Conservation Update, 2017 Jan | CNPS and Global Warming, Esperanza, Orange Citizens

From the Desk of Celia Kutcher, Conservation Chair


CNPS & CLIMATE CHANGE (Global Warming):

Debate on why and how CNPS should work on climate change issues has been flowing for many weeks among the CNPS Conservation Committee members. The debate intensified when we became faced with the incoming anti-enviro federal government.

It may seem a no–‐brainer:

CNPS works to protect and enhance native plants and the habitats they form, and those plants and habitats are and will be affected by ongoing climate change, so of course CNPS works on climate change issues.

But the particulars of climate change’s effects on native plants in relation to CNPS’ existing policies and practices has led to profound discussion of those policies and practices and the philosophy behind them.

The main threads of the discussion:

  • All enviro groups have operated for decades under a superstructure of mature federal environmental laws and regulations like NEPA, ESA, and Clean Water Act, with accumulated case law and policy. We have used the courts to defend conservation against projects that violate these laws. Now, it is likely that the laws themselves will be changed.
  • CNPS was a co-plaintiff in the Newhall Ranch ruling, so does have some standing to comment on climate change. (The ruling turned entirely on greenhouse gas issues.) But CNPS needs a clearer, stronger nexus between its core concern (native plants) and climate change. A well–‐considered statewide policy will be tremendously useful. The policy statement should clearly say:
  1. Climate change is a real problem
  2. We deal with native plants
  3. Therefore CNPS now deals with climate change.
  • A nexus between these three points may not be clear. The idea of “plants’ rights” was suggested as that nexus. There was considerable discussion on this idea, from strongly for to strongly against it being a part of a CNPS policy. For background on the idea of “plants’ rights,” see Should Trees Have Standing? Law, Morality, and the Environment (Christopher D. Stone, 3rd ed., 2010). •

Is assisted plant migration a viable long–‐term solution to loss of habitat due to climate change leading to species’ extinction? A policy promoting such would be a fundamental change to CNPS’ long–‐term policy strongly advocating for locally native plants to stay in their places and against people moving in plants native to other parts of California. Opinions (backed up by anecdotal field experience as well as current research) ranged from assisted migration being the best solution for species preservation, to allowing extinction to proceed and genetic variability to give rise to evolution of new species that are better–‐adapted to new conditions.

The discussion has resulted in a draft CNPS policy on climate change. At this writing, the draft is being evaluated by the CNPS Conservation Committee.

LITIGATION: Some action on long–‐stalled lawsuits!

  • Esperanza: The Board of Supervisors sent the project back to the Planning Commission for a redesign. CNPS is a member of the coalition opposing the project.
  • Orange Citizens for Parks and Recreation et al: The State Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Orange Citizens group. CNPS was among the amici curiae of the group.


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