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Organizational Spotlight: Amigos De Los Rios, Claire Robinson

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Tell us a little about Amigos De Los Rios and the work you do there. 

Amigos De Los Rios – ‘The Emerald Necklace Group’ is a mission-driven 501c3 non-profit organization founded in 2003. Los Angeles as a mega region that has great weather, incredible biodiversity and a wonderfully diverse cosmopolitan population.  Yet our metropolitan area is very challenged in terms of environmental health, public health outcomes for residents and lacks the vibrant civic culture most world class cities support. We are working to create a robust network of natural infrastructure parks and trails to connect the Mountains of the Upper Watershed to the Sea:  a convergent grey and green infrastructure network which reflects the diverse cultural heritage of LA – A network that supports protection of biodiversity, ensures a sustainable water resources future, celebrates all the various world views we represent to each other and complements Public Transit infrastructure.

What inspired you on your career path?

My Mother inspired me on this career path as a “Parkitect” (word my daughter invented) and Sustainable City Planner.  Women comprise less than 14% of the architecture profession -I have lots of #METOO examples – it has been hard to protect my feminist point of view in urban planning and design.  Mom was a single mother, Physical Therapist and champion of her three daughters. She had us volunteer in her PT department to help people with broken fingers, significant burns, broken legs, arms necks, and various other challenges. She was tireless until she was diagnosed with and died of cancer at age 44 nine short months’ later –leaving three young girls on our own.  Right before she passed she said she was so proud of me for studying architecture -she know I would try to do for cities what she did for people helping them reconnect disconnected natural functions and restore their health.

What role does Amigos De Los Rios play in the Nature For All coalition?

The role we play is we play in Nature For All is we have the hard-won knowledge needed to implement complex nature-based parks and trails within the most disadvantaged communities. We challenge Agencies to be more progressive – to be more efficient – often at our peril as a tiny organization. We believe people need to see change viscerally by walking into a beautiful complex space where collective spirit and nature thrive: nature-based public spaces that support children, families – residents of all ages in very practical and tangible ways. We embrace all the material challenges of bringing our vision of a regional Emerald Necklace Greenway network into the real world – a messy, process that takes total focus concentration and tenacity beyond words. Not a political process but a combination of thought and hard work – stewarding the material alchemical collaborative processes that result in living park.

What is Amigos De Los Rios currently working on related to the San Gabriel Mountains?

The San Gabriel Mountains are the source of inspiration for our Urban Emerald Necklace Collaborative Vision and process – based on a collective impact ethos. Currently we are participating in the Community Collaborative to plan the National Monument in alignment with our Emerald Necklace Expanded vision reflective of cultural and biodiversity. We are working with Forest Service on multi-cultural kiosk in Copper Canyon.  And we are bring the vegetation, biodiversity and cultural history of the natural areas into the urban core in our projects. My personal goal as a mentor has been to create an inspiring and safe studio space for next generation designers (protecting women and other minorities as they enter the field) to plan and build healthy cities and implement nature parks that dazzle, protect, inspire us and make us all smile.

What is your ideal way to spend a day in the San Gabriel Mountains?

We live and work in Altadena at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains — our family life unfolds with the mountain as backdrop, we enjoy the changing weather conditions and light reflected by San Gabriel Mountains every day. Our Emerald Necklace Watershed Stewardship Volunteer events take place every Saturday -so ironically I have very little leisure time to actually spend in the mountains. But my husband, who is an avid hiker, has taken me on a few gorgeous walks to streams within the forest that are as beautiful as any Renaissance painting. One afternoon near a mountain stream can serve to inspire my urban bioswales and nature park design and advocacy work for months.  I love grabbing a handful of forest soil and enjoying the tiny components of the duff.

Spotlight on Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor with Andrea Gullo (Executive Director, Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority)

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Photo by Watchara Phomicinda/ Whittier Daily News

Tell me about the Habitat Authority’s work.

