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For UC Climate Stewards, every day is Earth Day

Climate Stewards thin live oak regrowth as part of the Columbia College fire fuel reduction project. Photo by Lisa Murphy

From cities to rural communities, UC Climate Stewards are fostering climate resilience

Earth Day has strong California roots: Senator Gaylord Nelson was inspired to organize the first event in 1970 after witnessing the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. Today, California is once again the focus of a national conversation about the health of the planet — both because of the state's groundbreaking climate policies and the scale of its climate challenges: wildfires, drought, extreme heat and sea level rise are redefining life in the country's most populous state. 

This year, a growing cohort of UC Climate Stewards are carrying forward the mission of the original Earth Day: informed action. Graduates of the 40-hour certification course, which is under the umbrella of the UC California Naturalist Program, learn how to communicate with community members about complex and sometimes traumatic scientific issues and carry out climate resilience strategies in their communities. Each course is hosted by one of 17 partner institutions including Community Environmental Council, Pasadena City College and the Pepperwood Foundation — see the full list of partners below. Now in its second year, the program is on track to graduate roughly 300 Climate Stewards by the end of 2021. 

The curriculum is also in action across California State Parks: Together with senior park interpreters and managers, the UC Climate Stewards team delivered a two-week climate change interpretation training to 54 park staff members in March. Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, who oversees state parks, has made climate resilience a priority since his appointment in January 2019. Crowfoot and Department of Parks and Recreation Director Armando Quintero spoke at the beginning of the training. 

Due to COVID-19, many UC Climate Stewards completed their coursework online. That hasn't dampened their impact across the state: Giangelo Leos completed the course remotely as part of a cohort hosted by the Pepperwood Foundation. His capstone project focused on changing community narratives about wildfire. The 2020 Bobcat Fire burned in the San Gabriel Mountains above Leos's hometown of Monrovia, triggering evacuations and ongoing recovery and planning efforts. Leos said that post-fire responses have been fear-driven and fixated on the worst aspects of the damage — rather than treating fire as a regular and ongoing feature of life in Monrovia.

Climate change communication is a key component of the UC Climate Stewards course and Leos recognized the need to change the tone of the conversation in his community to one of hope and action. He is planning a series of speaking events and initiatives, including a push to establish a city Fire Safe Council. Connecting to the positive, Leos plans to tell event participants about Braunton's Milkvetch, an endangered plant species that is propagated by fire and only appears in 20 sites in Los Angeles County; Monrovia is one of them. “When the land is managed appropriately...there are great things that fire can do,” Leos said in a video recording of his capstone presentation. 

Vineyard and winery owner Hal Hinkle was also part of the Pepperwood Foundation course. Hinkle recruited five other course participants, including some of his colleagues at Sei Querce Wines and California Land Stewardship Institute Executive Director Laurel Marcus. Hinkle and Marcus signed up for the UC Climate Stewards course partly to advance and refine the rollout of the institute's Climate Adaptation Certification (CAC) program, in which Hinkle's vineyard is participating as a pilot site. The voluntary CAC program is designed both to push winegrowers' existing sustainability practices towards more climate-aware actions and to serve as an on-the-bottle message to make wine consumers more aware of climate-friendly practices. 

“The UC Climate Stewards program helped us envision and position the message of how wine can be climate-sensitive for both consumers and producers,” Hinkle said. 

UC Climate Stewards is seeking to partner with more community-based organizations that are led by or serve Black,Latinx and Indigenous Californians. UC California Naturalist Program Director Greg Ira said that relationships with organizations such as Community Nature Connection and Pasadena City College ensure that the course is accessible to and usable by many California communities. “We recognize that climate education and stewardship needs to be culturally relevant, address local priorities and issues, and recognize root causes of the climate crisis,” Ira said. Contact the program at https://bit.ly/3dE5gGJ if you are interested in hosting and co-designing a UC Climate Stewards course for your community. 

Sarah-Mae Nelson, academic coordinator for UC Climate Stewards, says there's something in the course for anyone wanting to talk about and take action on climate resilience. 

“From a small winery in a rural agricultural setting to a suburb of the largest city in the state, from a community college student just starting their career to a retiree working to create a more resilient future for their grandchildren, we are all in this together,” Nelson said. 

List of UC Climate Stewards partners: 

  • American River Conservancy 

  • Columbia College 

  • Community Environmental Council

  • Community Nature Connection

  • Conservation Society of California 

  • Hopland Research and Extension Center 

  • National Estuarine Research Reserve/Coastal Training Program 

  • Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History 

  • Pasadena City College 

  • Pepperwood Preserve

  • Point Reyes National Seashore Association

  • Riverside-Corona Resource Conservation District 

  • Santa Clara County Parks 

  • Sierra Streams Institute 

  • Sonoma Ecology Center 

  • UC Riverside Palm Desert

  • USC Sea Grant 

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources brings the power of UC to all 58 California counties. The California Naturalist Program and other UC ANR statewide programs rely on donor contributions. To learn more about how to support or get involved with California Naturalist in your community, visit http://calnat.ucanr.edu.  

 

Posted on Thursday, April 22, 2021 at 10:45 AM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Comments:

1.
This coming Earth Day, I hope all of the people celebrate and speaking up for nature and making. This way we can give respect to mother earth!

Posted by Ashley Sison on May 4, 2021 at 6:41 AM

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