Watershed moment for the L.A. River

It's not often that the three most powerful officials in the Federal government on water, land, and environmental issues come to our state to listen to what Californians have to say about anything. But that's exactly what happened earlier this month.

Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency chief, Ken Salazar, Secretary for the Department of the Interior, and Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, among other top federal leaders, came to California for a state-wide "listening sessions tour," as part of a conservation initative called America's Great Outdoors.

I was there to meet these administration officials. And not only did they listen; they also made news.

On July 7, EPA Secretary Jackson announced that her agency had designated the Los Angeles River as "traditionally navigable waters," thereby overturning a previous decision by the Army Corps of Engineers that restricted the designation to four miles near the mouth. This means, as she said, that the entire 834-square-mile urban watershed of the Los Angeles River has been granted "the full protection of our nation's clean water laws." (For perspective, here's a picture of the river just north of Burbank, before it's imprisoned in concrete.)

Los Angeles River in Burbank by Kim Brough


Hello muddah, hello summer camp launched TreePeople

Tears came to my eyes last week while listening to a re-broadcast of an episode of NPR’s This American Life about summer camp.

They were tears of joy from great memories of camp and the enormous role it played in my life.

As a pre-teen and teenager, camp powerfully connected me with nature (I was a city kid who didn’t have much connection with wilderness) and with the power of being part of a team that enabled me to be, think and do things requiring much more strength and confidence than I had on my own. It was this intense experience of living in a community with shared values - caring for nature, the environment, and each other - that pushed me, with my Camp Director Jerry Ringerman’s encouragement, to bring those values back home to the city with me, to live them in the “real world.”

For me, summer camp became a launching pad for a life of service. It was at camp in 1970 when I was 15 years old, at Camp JCA in the San Bernardino National Forest about 100 miles - a 3-hour drive - from Los Angeles, that I began the work that directly led to my founding of TreePeople.

Breaking the glass ceiling for sustainable cities

Why would Europeans, who for the most part are much further down the road towards sustainability than we are in the United States, ask a TreePeople representative from Los Angeles for advice?

That was the question in the back of my mind when I accepted the invitation to speak at Bioneers Global in the Netherlands, and Rework the World in Sweden last month.

European nations, unlike the United States, signed on to the Kyoto Protocol in l997 to meet goals to reduce greenhouse gasses. Many European countries have made huge progress. Germany has passed laws to double its use of renewable energy, to 30%, by 2020, for example, and the Netherlands is the world leader in adapting to climate change and sea level rise.

Despite these worthy efforts, the Europeans have run into the same glass ceiling that has pushed us at TreePeople to move towards an ecosystem-based approach to sustainability. Ecosystems are the ultimate example of the efficiency of being connected. When government sets lofty sustainability goals, it's usually blocked from reaching higher-level breakthroughs because in government, as in business, philanthropy and frequently even medicine, everyone is operating in their own little silos; the systems are disconnected. Finding frustration and barriers, Europeans are hungry for a better way.

How can we really do this? That's the question the Europeans are asking, especially with regard to cities. Without the ability to manage urban areas with whole system solutions, they can't reach their goal. The parts are competing and conflicting. Resources, cash, human energy and time are wasted, and the big wins remain elusive.

Urgent call to save Center for Urban Forest Research

What we don’t know can indeed hurt us, and one of the most dangerous areas of public ignorance about the environment today is about the importance of urban trees.

You may expect this kind of statement from the President of TreePeople. But I can quote with confidence numerous examples of the literally life saving benefits of trees in cities - and by contrast, the costly and dangerous consequences of cities not having trees. I can do this because of the Center for Urban Forest Research.

Now the Center is under threat.

Under a new plan, the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station is proposing to eliminate the Center for Urban Forest Research. CUFR’s work will become part of The Urban Connections and Social Dynamics program area consisting of five social-economic scientists who concentrate on the human impacts to national forest lands; and two bio-physical scientists.

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