Last month, the United Nations released a report that found that approximately 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. This crisis is at a worldwide level, never before seen in human history. The report notes that despite our progress in conservation, current efforts are not enough to alter the course of these mass extinctions. Transformative changes will need to be made at both individual and global scales, and everywhere in between.
While Defenders works hard in the U.S. Capitol on national policy to protect and conserve wildlife, the current state of politics at the federal level has made forward progress difficult. Luckily, we also work in many states, including California, and capitalize on are opportunities to enact laws and policies that further the conservation of some of our most fragile species and the ecosystems upon which they depend!
Each year in California hundreds of bills are introduced within the state legislature that we make sure to track, support, or oppose depending on whether their impacts will be beneficial or harmful to our state's wildlife. Defenders "sponsors" a few key bills that would have an important benefit for wildlife and as a "sponsor," we serve as the primary advocate for the passage of those bills.
In 2019, we are working on a large breadth of bills tackling pressing wildlife issues such as curbing plastic pollution, defending against Trump administration rollbacks to federal environmental protections, reducing the impacts of climate change, advancing environmental education, and sustaining critical finding for wildlife conservation just to name a few.
Critical Funding for Wildlife and Habitat
In addition to our efforts on specific bills, detailed below, Defenders has been working to ensure the vital Habitat Conservation Fund (HCF) is renewed as part of the state's budget. This fund provides $30 million every year for purchasing and protecting threatened and endangered species' habitat, creating wildlife corridors, creating outdoor education programs, and restoring urban trails. Since its inception in 1990, this fund has protected more than 1 million acres of habitat. Because this crucial fund for wildlife was set to end in 2020, Defenders rallied the support of more than 50 organizations to advocate for the extension of this fund for another decade. Our efforts paid off when the Legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom agreed in the newly enacted 2019–20 State Budget to extend the Habitat Conservation Fund for another 10 years, providing $300 million of new funding for wildlife conservation.
Defenders of Wildlife is sponsoring two important bills that are a response to existing, proposed, and possible future rollbacks in protections for wildlife and their habitats.
Senate Bill (SB) 1 - SUPPORT/SPONSOR: Introduced by the President Pro Tempore of the California Senate, Senator Toni Atkins, SB 1 is critical as we work together to defend California's clean air and water, wildlife, and a healthy environment for all from the reckless attempts by the Trump administration to derail key environmental protections. Among other rollbacks, the federal administration plans to scale back protections for animals and plants most at risk of extinction; dismantle protections for local drinking water supplies, salmon, delta smelt, rivers and estuaries; allow pollution from other states to cross state lines at higher levels without considering potential health impacts like asthma and increased heart attacks; and loosen critical requirements to find and fix leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. SB 1 adopts common-sense measures that would allow state agencies to use existing state laws to protect against these rollbacks. This bill would allow California to continue on its path of economic and environmental sustainability - and reject the false choice that economic progress must come at the expense of public health, the vitality of our natural surroundings, and a healthy environment for all.
SB 307 - SUPPORT/SPONSOR: After the Trump administration reversed federal policy that would have required a massive groundwater extraction project to go through an environmental review, SB 307 was introduced by Senator Richard Roth to make sure this project will not dewater critical springs and seeps on which California's wildlife depend. SB 307 would protect important desert wildlife habitat for bighorn sheep, desert kit foxes, and desert tortoises by determining if the groundwater pumping proposed by the Cadiz Project would be sustainable or if it would to drain an ancient desert aquifer that underlies the Mojave National Preserve and the newly created Mojave Trails National Monument. Without that review, this project could drain our deserts faster than they can refill, and desert wildlife would suffer.
Assembly Bill (AB) 454 - SUPPORT: Asm. Ash Kalra introduced AB 454 to ensure that existing California law will continue to protect native and migratory birds regardless of actions taken by the federal government to weaken oversight and protections for birds under federal law. Defenders is working with other conservation groups to ensure this bill becomes law.
SB 772 - OPPOSE: This bill threatened Joshua Tree National Park and surrounding lands and wildlife because it promoted the sale of expensive energy from the Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project even though this project has been shown through groundwater studies commissioned by the National Park Service that it "would cause damaging overdraft conditions" by pumping thousands of acre feet of water from the desert aquifer that underlies Joshua Tree National Park. The Eagle Crest Project has been "fast tracked" by the Trump Administration even though it would have devastating impacts on desert wildlife such as desert tortoise and bighorn sheep and would increase costs for California energy ratepayers. Fortunately, environmental, clean energy, agriculture, and ratepayers' groups all came together in opposition against this bill and it was defeated in the Senate last month. This was a huge victory for the environment and people of California!
Protecting Wildlife from Plastic Pollution
Plastic production contributes to our climate crisis as plastics are derived from fossil fuels and emit potent greenhouse gases as they break down. Plastic pollution starts with fossil fuel extraction, and continues through manufacturing, transportation, usage, and finally disposal. With a planned 40 percent increase in plastic production over the next decade, unless we make major policy changes to significantly counter this, plastic production will account for 20 percent of global fossil fuel consumption. Roughly two-thirds of all plastic ever produced has been released into the environment and remains there in some form. Plastic pollution affects every street, park, stream, river, coast, and ocean in California as evidenced by single-use products being amongst the top littered items consistently found at cleanups throughout the state. As these items fragment into smaller particles, known as microplastics, they concentrate toxic chemicals and increasingly contaminate our food and drinking water sources. Microplastics have been found in tap water, bottled water, table salt, fish, shellfish, and agricultural soils. AB 1080 (Asm. Gonzalez) and SB 54 (Sen. Allen) would reduce the amount of waste that burdens taxpayers and local governments, plagues human health, and pollutes our natural environment by decreasing single-use packaging and products sold in California and ensuring the remaining items are effectively composted and recycled. Every day, single-use packaging and products generate tons of waste in California. This comes with a tremendous cost to individuals, communities, wildlife, ecosystems, and to the state all along the supply chain. Defenders is supporting both of these bills.
Helping Wildlife in the Face of Climate Change
Climate adaptation is what we can do to ensure that both people and wildlife are prepared to survive and thrive in the face of impacts from our changing climate. Climate adaptation legislation includes funding for "green" infrastructure (which means that look and pay for more natural solutions to sea level rise, flooding, and other impacts instead of paying for seawalls, more levees and other kinds of destructive infrastructure), preparing for sea-level rise, directing state agencies to develop resiliency plans for California, and more. These efforts to prepare for climate change are crucial in finding ways to help both animals and people adapt. We have supported a myriad of bills including AB 65, AB 839, SB 45, SB 168, and SB 576.
Marine Wildlife Conservation
The two bills introduced this year to protect our state coastal waters include AB 912 and SB 69, both of which we are supporting and working to help make law. These bills work to strengthen regulations against marine invasive species and improve keystone species health (such as salmon and whales), respectively.
Environmental Education and Equity
California faces a serious issue of inequity in the environmental and outdoor access space. With ever increasing threats to our wildlife and wildlands, it is essential for all citizens to be engaged in the conservation of our natural landscapes. Studies have shown that time spent outdoors creates a pathway to an appreciation for nature and wildlife, an active and healthy outdoor lifestyle, and a sustained relationship with the natural world. AB 209 (Asm. Monique Limón) and AB 556 (Asm. Wendy Carrillo) would create programs within the state that would help increase the ability of underserved and at-risk populations to participate in outdoor environmental educational experiences at state parks and other public lands. Defenders is supporting these important bills.