By Andrew Cohen
Berkeley Law’s top-ranked environmental law program is blazing yet another new trail with the launch of GrizzlyCorps.
Developed by Project Climate within the school’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE), GrizzlyCorps is a nascent AmeriCorps effort that sends recent college graduates to work in farm and forest communities across California. Each year, the initiative will select 20 fellows to engage in 11-month placements that help build community resilience and respond to climate change.
During their service stint, fellows will tackle projects that promote regenerative agriculture, forest and fire protections, and carbon sequestration while building long-term resilience. The inaugural cohort began their placements in early September.
“CLEE focuses extensively on the climate crisis, finding both innovative solutions and ways to overcome persistent barriers,” says Jordan Diamond ’08, the center’s executive director. “GrizzlyCorps is a concentrated expression of that mission, focusing on providing vital support to farm and forest communities that often bear the brunt of climate harm and have meaningful opportunities to realize climate progress.”
Focused in rural areas, the program is designed to help build forest, fire, and overall community resilience — all essential amid California’s increasingly severe climate impacts. After this pilot year, leaders hope to expand the program’s scope and reach more communities statewide.
“Bringing together AmeriCorps requirements and UC Berkeley requirements wasn’t easy,” says GrizzlyCorps Director Ken Alex, who also directs Project Climate. “But we persevered and now have a functioning program, with strong support from the Provost’s office. GrizzlyCorps brings together many elements of key importance: action on climate change, community resilience and outreach, service in underserved communities, focus on rural California, promotion of forest and farm issues, and opportunities for recent grads.”
Targeted and timely
California’s forest communities face enormous (and growing) fire and climate threats, which also threaten watershed and soil health. Alex notes that in farm communities, climate change is impacting the state’s water supply, crop yields, and cattle health. He says forest and farm communities can advance carbon sequestration — the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide to help reduce its presence in the atmosphere — which can also increase crop and grassland yields and improve forest health.
Fellows work in conjunction with agricultural community entities and resource conservation districts to broaden the use of regenerative techniques. In forest communities, they coordinate with local, state, and federal agencies, forest and industry groups, and NGOs to expand techniques that reduce fire risk and enhance watershed and soil conditions.
Contributions from the Central Valley Community Foundation, Pacific Gas & Electronic Co., and the Erin Ziegler Fund helped bring the program to fruition. A 2019 planning grant through California Volunteers (directed by Berkeley Law graduate Josh Fryday ’09), the agency that administers AmeriCorps in the state, enabled CLEE to design the type of work fellows would do and find site partners for placements.
“We try to match site partner picks and member picks as much as possible,” Alex says. “The program is modeled on CivicSpark, an AmeriCorps program run by the Local Government Commission in Sacramento (which he initiated as senior policy advisor to then-California Gov. Jerry Brown). The two programs are fairly unique. CivicSpark is about to expand into Washington State, and we’re talking about making both CivicSpark and GrizzlyCorps national programs.”
GrizzlyCorps fellows receive training, field experience with direct supervision, a monthly stipend, and $10,000 towards further education upon completion of the full placement, as well as opportunities to develop professional contacts and mentors. Geared toward recent college graduates, the program aims to expand opportunities for enrolled students in the future.
Jenna Waite, who graduated from UC Berkeley in May, yearned to use her passion for politics and policy to help the environment. Placed with The McConnell Foundation in her hometown of Redding, her main projects involve rehabilitating hundreds of acres of rangeland that has been overtaken by weeds, sustainable agriculture and research, and community outreach.
“The GrizzlyCorps program piqued my interest because I wanted to work with environmental nonprofits and programs,” Waite says. “I wasn’t originally planning on staying in my hometown after college, but I couldn’t let this opportunity go.”
Rose Joseph, another 2020 UC Berkeley graduate, is working with the Tehama County Resource Conservation District. Her projects include replanting fish habitats along the Sacramento River, creating defensible space around the homes of vulnerable populations to reduce the potential for wildfire damage from wildfire, and creating carbon farm plans.
As a college student, Joseph became interested in the politics of land, food systems, and climate change. A fifth-generation Californian with roots in agriculture reaching back four generations, her family currently grows wine grapes in Sonoma County.
“As my time at Berkeley progressed and as my family’s vineyard faced the effects of drought — and even had half of our land burned in a wildfire — I realized that I wanted to do more to address the significant challenges in how my home state manages its land and food systems, especially in the context of a changing climate,” Joseph says. “I am beyond excited for this year of service.”