Bay Nature magazineWinter 2020


Organizing for Resilience

The Bay Area open space community has an opportunity to reimagine itself

January 6, 2020

Think about the wildfires in Sonoma County this past October. Or the fires that ravaged the town of Paradise in November 2018. Or the fires that ripped through parts of Santa Rosa in October 2017. 

I bet you remember those fires viscerally. We remember the smoke, fear, and devastation. I hope you also remember how people helped one another while the fires burned and for months afterward as those communities recovered and healed. Donations of clothes flooded in; thousands of meals were cooked for people we did not know. We did more than send our thoughts and prayers. We rolled up our sleeves to help one another.  

Climate change is happening here in the Bay Area to all of us. There is certainly a dark side of climate change, but I believe there is also a bright side: an opening to usher in the change that our planet and society so desperately need. The opportunity, the gift, to be in community with our neighbors. And the urgent call for changing how we steward the land and connect people to it.

Remember, they are an exotic species in the Western United States, and are rapidly increasing their geographic range and range of habitats. Are they outcompeting or excluding native species in the process? How would we know? We have done almost nothing to monitor changes in the assemblage of mushroom species in areas before and and after the incursion of death caps.

Annie Burke is the executive director of this new regional coalition. Learn more at

This call is the reason we are launching a new regional coalition to champion and be the regional voice for climate resilient lands, water, and people in the Bay Area. While our roots are in the Bay Area Open Space Council (BAOSC), the new collaboration will be different.

It envisions a Bay Area that is home to healthy lands, people, and communities for generations to come. We want to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change and to work for a more just and equitable society. This will be a large, diverse, and powerful team of nonprofits, public agencies, and indigenous tribes that serves all 8 million Bay Area residents in the 10 counties of the greater Bay Area. 

The common thread of this new and diverse coalition is a commitment to creating a Bay Area where land, water, and people can adapt, flourish, and thrive.

The common thread of this new and diverse coalition is a commitment to creating a Bay Area where land, water, and people can adapt, flourish, and thrive. Because all lands need to be cared for, our work will encompass urban, rural, private, and public lands. Because water is essential to life, we include watersheds from the ridgelines to the Bay. And because all people are affected by climate change, we will work on climate justice and social equity, acknowledging and celebrating our differences and working together toward shared goals. 

We aim to be transformative in order to catalyze 21st-century solutions in the region.

This new regional coalition will lead two programs. The top priority will be to advocate for regional funding and policies that promote and support climate resilient lands and people. Working at this level will enable us to have the deep and lasting impact we desire. The second program will build relationships across issues, organizations, jurisdictions, and the region. We will convene an annual summit, support and connect working groups, and share information regularly via digital communications. The first summit will most likely be held in autumn of 2020. 

Relationships built on trust are key to this new coalition. To quote The People’s Supper, a national initiative that builds relationships across political divides, “Social change moves at the speed of relationships. Relationships move at the speed of trust.” That principle will also guide our work to bridge the divisions in our region. 

This is an experiment that we launch with humility. We do not have it all figured out. The new coalition will need a name; goals for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion; guidelines for the policies it advocates for; and much more. We are clear about our intentions and will need to work together, as a coalition, to manifest them. 

The new coalition is born from the Bay Area Open Space Council, and our effort stands on the shoulders of those who built the BAOSC. And we recognize that we need to change in order to meet today’s challenges and opportunities. 

Throughout 2019 we led a comprehensive process with the open space community and a diverse planning committee to reimagine the BAOSC after a financial crisis in 2018 (see my op-ed in Bay Nature’s winter 2019 issue for more about the crisis). The process included 360 online survey responses, nine stakeholder interviews, 146 attendees in four input sessions, six meetings of the planning committee, and hours and hours of conversations. We considered lessons learned from the previous 29 years of the BAOSC and focused our attention on what our Bay Area lands, waters, and people need today and moving into the future. 

Four BAOSC members supported the planning process: Marin County Parks, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, and Sonoma Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria provided critical funding and participated in meaningful ways. We are also grateful to East Bay Regional Park District, Peninsula Open Space Trust, and Save the Redwoods League for their leadership and financial support during the BAOSC’s transition. 

We are forming this coalition with an urgent hope, acknowledgment that we do not have all the answers, and openness to what is possible when different perspectives are valued and listened to. 

It’s a new day. Join us.

About the Author

Annie Burke is the executive director of TOGETHER Bay Area.