions,” This funding, if secured for POST’s work, should boost our long-term approach to protecting and restoring lands in our area.
The report clearly states that landscape restoration projects that provide multiple climate benefits be prioritized. This includes opportunities to create and support functional ecosystems — like our forests and coastal grasslands — and increase both landscape connectivity and the climate resilience of watersheds on a regional scale. This is exactly how POST prioritizes its projects. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that a few of POST’s “multi-benefit” projects include Coyote Valley, San Vicente Redwoods and Cloverdale Ranch. Each of these properties spans thousands of acres and includes a variety of watersheds, flood plains and ecosystem types, connecting tens of thousands of acres of critical wildlife territory. These protected lands also provide direct benefits to nearby towns and communities through a combination of public access opportunities, flood control, fire mitigation and economic boosts like sustainable farming and environmentally friendly timber harvesting.
I am particularly encouraged that the report acknowledges the role that private lands, such as farms, ranches, timberland and even large residential properties, can play in achieving these goals. Currently, the demand for conservation easements — a useful legal conservation tool that limits future use of a property to conservation-aligned practices (i.e., no commercial development) — currently outstrips both available funding and the state’s ability to process applications in a timely manner. Making it easier for private landowners to commit to permanent conservation use of their lands, even while retaining their ownership, will be a major accomplishment in and of itself. I’m pleased that the Pathways report commits to achieving that.
As a critical step in creating more access for more people, the report calls for “meaningful and inclusive local planning processes.” As a pillar of POST’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, we work closely with our many regional partner agencies when they assume long-term responsibility for lands that POST transfers to them in order to create new trails, parks and other opportunities for community access. One current example is POST’s collaboration with San Mateo County Parks at Tunitas Creek Beach, which POST protected in 2017. It will become the first new park in the county in over a decade. Community input into the park design process has been extensive — and intentional.
Similarly, POST is partnering with 10 other organizations to create a Bay to Sea Trail, connecting the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean, in a process that will take at least a decade. Given that this trail will pass through urban centers as well as open space, it is essential to ensure that all communities have a voice in its vision and creation. This is a truly regional effort, but one that must, as the “Pathways” report says, “take into account existing and projected climate threats, growth projections, and community needs for open space and access.” Again, I am pleased to see the report aligning with POST on this important topic.
It’s also noteworthy, and commendable, that the report calls specifically for prioritizing partnerships with Native American tribes here in California “to apply tribal expertise and traditional knowledge to restoration efforts.” For several years, POST has been working to strengthen partnerships with local Indigenous communities. For instance, the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band has been working closely with us on the San Vicente Redwoods property as we learn about the role of fire on the landscape for forest health, and we are collaborating with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe to help them form a land trust of their own. We applaud the report’s unambiguous statement that,
“Tribally led conservation is key to the success of the 30×30 initiative and Indigenous people must be given the space and the funding to spearhead stewardship actions and drive traditional management toward biodiversity goals for the State.”
The report calls for establishing a tribal advisory body to guide the government on this program and making it a priority to contract with tribal entities for much of this work. It also calls for stable, long-term support for tribal establishment and administration of tribally protected lands. These are necessary steps toward ensuring that tribal voices and traditional cultural knowledge are centered in these efforts, and that the tribal entities have the support they need to sustain their involvement over the long term.
I hope this has been helpful for you in understanding the 30×30 initiatives. POST is fully committed to doing everything we can to support and advance this vision. As my colleague Peter Cowan so elegantly stated in the video above, 30×30 is “more than our local responsibility. It’s our global imperative.”
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more