The Habitat Authority manages a 3,870-acre wildland nature preserve in the western Puente Hills, and we manage it primarily for the biological preservation as well as low-impact recreation and outdoor education. We do a lot of things… We have about 3 rangers that patrol the hills to help keep the hills clean and safe. The rangers also provide a Junior Ranger outdoor education program free of charge for local schools. We do a lot of native habitat restoration on our property with over 200 acres worth so far, and we’re in the process of restoring approximately 100 more acres.

We also provide additional outdoor education programs through our Hills Alive program to grades K-6. The Hills Alive program and our Junior Ranger program are also supported by our volunteers. We’ve got a great volunteer team that help with all of our outreach as well as trail watch for us. They act as the rangers’ eyes and ears out on the trail because we can’t be everywhere at once.

We also do many other projects, like we’re in the process of doing a wildlife study, a trail-use survey, and then we also have the great pleasure of working on a multi-agency project that installed LA County’s first and only purpose built wildlife underpass at Harbor Blvd. The underpass strengthened the viability of Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor. Before the underpass, we didn’t have proof of bobcats using the connection, but now we do know that. Bobcats are one of the top predators of the food chain. There were a lot of coyotes killed on Harbor Blvd, but now they use the underpass along with other small animals.

How will the Authority benefit from being designated as a national monument?

The National Park Service affiliation would help raise awareness about the significant resources in the Puente Hills, and the importance of preserving them resulting in increased intrinsic value. By including the Puente Hills, it would increase partnership with the National Park Service with technical assistance or interpretation. It would also bring prestige and recognition to the area. It would help protect public investments.

What are the main challenges the Habitat Authority faces?

We’re trying to accomplish a lot with a limited budget is one challenge. We do provide a lot of education activities through our Junior Ranger program. I think the community and trail users can benefit from even more outdoor education to learn more about the natural landscape and the hills around them to increase stewardship appreciation.

Another challenge is balancing recreation with long-term sustainability of natural resources. It’s a matter of finding a balance between preserving the environment and also providing outstanding low-impact recreation opportunities for the community.

What advice would you have for someone interested in the conservation area?

Follow your passion. If you’re interested in it, pursue it, read about it, volunteer your time, and become your own expert. If you do what you enjoy, I don’t think you could go wrong.

Any last thoughts to our readers?

The Puente Hills are a great place to hike and enjoy nature. If you come out on our trails, you’ll see all different types of wildlife and habitat. You can learn more about us by going to habitatauthority.org for trail tips. Visit our Facebook page and Twitter account to learn more about the flora and fauna and what we’re up to and how to get involved, or how to participate in activities in the Puente Hills.

We are always looking for volunteers and our trainings are in January. We are accepting applications at all times. We enjoy working collaboratively with the local communities around us (Whittier, La Habra Heights, Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights), and we even partner with other organizations in the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor. We are the western end of the Puente-Chino Hills Corridor, and our long-term goal is to create a sustainable preserve and part of that includes connecting to Chino Hills State Park.

Spotlight on Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor with Claire Schlotterbeck (Executive Director, Hills For Everyone)

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What was it like when you established the Chino Hills State Park, and how are things different now?

Claire: The act of establishing the state park has been going on and is still going on over the last 41 years. There wasn’t like a single moment where it happened. The group Hills For Everyone was formed in 1977 by a young man at the time named Dave Meyers, and he kind of ran into one too many bulldozers one day—ripping up hills that he hiked in as a boy and he couldn’t bear to watch the loss anymore. So, he joined forces with other like-minded people and formed Hills For Everyone. They thought of making it 4 regional parks because the park covered 4 counties—Orange County, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, and San Diego—and that was too complicated, so they settled on a state park.

He hiked the hill so many times that he knew the lay of the land, and designed the park himself. He designed it in a unique way, along ridgeline boundaries so that once you’re inside the park, you don’t know that there are millions of people on the other side. When he started, there were 9 million people on the other side, and now, there are 18 million. One thing the ridgeline does is protect water quality for wildlife. Pesticides and herbicides cannot contaminate the water for wildlife that live there. Currently, we are not finished with the ridgeline. The eastern side is not in state ownership yet.

