The California State 30x30 Initiative

by Moises Cisneros

I was recently invited to a potluck by my neighborhood association. I was provided with an existing list of items people had already committed to bringing; there was a wish list of items people hoped others would bring; and there was space for me to add what I was willing to contribute.

It made me think how community potlucks are so similar to how the state has structured its initiative to protect 30 percent of California’s lands and waters by 2030 (known as “30x30”) while placing the goals of indigenous and frontline communities at the forefront.

I’ll attempt to connect the dots in the next few paragraphs. In the process, I hope that you’ll be inspired to show up and participate in our state’s 30x30 “potluck” in an effort to address our climate crisis, biodiversity challenge, and environmental justice issues that we face throughout our golden state.

What is 30x30?

As in any good potluck where the host provides a framework for the activity and initial contributions, the state has envisioned a 30x30 structure and through legislative action, a down payment of funds to support these efforts. In October 2020, Governor Newsom made California the first state in the US to commit to this goal, releasing a first of its kind Executive Order on Biodiversity and Climate Change.1 In April 2022, the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) released the “Pathways to 30x30” plan (Pathways).2 The Pathways document estimates that 24 percent of California’s lands are already protected with durable measures to reach our biodiversity and climate resilience goals. Thus we need another 6 percent (or 6 million acres) to reach the state’s initial goal. Like a good host that provides the first dish to go along with a date and location, the state legislature has provided state agencies seed funding to the tune of $1.6 billion (as of this writing), to help achieve many of the goals in the Pathways plan. It’s important to note that the funding secured by the legislature will be funneled to their end point via existing grant programs for conservation administered by various state groups for example, the California Energy Commission, California Department of Fish & Wildlife, California Parks & Recreation, and the Wildlife Conservation Board.

Of particular interest to desert advocates and thanks to champions like California Assembly member James Ramos, the Wildlife Conservation Board3 is now administering $30 million in funds for the Desert Conservation Program. The program funds are aimed at land acquisition, restoration, and management through:

  • Preserving cultural resources
  • Providing public access
  • Addressing climate change impacts
  • Restoration of desert habitat
  • Reduction of wildfire, drought, flood and other catastrophic threats

The above can translate into ways you and your organization can plug into conserving, restoring, and protecting our desert habitats.  What programs come to mind for you?

Current Status

On occasion, a potluck may not rise to the level expected.  Do any of these statements sound familiar? “Everyone brought dessert but no entrees!  Or “soup smells great, but there’s no ladle or spoons; let’s pour it into those red solo plastic cups;”  or “no entrees, side dishes or dessert, but there’s plenty of two buck chuck.” Please don’t judge me by my college social circles!  Thankfully, the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), the state agency empowered to move 30x30 forward, spent a little more than one year engaging and coordinating with the public.

While not every one of our concerns throughout the public engagement process were satisfied, many were, and there were no surprises once the final Pathways report was published. Equally important, desert advocates were galvanized to build stronger connections with one another by this process.  The 30x30 Inland Desert Working Group (IDWG), which comprises diverse conservation and environmental justice groups working to protect the California desert, spearheaded the regional response to CNRA’s public hearings and draft reports. The IDWG remains strong today and has moved into its next phase – being proactive in shaping and protecting our future desert regions by holding the state accountable for its own goals, securing funds for our unique projects in the desert, and connecting our individual missions with one or more of the 30x30 goals.

Coordination and contributions from our individual organizations will help ensure that everyone brings something to this 30x30 potluck and that everyone walks away with more than they could have achieved doing it alone.  A failure to produce viable and meaningful desert programs, resources, and land acquisitions for conservation purposes would be ours to bear. Our coordination and support for one another is key to ensuring a protected desert that will be enjoyed by generations to come.

What's next in our evolution?

We envision a society where the desert is known for all of its many benefits to our planet and local ecosystems; where people of all backgrounds and socio-economic conditions are able to access and enjoy the beauty and power of the desert.  We can see a time when we have a strong network of advocates of all ages to defend the deserts and create policies that protect them.  This entails establishing a culture that respects the desert. We will leverage the next seven years working on 30x30 to get us closer to this vision.

Currently, we are about halfway into the process of taking stock of our collective desert assets/challenges and planning for the next phase of advocacy. Some examples of the continuous work ahead of us includes:

  1. Outreach to disenfranchised communities, environmental justice groups and tribes
  2. Educate and inspire the public about our desert in ways that highlight its biodiversity, climate change solutions, and opportunities to connect people to nature, making desert lands more accessible for communities in the region
  3. Educate elected officials throughout the region on 30x30 and build their commitments to advocate for desert conservation projects
  4. Continue to grow our regional inventory of projects and policy actions that present opportunities to further protect the desert, and that we can leverage the 30x30 initiative to move forward

Bullet #4 above will result in a list of (as the state puts it), local conservation priorities or “shovel ready” projects/programs. In this context, “shovel ready” means projects that have willing supporters all around and that the state can support without too much “blowback” (dissenters). The list is not a be-all, end-all situation. Just because a project is on the list does not mean it will be funded. The list is a reflection or a barometer of the collaborative work that has or has not taken place in order to move a project forward.  Is it possible for a project to move forward without being on the list?  Absolutely – however, rare.  According to the state, the best projects for state support would contain: biodiversity value, climate change mitigation, and social justice and tribal engagement elements.

An example of a project that the state was able to assist is the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing which will span “10 lanes of Highway 101 and an adjacent road, improving wildlife connectivity to support biodiverse ecosystems.” In this case, the state provided $58 million in funding for the public-private conservation project which already had $34 million in funding from other non-profit and philanthropy groups.

So what dish will you bring to the state’s 30x30 land and waters conservation party? What angle or lens are you fond of, curious about, or passionate about?  Are you interested in experimenting? Who will you cook in conjunction with?  For example, some of the ingredients you can choose from include:

  • Addressing climate change solutions
  • Furthering scientific research
  • Protecting biodiversity
  • Restoring habitat linkages
  • Bridging the gap between public spaces and climate vulnerable communities

Each of these main ingredients may need to be seasoned with other elements . . . meaning you don't need to take on a huge project to be helpful. Join others that may need your specific expertise and plug into a project rather than lead one yourself. We are in need of creatives, GIS specialists, botanists, scientists, poets, film makers, public policy trackers, organizers, advocates, brand experts, and more. Although there are no projects funded under this program as of this writing, we foresee funds going towards restoring threatened species back from the brink of complete extinction, funds that would manage the invasive spread of tamarisk which poses various threats to wildlife and native plants, and transit to trail funds that connect nature to more people living in urban areas.

There are ample opportunities for your unique contributions at this potluck. I look forward to January 2030 when we enjoy the bounty of our combined efforts in protecting and conserving our beautiful lands and waters for current and future generations to come.  Please join the potluck.

Make a Difference

If you are interested in learning more about how you can help support the 30x30 Inland Desert Working Group efforts or would like to plug in to the extensive 30x30 work led by the Sierra Club (a combined effort of the Our Wild America Campaign, all thirteen chapters across CA, and Sierra Club California), feel free to reach out to me, Moises Cisneros at or Jenny at respectively. We are also part of the statewide Power in Nature4 coalition that’s working across the state to advance 30x30.  To reach the Wildlife Conservation Board, California Desert Conservation Program, directly, email

1) Executive Order N-82-20 (EO),

2) Pathways to 30x30,

3) Wildlife Conservation Board,

4) Power in Nature,

Moises Cisneros is an Associate Organizer with the Sierra Club's "Our Wild America campaign".