From Joshua Tree National Park in the desert to Muir Woods National Monument in the Bay Area to Yosemite National Park beyond the Central Valley, public lands are part of our identity as Californians. These iconic destinations — America’s Best Idea — as well as our local parks and hiking trails are where we go to spend time with family and friends and to find solace in nature. But public lands are valuable far beyond recreation. Through protection of our vital waterways, sequestering carbon, and more, these lands are essential in the fight against climate change. Protecting public lands must be a top priority for everyone, from voters to politicians to regulators and beyond.
Just think about how vital our outdoor spaces were during the beginning of the pandemic. At a time when safe activities were few and far between, Californians turned to the outdoors, flooding hiking trails and outdoor areas. It is well-researched that spending time outdoors is beneficial for our physical and mental health. And during this health crisis, we have needed nature more than ever.
We also cannot ignore the critical role that our public lands play in protecting our water sources. The snowpack and rivers in places like Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, for example, are important sources of clean drinking water. Snowpack and protected headwaters of rivers in the Sierra region provide a natural form of water storage, and Sierra forests and meadows play a role in ensuring water quality and reliability for millions of Californians.
Scientists have also told us that protecting large swaths of public land is one of the most effective ways to address the climate crisis. Our public lands, including places like our national forests and the desert, sequester carbon and preserve the biodiversity of plants and animals. Investing in these places is also a way we can prevent more carbon emissions. Californians are paying the price of years of underfunding wildfire mitigation, from the devastation of losing lives and homes to the terrible air quality we endure from these events. Maintaining and investing in our public lands would address all of these environmental issues at once.
We must also recognize that not everyone in California has access to a park or public lands in their neighborhood. The policymakers we elect must not only prioritize the conservation and funding of our public lands and parks but also help make access to these places more equitable and inclusive for everyone living in our state as well.
We’ve seen what happens when we elect policymakers who don’t champion these issues: Our parks and public lands are under-resourced and underfunded, protections for places like Bears Ears National Monument in Utah are thrown aside, and California is left without desperately needed investments in wildfire mitigation.
We can’t afford to let that happen again. And right now, we need our public lands more than ever.
Thankfully, our federal legislators are in the process of deciding whether or not to further the protections of public lands. The PUBLIC Lands Act has been introduced by California’s own Senator Alex Padilla, and you can play a role in ensuring that it passes by signing this petition. You can also help by holding your elected officials accountable. If they are public land protectors, call or email them congratulating them for their hard work. If they have neglected public lands, call or email them asking them to do better.
Addressing the climate crisis is possible because of the work of citizens like yourself who advocate for solutions like public lands that at once address the natural resources, health, equity, and our climate. Thank you for all of the hard work you do.
Mike Young is the Political & Organizing Director of California Environmental Voters