What it feels like is… I mean extraordinary. I get to see it everyday. “Rest my eyes on the natural ridgelines, and there is something that comes from that that’s rejuvenating.”

How are things different today?

Claire: A lot more people. A lot of youth. Some people who are not treating it well… We’re having a lot of problems with mountain bikers. We have 90 miles in the park and that’s not enough for them. They cut new trails with chainsaws, shovels, and hand saws. They go too fast, so they’re ruining the experience for people who are walking. That’s been a real disappointment.

The next real disappointment is that they were never there to help establish the park, unlike the horseback riders and the hikers. Mountain bikers never showed up to testify like the other groups. There were no mountain bikers before.

What are the main challenges you face to save the Puente-Chino Hills?

Claire: Of course, finding funding to buy the land. That’s the only way it’s eventually saved.

It’s to develop the political will among decision makers at all levels (federal, state, and local) to do it. I’ve never seen anything fail. You can save just about anything as long as there’s a political will. Term limits (every 6 years, every 8 years) have new people come in so you need to retell the story with every effort.

Make people feel like they can make a difference by saving the land. Many people say you can’t save the land, but there is political will to save the land. They want to see it saved, too. They just often don’t know what to do, don’t know the steps you need to take to save land. But, we’ve taken those steps, so a lot of things are in place. Now, it’s a matter of finding funding to save the land.

You always need a willing seller. There’s a lot of land to be saved, and you can’t do it unless you have a landowner to save it; you have work to do.

Funding for conservation efforts is more important than ever. What are some challenges that you encounter in obtaining funding?

Claire: Proposition 68 was a really big step forward. We used to have regular parks bond efforts that passed every 4 years. They weren’t as big but still useful. One other issue we have to fight is that a lot of money goes to Northern California because land is cheaper up there.

But down here is where the votes are. For a long time, Chino Hills State Park had good representation by Democrats and Republicans to bring funding.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has a program called CAPP (Conceptual Area Protection Plan) and that analyzes property for whether they’re worth saving or not. We have a CAPP in place and approved by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. All the undeveloped properties in the park are in that CAPP, so they’re eligible for funding from the Department.

California State Parks have been another source of funding, but they have been struggling for 8-9 years and haven’t acquired land down south. They’re the people who should be buying some of the land next to the State Park. In the end, that’s who the rightful manager should be.

In Orange County, we passed Measure M, a transportation sales tax measure, and part of the funding we negotiated that $243 million from that measure be set aside for landscape-level mitigation. Rather than put in some palm trees and ice plants at freeway intersections, now they need to buy really big important parcels of land, so it’s real mitigation.

We’re hoping Measure A will offer some funding for the Puente Hills side in LA county. There’s also funding from Habitat Authority.

A lot of people are working to get cap-and-trade money in protection of land. For instance, if you buy a big piece of land that would otherwise go to development, you get a double bang for your buck. You get to keep the natural resources there that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but you also reduce the number of cars traveled because the houses aren’t there so the cars aren’t there.

The best way to reduce GHG emissions is to save land.

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How do you envision the San Gabriel Mountains Recreation Area can benefit the Puente-Chino Hills area?

Claire: I think there are a couple of things. There’s a long-range vision that would link the San Gabriel Mountains—and those are the mountains i grew up hiking in—down the San Gabriel River and into the Puente-Chino Hills and the Puente-Chino Hills into the Santa Ana Mountains that go all the way to Mexico. That’s a link and would have to go through the San Gabriel River.

The other interesting thing I heard from an eagle expert, and he also works on condors. He told me there are condors in Mexico because we maintained the natural landscape of the Puente-Chino Hills, condors will be able to fly up to the Santa Anas, fly over the San Gabriel Valley, and back up the San Gabriel Mountains. Imagine that… a condor with a 9-foot wingspan flying over the San Gabriel Valley. It needs to have those natural ridgelines to create the right kind of draft to keep it afloat.

