California Natural Resources Agency has published the draft of “Pathways to 30X30 California” and has invited the public to comment on the draft by February 15, 2022. “Pathways to 30X30” is the last in a series of documents that defines the program before implementation in February 2022, when distribution will begin of $15 Billion dollars to public and non-governmental agencies to fund specific projects.
To recap the process that began in October 2020 with the passage of an Executive Order:
- In October 2020, Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-82-20 “enlisting California’s vast network of natural and working lands – forests, rangelands, farms, wetlands, coast, deserts and urban greenspaces – in the fight against climate change. A core pillar of Governor Newsom’s climate agenda, these novel approaches will help clean the air and water for communities throughout the state and support California’s unique biodiversity.” The program and its implications are described by Conservation Sense and Nonsense HERE.
- California Natural Resources Agency held a series of public workshops in summer 2021 that were theoretically an opportunity for the public to participate in the process of defining the program. Conservation Sense and Nonsense identified potential opportunities as well as pitfalls of the program HERE.
- California Natural Resources Agency published the first draft of implementation plans in fall 2021. Conservation Sense and Nonsense published its favorable opinion of the first draft that is available HERE.
The draft of the final implementation document is disappointing. My public comment on the draft of “Pathways to 30X30” is below. To preview it briefly here, this is its concluding paragraph: “California’s 30X30 initiative had great potential to improve the environment rather than damaging it further. Instead, draft “Pathways to 30X30” suggests that opportunity may be squandered. Of course, the proof will be in the projects, but for the moment it looks as though the lengthy public process may have been a charade intended to benefit the “restoration” industry, not the environment or the public.”
Please consider writing your own public comment by February 15, 2022.
- Email: CaliforniaNature@Resources.ca.gov;
- Letter via postal mail: California Natural Resources Agency, 715 P Street, 20th Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814;
- Voice message: 1 (800) 417-0668.
- There will be a virtual meeting on Tuesday, February 1, 2022, 3-6 pm in which the public will be invited to make 2 minute comments. Register HERE.
TO: California Natural Resources Agency
RE: Public comment on draft “Pathways to 30X30”
I have attended the public workshops regarding the 30X30 initiative and sent written feedback when given the opportunity. I am therefore in a position to tell you that the “Draft Pathways to 30X30” is a significant retreat from principles defined by previous drafts because it is so vague that it is meaningless. Any project could be approved within its limitless boundaries. The document puts CNRA in the position to do whatever it wishes, including violate principles defined in previous draft documents.
My public comment is a reminder of commitments made in previous drafts and a request that they be reinstated in the final version of the Draft “Pathways to 30X30” document:
- “Pathways to 30X30” must confirm its commitment to reducing the use of pesticides on public lands. The draft mentions the need to “avoid toxic chemicals” only in the context of working lands. That commitment must also be made for public parks and open spaces because widespread pesticide use is exposing the public and wildlife to dangerous pesticides and killing harmless plants while damaging the soil.
- Unlike the previous draft, “Climate Smart Strategy,” “Pathways to 30X30” requires the exclusive use of native plants, which contradicts the commitment to “promote climate-smart management actions.” The ranges of native plants have changed and must continue to change because native plants are no longer adapted to the climate. We cannot reduce greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change if we cannot plant tree species that are capable of surviving in our changed climate, as acknowledged by previous draft documents. As Steve Gaines said in the January 12th public meeting regarding “Pathways to 30X30,” “We must help species move [because the changing climate requires that they do].”
There are significant omissions in “Pathways to 30X30” that epitomize my disappointment in this draft:
- The draft kicks the can down the road with respect to integrating climate change into consideration of projects funded by the initiative: “Designations have not yet been established that emphasize climate benefits such as carbon sequestration or buffering climate impacts. While the definition of conserved lands for 30×30 builds upon existing designations, it will be important to integrate climate…” (pg 26) Climate change is the underlying cause of most problems in the environment, yet “Pathways to 30X30” dodges the issue by declining to take the issue into consideration as it distributes millions of grant dollars to projects that are toxic band aides on the symptoms of climate change.
- The 30X30 initiative made a commitment to protecting 30% of California’s land and coastal waters. At 24%, we are close to that goal for land, but at only 16% we are far from the goal for coastal waters. Yet, the draft declines to protect more marine waters: “MPA [Marine Protected Areas] Network expansion will not be a component of meeting the State’s 30×30 marine conservation goals.” (pg 29, deeply embedded in fine print) The excuse for this omission is that the decadal review of existing MPAs won’t be completed for another year. That is not a legitimate reason for refusing to designate new MPAs. The evaluation of existing MPAs can and should be completed and inform the management of new MPAs going forward.
The lack of guidance in “Pathways to 30X30” is particularly dangerous because California law has recently been revised to exempt projects considered “restorations” from CEQA requirements for Environmental Impact Reports for three years, ending January 1, 2025. An Environmental Impact Report is the public’s only opportunity to preview planned projects and challenge them within the confines of CEQA law. The public is effectively shut out from the process of distributing millions of grant dollars of the public’s tax money by this blanket exemption on CEQA requirements for an EIR.
The Draft of “Pathways to 30X30” writes a big blank check for projects that will potentially increase the use of pesticides on our public lands and increase greenhouse gas emissions by destroying plants and trees that sequester carbon and are capable of surviving our current and anticipated climate.
California’s 30X30 initiative had great potential to improve the environment rather than damaging it further. Instead, draft “Pathways to 30X30” suggests that opportunity may be squandered. Of course, the proof will be in the projects, but for the moment it looks as though the lengthy public process may have been a charade intended to benefit the “restoration” industry, not the environment or the public.