Wildlands Civics as an Expression of the EPIC Mission

By
Sunday, October 13th, 2013
Caribou Fire Salvage Sale: these four foot snags were saved by EPIC.

Caribou Fire Salvage Sale: these four foot snags were saved by EPIC.

A recurring theme in all of the work that EPIC develops, to advance protections for the web of life in Northwest California, is the concept of environmental democracy. Whether it be advocating for an increased inclusion of stewardship land ethics in natural resource based economic sectors in our bioregion, challenging state agencies to do adequate review of the major infrastructure projects that are proposed in sensitive landscapes, or leveraging the online activism of our supporters to secure conservation oriented management regimes on our public lands, EPIC strives to be a conduit for meaningful public participation by our community on the issues that can have an impact on our rural lives. Environmental democracy is one way to describe the involvement of the citizenry in these crucial processes around natural resource exploitation on the North Coast—our team at EPIC also refers to our authentic grassroots activism as an expression of “Wildlands Civics.”

The idea of Wildlands Civics is captured in the mission statement of EPIC. Ancient forests, watersheds, endangered species; these elements of the biosphere are all included in our mission. EPIC has a far-reaching objective to protect natural and human communities on the North Coast of California. To understand how the concept of Wildlands Civics influences the development of EPIC advocacy strategies it can help to look further at the mission of EPIC: EPIC uses an integrated, science-based approach, combining public education, citizen advocacy, and strategic litigation.

Breaking these elements down further illuminates how the active participation of EPIC and our base of supporters in a multitude of public decision-making processes is in its purest form a practice of civics with the overarching intent of protecting the wildlands that provide habitat for wildlife and essential environmental services for human kind—hence, Wildlands Civics.

Public Education

Any effort to mobilize and galvanize the public to engage on a particular issue requires a concentrated effort at Public Education. As an example, the Public Lands Program at EPIC has a long-term conservation advocacy vision of Returning a Natural Cycle of Fire to Our Landscapes. Clearly, the best contemporary science shows that fire plays an essential role in the maintenance of a healthy forested landscape, yet there are major impediments to achieving a reestablishment of natural patterns of wild fire disturbance regimes across Northwest California. As our organization engaged with land managers and stakeholders on this issue we knew immediately that informing California residents about the benefits of wildfire would take some degree of Public Education to ensure that our goals regarding fire would be understood, and to get people involved in a proactive manner with the issue. The evolution in the policy discourse around wildfire is resulting in an increased understanding by the public that fire is as natural, though less frequent, than rain in our diverse North Coast forests. This is an encouraging sigh that our public education efforts at EPIC are contributing in a positive way to a broad movement of diverse stakeholders that aspires to change the way our society perceives our relationship to the land and the natural processes that provide for ecological resilience and the maintenance of biodiversity.

Citizen Advocacy

EPIC was formed in 1977, and technology has changed a great deal since the founding of the organization. This change in technology has spurned an increase in the ability of public interest advocacy organizations like EPIC to provide a means to gain standing in a public process, and to provide comments to address shortcomings and inadequacies in project design and environmental review. A substantial amount of EPIC’s practice of Wildlands Civics is built around proven methodologies of forest watch and agency monitoring, in which systematic attention is paid to the process by which projects are announced and how documentation concerning economic activities is presented to the public. Wildlands Civics is in this way predicated on the tactics of an environmental watchdog group, and the mobilization of a concerned constituency of local, state, and national residents who stand behind our organization’s policy positions provides EPIC the leverage to be an effective guardian of your wild backyard. Another important aspect of Citizen Advocacy is that some of the most severe threats to landscape integrity in our bioregion, such as egregious cannabis agriculture operations, are still outside of the purview of regulating agencies. By getting the public involved on complex and unorthodox issues we can create a vocabulary that describes the standards of sustainability that our landscapes require of us, and through Citizen Advocacy EPIC can participate in the community drive to find workable solutions to complex challenges.

Strategic Litigation

Even as global alarm bells are ringing with an increasing urgency, many environmentally harmful projects and economically unsustainable natural resource exploitation schemes are approved by government agencies across our region. In some instances, well thought out and strategic litigation is necessary to protect public trust resources and the rights of the citizenry to have influence over how our tax dollars are spent. A citizens organization only has the right to litigate after having established standing through early participation in a decision making process. Public interest litigation is an action of last recourse, when the concerns of the public have been disregarded after a long process, and is enshrined in our laws as a justified exercise of our democratic rights. EPIC has a well-earned reputation for cutting edge and strategic litigation that can shape the content of public policy for decades to come. Our organizations successful actions before the courts in order to protect our communities and rare environments is an authentic expression of EPIC’s effective mission and expertise in Wildlands Civics.