Insights

Nonprofit Spotlight: Eastern Sierra Land Trust

Kathleen Gill
August 17, 2022
View of the Eastern Sierra from Lone Pine, California. (Photo: David Ganske)

This post is the third of a six-part series that highlights nonprofit organizations that the DG+Design team chose to receive donations for the 2021 calendar year. Each DG+ team member explains how they reached their decision, and why the nonprofit is important to them.

As an avid rock climber, runner, biker, snowboarder, and general outdoor enthusiast, I’ve been fortunate to see and experience a lot of beautiful natural places around the world. In the process, I’ve also seen firsthand how these fragile ecosystems are negatively impacted by  human activity and the effects of climate change.

Over the years, I’ve been a part of the rock climbing community’s movement to address the negative consequences of the accelerated popularity of our sport, such as increased foot traffic and littered trash taking a toll on the natural environment. Growing up camping and backpacking in the Pacific Northwest, I was taught to adhere strictly to Leave No Trace best practices and I’ve done my best to pass this on to others. I’ve also attended volunteer events to clean up frequently-trafficked trails and areas. But when it came time to choose who to support through our 1% for the Planet donation, I knew I wanted to take a more proactive approach. I wanted to find an organization that was actively conserving an area that’s given so much to me; one that has provided me with endless inspiration, countless adventures, priceless memories, and an abundance of friendships. That place – which is easily one of my favorites in the world – is the Eastern Sierra in northern California.

A mecca for outdoor activities, the entire Eastern Sierra region is home to world class rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, trail running, skiing, backpacking, and so much more. Its robust river ecosystem and abundance of alpine lakes, desert landscapes, and impressive rock formations draw people from all over the world. Its vast biodiversity also hosts an important wildlife corridor for many animals. On a local level, it has one of the best communities I’ve ever experienced. For all of these reasons, I chose to donate to the Eastern Sierra Land Trust.

The Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT) works with the local community to protect vital lands in the Eastern Sierra region for their scenic, agricultural, natural, recreational, historical, and watershed values. It partners with forward-thinking landowners, agencies, and conservation supporters to conserve the region for the future. Landowners who are facing ongoing pressure to subdivide or sell their land, something that would severely disrupt the natural ecosystem and migrating populations throughout the area, can work with ESLT to find lasting conservation solutions.

Speaking of migrating populations, one of their most recent projects, the Mammoth Lakes 395 Wildlife Crossing aims to construct a wildlife crossing corridor to aid in the mule deer migration – a population that’s vital to the economy, culture, and biology of the region – and reduce the number of wildlife vehicle collisions in Mono County. This behemoth $52 million undertaking is a collaborative effort between ESLT and a multitude of other organizations, including the United States Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the US Forest Service, Bridgeport Indian Colony, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. It’s an incredible example of what can be achieved when government bodies and community organizations work together. 

More than anything, it’s ESLT’s approach of working with their own community to protect these lands in ways that benefit everyone, that really resonates with me. Having worked at an environmental nonprofit in the past, I know there are a lot of ways to make progress towards your mission. However, if you don’t have the community buy-in or aren’t at least taking their perspective into consideration as you make decisions, chances are you’ll face some serious challenges down the road. Locals have the most intimate understanding of their land and its ecosystems, and therefore often have the most discerning insights into how to approach conservation in a mindful way.

The way ESLT engages with its community and how its members work collaboratively with landowners on a hyper localized level, is not only exciting to me, but in my experience, effective. Rather than coming in with top-down policy, this is an organization that is from the community and plays an active role with the community in its conservation efforts. Its events and activities are a direct reflection of how well its members know the region, the ecosystem, and the people who co-exist within it: everything from educational series and highway cleanups, to timely events like an Earth Day kids’ drawing contest. Last year, ESLT partnered with the Owens Valley Indian Water Commission to host a film screening and discussion about the water rights conflict between the Owens Valley Paiute tribe and the city of Los Angeles. The film, Paya: The Water Story of the Paiute, is currently being used by the tribe and the Native American and academic communities nationally to mobilize tribes.

The land has so much to give in this region of the world. I know this intimately, and have benefitted from it. But our relationship with it needs to be a reciprocal one based in respect, with future generations in mind. This is something the ESLT not only understands, but champions. In the last 20 years, ESLT has protected 21,000 acres, monitored more than 16,000 acres, and established 147 pollinator gardens.

Since ESLT was founded in 2001, it has built a reputation for collaboration, dedication, and perseverance. As a nationally-accredited land trust, its staff members hold themselves to rigorous standards of excellence in order to uphold their community’s trust and ensure that their conservation efforts are permanent. For more information, to get involved, or to donate, visit: https://www.eslt.org

About DG+ Donations

Last year, DG+Design joined the 1% for the Planet community to help support nonprofits that are fighting pressing environmental issues around the world. Any organization can join the community, which helps vet nonprofits to help us as donors choose legitimate, trusted recipients for our contributions.

While the DG+ team’s contributions might be relatively small when compared to some of the larger community members, we still followed a formal process to our giving. Our approach was relatively simple. Each of our full-time employees chose a recipient non-profit organization to receive funding. Then, our total donations were split equally among these nonprofits.

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