Obviously, we’re all connected and the more we’re connected, the healthier we all are.

What would make your job easier?

Claire: More hopeful people. For instance, a lot of things we’ve been doing recently are to fight projects next to the State Park that would harm the State Park. And we just won one. It was a 17 year battle, and the owner took the case to Supreme Court. And we won. People were saying you can’t fight city hall. We prevailed because we could.

My dad was a professor at Harvey Mudd College, and there would be teams of four students assigned to a professor. They would be assigned to solve real-life technical problems, like AQMD and other companies would come to Harvey Mudd with real-life problems for students to solve. My dad’s philosophy was to give the hardest problem to the newest students because they hadn’t learned that you couldn’t do it. Just like how we won.

It just takes a few really good people to go the distance. If you step into it wanting to save land—in whatever way you choose—it’s just amazing how much can get done with very few people. The more good people that step into it, the easier it’s going to be.

 

Leadership Academy Spotlight: Joel Glen

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How did you hear about the Leadership Academy and what inspired you to apply for the program?
I heard about the Leadership Academy through a Facebook link. What inspired me my mission to clean up the East Fork after my good friend passed away. I feel he would have wanted me to do something like this.

What was your project?
East Fork’s Golden Preservation was my project. I wanted to eliminate as much trash on the East Fork as possible and create awareness of what’s going on before it gets any worse.

What’s the best thing you learned?
I learned that people can come from a good cause. People really want make a difference, but sometimes, all we need is a leader. I was just one of the leaders. I wasn’t able to this by myself. Group effort was involved. Thanks again to Daisy from Trash Free Earth, as well as everybody who came out. You all are the true heroes.

What surprised you about the program or your work on the project?
What surprised me were a few things, including the amount of trash we picked up within two hours (713 pounds!) and the people who woke up early to help out. I’m still thankful for them. Other surprises were the obstacles I had to hurdle over to make my project go off… Those being people dropping out.

Describe what being in the great outdoors means to you.
Being in the great outdoors means more to me than you’ll ever know. I met some of the greatest people in the mountains. I feel people who love the mountains know themselves and have good energy. They are happy go-lucky people, and I like that.

What’s your favorite way to spend your day in the San Gabriel Mountains?
Prospecting, camping, hiking, truck camping, All the above. Need I say more?

What has post-academy life been like?
Post-academy life has been great. We are planning more cleanups this year and will be teaming up with Convert-A-Can to create double the awareness. To sum it all up, I’ll put it in a song lyric: “We’ve only just begun.”

Nature For All Celebrates 13th Leadership Academy Cohort Graduation

After completing six months of biweekly evening trainings, our 13th Leadership Academy cohort graduated on May 9, 2018!

Nature For All celebrated the graduation at the Jeff Seymour Family Center with keynote speaker David Diaz, Programs Director of BikeSGV. We presented the Leadership Academy participants with their diplomas, and Jenny Lopez spoke about her experience as the Leadership Academy student speaker. Graduate Liliana Griego also shared about how graduates can continue staying involved through the Stewards group, our core volunteer group.

Congratulations to our wonderful participants: Elizabeth Bayne, Monica Curiel, Reina Adelina Duran, Tiffany Kinh Lam, Jenny Lopez, Omar Madrid, Berenice Martinez, Remi Mateo, Rhonda Moller Mulherin, Audrey Murray, Melanie Nhan, Kimberly Orbe, Mary Pickert, Jesse Soria and Michelle Tarian! We wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors.

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Leadership Academy Spotlight: Alejandra Sandoval

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How did you hear about the Leadership Academy and what inspired you to apply for the program?

I heard about the Leadership Academy from a friend who had met Roberto Morales (Nature For All Coalition Chair) at a social event. I was inspired to apply for the program because of the opportunity to carry out a project in my own community.

What was your project?

My project was called Lions Leadership Academy. We engaged 25 fourth graders from Don Julian Elementary School. We held weekly workshops with topics that highlighted the importance of nature for mental health and wellbeing.

