When I think of wildlife conservation, my mind jumps to images of field biologists trudging through briny salt marshes, equipped with long nets and gadgets strapped to their waists. But field work is not just data collection and surveys. It also involves community outreach, partnership building, sifting through pages upon pages of environmental impact reports and more. At Defenders of Wildlife, one of the most important ways that we contribute to wildlife conservation is through legislative advocacy. By closely tracking legislation at the federal and state levels, we can engage and transform policies to promote innovative solutions to imperiled species protection and restoration.
Advocacy meeting with Assemblymember Laura Friedman
To help get laws passed that protect wildlife and habitat, Defenders began hosting advocacy events for our California-based members and supporters over 10 years ago. While Defenders’ California staff representatives actively engage in decision-making policies at the state and agency level, true progress with individual state-elected officials is typically a product of constituent engagement. Our state senators and assemblymembers rely on their constituents to communicate priorities, and elected officials want to vote and act in a way that will secure votes to win a future term. When elected officials hear about how much their constituents care about wildlife and the environment, and how laws and policies could affect people in their district, they are more likely to listen and act accordingly.
This year, Defenders’ California program facilitated meetings with 10 state legislative offices during the week of June 21. These virtual meetings allowed us to connect constituents with their elected officials across the state, from Los Angeles to Irvine to Yolo County to the Bay Area, and many districts in between. During these meetings, groups of advocates including one or more Defenders representatives, a constituent and an elected official or representative from their office, discussed wildlife-related priorities for the current legislative session. We focused on five wildlife priorities: Biodiversity Protection, Equity & Access to Nature, Forest Health & Wildfire, Coastal Protection and securing adequate funding for conservation priorities through the state budget. These advocates shared information about why representatives should care about each of these priorities and asked legislative offices to support wildlife by voting in favor of a few key bills that would help achieve each priority. Bills that we requested support for included AB 223 by Assemblymember Christopher Ward, which seeks to reduce poaching of the California native plant Dudleya, SB 624 by Senator Ben Hueso to set forth the state’s commitment to increasing environmental equity and outdoor access for all, AB 624 by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, which would improve wildfire prevention by increasing use of cultural burning and prescribed fire, and several other bills.
Advocacy meeting with Tate Hanna, Legislative Aide for Senator Wiener
Wildlife Advocacy Week 2021 was an overall success! We are incredibly thankful to all the Defenders members who took time to prepare for and participate in meetings with their representatives. We are also very thankful to the elected officials and their staff members who agreed to meet with us to discuss critically important wildlife issues. Several legislative offices agreed to support our wildlife priorities this session, which makes the logistics behind an event like this entirely worth it! We can’t wait to advocate alongside our members next year, hopefully next time in-person at the State Capitol in Sacramento. Although the California program’s virtual advocacy event looked different this year, we are proud of our members for their dedication to wildlife conservation – even when it occurs through a computer screen rather than a picturesque wetland.