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Environment, Energy and Transportation

California Bill Aims To Protect Almost A Third of State’s Land And Oceans, Increase Access For People Of Color

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Ezra David Romero
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CapRadio
The view from Grouse Ridge in Tahoe National Forest.

A state bill that sets a goal to protect 30% of land and oceans by 2030 is one of very few environmental bills to survive the pandemic. Supporters say the proposal will benefit communities of color that haven’t had as much access to open spaces.

Juan Altamirano grew up in Southern California with very few parks or green spaces near his home. That’s why he wants to see Assembly Bill 3030 become law, a California proposal that would help guarantee around a third of the state’s land and oceans be shielded from things like development.

“As somebody who grew up in Anaheim near Disneyland, I didn't have access to open spaces,” he said, referring to the vast landscape of parking lots and concrete that fill the theme park. “So, I think that being able to see myself in this bill is incredibly important.”

Now Altamirano is associate director of public policy with Audubon California and says he feels privileged to be in the field, “but I know many communities around the state lack that access to [wild] spaces. And this bill ensures that we as a state say, ‘This is important to us and important to our communities.’”

If Assembly Bill AB 3030 becomes law, it would create a state goal to keep at least 30% of California's land and waterways free from development and other human impacts, such as overfishing and climate change, by the year 2030. It would also help protect 30% of the nation's oceans by that same year.

"30 By 30"

The legislation is part of a national and international movement to protect 30% of the world's land areas, waters, and oceans by 2030.

“California would be the first state to formally adopt a 30 by 30 goal by 2030,” said Assembly member Ash Kalra, author of the bill.

The state legislation is currently in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee and is one of very few environmental bills that has remained active since the pandemic shifted legislative priorities. The California Green New Deal, with similar broad strokes to combat climate change and inequity, also failed to advance.

“I'm hoping it'll survive,” he said. “It's an important goal that regardless of what else is happening ... we cannot relent in our push forward to combat global climate change.”

The state is considered a hotspot for biodiversity, with over 11,000 species. And the legislation would expand the state’s protected lands beyond the current threshold of about 22%, according to a 2017 study called the Green Squeeze. Sixteen percent of California’s coastal waters are protected, and the legislation aims to almost double that area.

Also, the bill’s authors note that the current legislation would clarify what it means to protect land in California. Currently, it is hard to determine if an area is protected “because there is no specific definition in California statute,” according to a June 4 analysis.

“Many people live here because it's so beautiful in the environment,” Kalra said. “Let's actually put some weight behind that.”

If passed, the law would authorize the state to achieve these goals by heavily working with local, state and federal agencies to protect natural lands. It would also strive to end extinctions, and focus on sequestering carbon to lessen the impacts of climate change.

"Inclusive And Equitable" Conservation

Kalra says creating and preserving outdoor spaces will benefit communities of color, which is particularly important because climate change is forecast to disproportionately impact this population.

“When we think about conservation we sometimes think of it as something that's happening way over there,” said Kalra. “It doesn't have to be the case. We can really integrate this with urban conservation.”

Altamirano, who is Mexican American and supports the bill, says more people of color are working to protect open spaces, and this measure is just one example.

“We're all in this room talking about the importance of not just creating and protecting biodiversity but creating access at the same time,” he said.

While touting the potential benefit of AB 3030, Altamirano and Kalra referred to a report out this week that finds that “the color of one’s skin or the size of one’s bank account is a solid predictor of whether one has safe access to nature and all of its benefits.”

The authors note that as a result, people of color have poor recreation opportunities, deteriorated drinking water, and greater vulnerability to climate change effects like drought. The report is a joint venture between the Center for American Progress and the Hispanic Access Foundation.

The authors found that depriving communities of color of nature is a consequence of systematic racism and that communities of color are about three times more likely to live nature-deprived than white people.

“We must take the findings of the report as a call to action to protect and restore our natural areas in an inclusive and equitable way,”said Shanna Edberg, director of conservation programs for the Hispanic Access Foundation.

The authors report nationally 76% of low-income communities of color live in areas that are nature-deprived. And by looking at California Census tracts from 2017, the authors found that 61% of Asian, 52% of Black, 55% of Hispanic, 48% of Native American and 36% of white people live in nature deprived areas of the state.

That’s why advocates say California’s adoption of “30 by 30” would be a huge boon for the cause. Supporters say this is an opportunity to buffer people from the negative effects of climate change like natural disasters.

Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš — founder of Azul, a Latinx organization working to conserve coasts and oceans — says protecting and restoring land is the best way to preserve the state’s biodiversity and improve access for people of color.

“We talk to folks all the time that live fairly close by the ocean and they've never been to the beach,” she said. “I come from commercial fishing and aquaculture in my previous career, and I can tell you that it's only in everybody's best interest to have a bountiful ocean.”

Supporters of the bill realize the goals are broad, but they said it gives state agencies the latitude it needs to find ways to meet the targets.

“Sometimes having those goals actually helps folks like me use that as a tool to drive other specific changes,” she said. “This is a great big first step in terms of California making this a priority.”

Opposing Groups Want Clarity

But opponents have grievances with the bill’s sweeping goals and broad language. More than 40 opposing groups — including some from hunting, commercial fishing and recreational fishing industries — sent a letter to the Natural Resources and Water Committee asking for amendments.

“This bill reads like a resolution supporting an international framework of 30/30 protection, not a bill identifying specific threats to biodiversity,” the authors wrote.

They want crystalized language that would show how the big goals will be met, and clear objectives for obtaining biodiversity protection.

The Coastal Conservation Association of California said in late May that the bill is “unnecessary and could potentially restrict fishing in California by leading to the creation of new closed areas.”

They also say that hunters and anglers don’t oppose the protection of 30% of land water in the state, but say that around 47% of the state is already protected, according to the California Protected Lands Database.

“This policy is being taken under consideration in other states and in Congress,” said Danielle Cloutier, American Sportfishing Association Pacific Fisheries Policy Director. “ASA is actively working alongside its partners in California to oppose this bill as it currently stands.”

The bill also could prove costly in the short-term. A May 31 legislative analysis of the bill suggested that just one part of the measure, to preserve 270 threatened animal species, would cost more than $50 million dollars, although it says that effort could result in savings elsewhere.

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