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  • Week 1: The kids planted a garden and took a planted seed home. They learned how to care for their seed at home.
  • Week 2: Mindfulness – yoga and art with nature in nature
  • Week 3: Equine Assisted Learning session – they learned about their responsibility to protect their world and discussed leave no trace concepts.
  • Week 4: Environmental Advocacy – visit to 4th Avenue Park to learn about our Nature For All campaign and protecting the San Gabriel Mountains, learning about native plants and animals, and enjoying a local park.
  • Week 5: Cooking from the garden – a healthy cooking class in which they created a salad inspired from their garden, as well as learning about the importance of advocating for the protection and access to public lands.
  • Week 6: Graduation! The kids used their iPads to create iMovies and spark videos to showcase all that they had learned and presented it to friends, family, and school district board members. We had s’mores, build your own trail mix, and a camping demo site and reinforced the leave no trace concepts. Each student received a certificate, every kid in a park pass and a copy of “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids” by Sean Covey.  

What’s the best thing you learned?

Nature truly makes an impact in our lives and has so much to teach us. For example, I thought we would magically have a full garden in 5 weeks. Well, Mother Nature is on her own schedule, and the life lesson here is to be patient.  

What surprised you about the program or your work on the project?

Kids today have little exposure to nature, and they actually enjoy it when they are given the opportunity and guidance to explore and learn from nature.  

Describe what being in the great outdoors means to you.

Being able to ride my horse out to the river and open trails.

What’s your favorite way to spend your day in the San Gabriel Mountains?

I have yet to explore the San Gabriel Mountains, but I would like to camp and be able to take my horse on a trail ride.

What has post-academy life been like?

Planning my next LLA! And looking to get out to the mountains.

Liliana Camacho in DC

Volunteer Report: Liliana Camacho on Our Annual DC Trip 2018

Liliana Camacho in DC

Liliana Camacho Guzman is an alumni of the Nature for All Leadership Academy and now works for the Council of Mexican Federations. As a field organizer, she advocates for environmental justice particularly in southeast Los Angeles communities, to reduce environmental health inequalities. She participated in Nature For All’s Annual DC Trip to speak with our representatives in Congress about the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and to advocate for its protection.

What Surprised Me

As a first-timer visiting Washington D.C, I was shocked to experience a different culture. I was exposed to the lifestyle and work operations that occur in Congress. As I walked through the hallways of the Capitol Building, I sensed tension and seriousness because of my DACA status. However, when I spoke to a Congress member and/or legislative staffer, I felt welcomed and the ability to demonstrate my concerns and love for the San Gabriel Mountains. Each meeting had its uniqueness.

During some meetings, we had the opportunity to have a great dialogue with legislation staffers or the Congress member him/herself. However, in a certain occasion, we found ourselves speaking to a legislative staffer in the hallway, accompanied by puppies. In addition, I was surprised to learn how many different committees are in congress and their role of introducing legislations. As a minority party, it has been difficult for Democrats to obtain a hearing to introduce any environmental-related legislation. Though we have not had much success compared to previous years, we continue to fight back for environmental equality.

What We Talked About

On average, meetings were 30 minutes long. Therefore, it was tremendously important to state the importance of protecting and expanding the San Gabriel Mountains through a clear storyline. As a representative of The Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM), I stated how important the San Gabriel Mountains are to our immigrant communities. Our communities are starving for green space. Therefore, the Leadership Academy alumni, including myself, shared our community projects. Consequently, we requested Congress members and staffers to support Representative Judy Chu’s bills.

What I’m Still Thinking About

After learning more of how Congress works, I continue to think of how long and difficult the process of passing a bill is. The Congress members and staffers greatly appreciated our advocacy and activism we’re leading in our communities. This effort is through teamwork; we, Nature for All, work with communities at the local level, while Congress members operate at the federal level. Our public lands are under attack; therefore, we must continue to advocate about the importance of protecting our public lands, including the San Gabriel Mountains.