Advocating for Environmental Solutions in the 2018 Legislative Cycle

3/6/19

Local elected officials and state legislators alike look to Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) and the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts (CARCD) as trusted sources of information about today's most pressing natural resource management challenges.

CARCD advocates on behalf of the RCD network with a statewide perspective, while individual RCDs speak with local and regional expertise about the issues that they are prepared to help address. This two-pronged approach is an effective strategy for building relationships with legislators and their field offices, as state leadership considers where and how to invest California’s limited financial resources in innovative and scalable environmental solutions.

CARCD was engaged in an especially exciting and active legislative season in 2018, which saw the most sweeping policy changes in fire resilience and forest health that have been witnessed in thirty years or more at the State Capitol. Former Governor Jerry Brown signed new legislation to strengthen wildfire prevention and recovery including six bills that directly support the on-the-ground work of RCDs.

At the center of the package is SB 901 (Dodd), the final product of the Wildfire Preparedness and Response Legislative Conference Committee. Of particular importance is the requirement that CAL FIRE create a Wildfire Resilience Program to assist non-industrial timber forest landowners. This program will provide technical assistance on permitting, reforestation, forest health, carbon sequestration, reducing wildfire risk, enhancing habitat vegetation management, and more. Included in the language of the bill is the requirement that “technical assistance shall be provided by staff and entities including Resource Conservation Districts.”

In the past twelve months there have been several other other legislative wins that will have major implications for RCDs and our partners, including:

  • Assembly Bill 2054: RCD of Greater San Diego County worked closely with California Assemblymember for the 80th district, Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, to bring much needed funding to fight the invasive Shot Hole Borer Beetle, which is threatening forests and orchards in Southern California and contributing to the tree mortality crisis.
  • Assembly Bill 2377: Establishes a grant program to provide funds to technical assistance providers for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Climate Smart Agriculture programs, which will allow RCDs and other technical assistance providers to help producers apply for funding to support healthy soils, irrigation efficiency, and manure management.
  • Forest health and healthy soils funding: Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California’s budget would include $415 million for programs to improve the health of forests and fight wildfires, and $18 million to CDFA to expand its Healthy Soils Initiative.

Advocacy Trainings for RCD Staff

CARCD’s statewide advocacy platform includes bringing attention to urgent conservation issues that require funding, raising the visibility of RCDs amongst funders and legislators, and training RCD staff to be effective local advocates for conservation in their communities. RCDs have limited staff capacity to devote to advocacy, yet most name this as a top priority because they recognize the integral role that legislation plays in funding conservation programs and practices.

In March of 2018, CARCD hosted an Advocacy Academy in Sacramento to help train RCD leadership on how to engage effectively with local elected officials. The Advocacy Academy was funded by a grant from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and was facilitated in partnership with Solid Ground Consulting and Conservation Strategy Group.

Designed as a 2-day event (hosted three weeks in a row to accommodate different schedules), the first day featured an interactive training on topics including building confidence, understand principles of political influence, acquiring tools to cultivate key relationships, and honing the RCD’s message. On the second day, RCD leaders were led by CARCD and Conservation Strategy Group staff on legislative visits at the State Capitol, where the participants were able to practice their messaging and speak with their representatives in person about issues that are affecting their district.

For RCD leadership who had no prior experience with advocacy, the Advocacy Academy provided foundational knowledge and confidence-building experience in speaking with legislators. For the more experienced participants, this event was an opportunity to mentor colleagues and sync local messaging with CARCD’s statewide objectives.

In 2019 and beyond, CARCD and the RCD network will continue to advocate for solutions and funding for natural resource management challenges that affect all Californians. Learn more about CARCD’s advocacy work by visiting our Advocacy page.

Note: Government Code § 53060.5 and the California Supreme Court decision in Stanson v. Mott (1976) 17 Cal.3d 206, 213 allow the expenditure of public funds to lobby for or against proposed legislation which will affect the public agency expending the funds. This means that RCDs are able to talk to legislators about specific legislation and help inform them of the effects on their district and constituents. They are able to take an official position on legislation. These activities must be related to the work that they do and be supported by a board-approved advocacy policy.