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Biodiversity can't wait 

There are all kinds of reasons to save the natural world.

For most of us, and for most of the history of the conservation movement, those reasons are visceral and personal. We know what Robert Louis Stevenson is talking about when he refers to "that quality of air, that emanation from old trees that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit." We know what John Muir meant when he wrote, "In God's wildness lies the hope of the world—the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware." Muir founded the Sierra Club as an extension of that idea: If you can get people out into nature, they will come to know it and love it, and people fight to protect what we love.

And hopefully, we know why Aldo Leopold's worldview changed in 1909 when, as a dutiful U.S. Forest Service employee, he shot a wolf and then scrambled down to the riverbank where she lay, arriving "in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. ... I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean a hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."

It's said that Leopold's 1949 Sand County Almanac invented the idea of a land ethic and the environmental movement. Leopold's land ethic enlarged the meaning of community to "include soils, waters, plants, and animals" and declared that "a thing is right when it tends to preserve the stability, integrity, and beauty of the whole biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

From this flowed the concept of the rights of nature, never more memorably stated than by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas in his 1972 dissenting opinion in Sierra Club v. Morton, wherein he argued that trees, rivers, swamps, and mountains should have legal standing to sue in their own defense, and that humans, as the most articulate of creatures, should be allowed to act on behalf of those voiceless entities and be recognized by the courts as representatives of their interests.

But whatever reason you choose—whether you think nature should be preserved for its ability to provide spiritual renewal, scenic views, and resources, or because we should not pretend we are separate from and superior to it, or because it has a fundamental right to exist—now is the time to defend it. Because we are losing it.

As Leopold noted, "an ecologist ... must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise."

Which brings us to the first of its kind report, "Biodiversity in Focus: United States Edition." Released three months ago, it underscores the fact that species are going extinct faster than at any time in recorded history and crunches 50 years of data collected by the NatureServe Network to lay out exactly what that means: 34 percent of plants and 40 percent of animals are at risk of extinction, and 41 percent of ecosystems are at risk of collapse. The report lays out the major threats to biodiversity, determines where imperiled biodiversity is most concentrated, and suggests where we should go from here. In brief: We must "use our financial resources to make the best conservation decisions."

And there's a way to do that: the 30x30 global initiative, which "calls for the conservation of 30 percent of the planet's land and water by 2030. Meeting this goal requires investments in land acquisition and management to maximize value for biodiversity conservation."

The report presents a map of the U.S. overlaid with areas of unprotected biodiversity importance. Spoiler alert: California is No. 1.

So it's a good thing that, one year ago, the state of California released the Pathways to 30x30, presciently outlining how we are to achieve what the Biodiversity in Focus report was going to recommend, via 10 pathways. For California to reach the 30x30 goal, the state needs to secure permanent protection for 6 million land acres and 500,000 marine acres.

Daunting—but don't worry: the program breaks that down, along with the 10 pathways, into local pieces. Groups that have focused on protecting and conserving nature on the Central Coast can keep their focus on preserving the Central Coast and know that people in every part of the state are doing the same where they live. Because John Muir was right.

And if those groups would like to learn about creative state, regional, and local funding mechanisms for their projects, there are workshops for that—eight of them, all free, Zooming at 10 a.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month, from now until November, courtesy of Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks. They should be of particular interest to tribes, land trusts, and nonprofits with a focus on social equity, environmental justice, or conservation. All workshops will be recorded and posted to FHBP's YouTube channel.

You can download a flyer or get more info at fhbp.org/about-us/events. Δ

Andrew Christie is the executive director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send a response for publication to [email protected].

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