Wade Crowfoot wants everyone to go outside.
When he’s not serving as California Secretary of Natural Resources, Crowfoot, who says he spends an embarrassing amount of his disposable income at REI, is an avid camper, hiker, and outdoor enthusiast.
But Crowfoot knows that not everyone has the opportunity to experience the great outdoors like he and his family do.
“In California, we know we have incredible nature, but we also know that nature is unequally experienced and accessible,” Crowfoot explained. “There are a lot of Americans and Californians who can’t go outside.”
The Sea Otter Classic Summit was held April 5-7 at the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa.
Crowfoot joined REI’s Community Advocacy and Impact Director, Marc Berejka, and Surf Industry Members Association (SIMA) Executive Director, Vipe Desai, for a panel on the role of the outdoor recreational community in shaping policy that will reverse climate change and creating a more inclusive outdoor experience. The panel discussion took place Wednesday at the Monterey Plaza Hotel as part of the three-day Sea Otter Classic Summit – a global gathering of outdoor industry leaders. The Summit is separate from the popular Sea Otter Classic cycling event, but both are produced by Life Time Events.
The panel was moderated by Katie Hawkins, California’s Outdoor Recreation Commissioner and California Program Manager at Outdoor Alliance. While the group discussed issues such as climate change, the green economy and the outdoor industry, the panel mainly focused on outdoor recreation and improving equitable access to nature.
Born in India, Desai grew up surfing in the late 1970s. He explained that the surfing industry often gets a bad rap for not looking diverse. Desai said that while he felt the surfing community embraced him, he hadn’t seen anyone who looked like him for years.
“Access is inclusivity,” he said. “Without access, there is no inclusivity.”
Crowfoot defines the California Natural Resources Agency as the administration of the state. One of the initiatives he leads is the Outdoors for All program, which aims to find ways to give more Californians access to the great outdoors. This includes creating and protecting more parks and green spaces, and providing transportation to nature for disadvantaged communities.
The state also recently launched a program that provides free state park passes to California public library card holders. The pass entitles the user to one free day’s admission to over 200 participating state parks. For more information on the California State Library Parks Pass program, visit https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=30806
Crowfoot emphasized that during the pandemic, California saw a surge in the use of state parks, local parks, and federal public lands, resulting in some of those parks being “loved to death.” He said the California Natural Resources Agency is working to invest in maintenance and personnel to protect and utilize these public lands.
Climate change and its relationship to outdoor recreation was another focus of the panel. Crowfoot addressed the audience at the leading outdoor industry solemnly when he noted that the first three months of 2022 were the driest first three months of a year in California history and that California is heading into its third year of worsening droughts.
Crowfoot argued that we must focus nature on the problem of climate change and use nature-based solutions to address the growing crisis. That could mean using controlled, mandated fire to prevent wildfires or planting native plants to revitalize habitats.
The panel was outspoken when it came to addressing the impact of climate change on the outdoor industry.
“This isn’t just about trails or just camping,” argued Berejka. “There are real companies that make a living off the health of our public lands and waters, and they’re an integral part of the economy.”
“Without a healthy ocean, our industry doesn’t exist,” agreed Desai. “It’s not the other way around.”
In 2020, California’s outdoor recreation economy generated nearly 500,000 jobs and 1.5% of the state’s gross domestic product. Nationally, the outdoor leisure economy accounted for 1.8% of the country’s GDP.
“Whether you live in California or not, this is a moment in the United States to say, ‘Nature needs us,'” Crowfoot concluded. “Nature needs us like never before, but we also need nature. And we must put nature and nature first to address these challenges.”