Observe, learn, and help
(Note: Please think of the links below as a bystander’s rough map of online information and how to get there. Opinions expressed on this website are my own and may at times be at direct odds with opinions expressed on some of the websites below. Contents may have settled or inflated during shipping.)
Learn to identify plants, animals, biological soil crusts, and other organisms
- + For help identifying and learning about organisms of whatever flavor, see iNaturalist (a citizen science site for beginning to extremely advanced naturalists and biologists the world over).
- + See, listen to, and learn about Earth’s avians at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- + Learn about reptiles and amphibians from the Amphibian Foundation.
- + Learn about insects and other arthropods of the United States and Canada and/or post your own photos for help with identification at BugGuide.
- + Search for photos and information about plants and/or plant families native to California at Calflora.
- + Learn about and identify reptiles and amphibians of California and beyond at California herps.
- + Learn about lichens, mosses, and other organisms that comprise the skin of western drylands at Citizens of the Crust and Field Guide to Biological Soil Crusts of Western U.S. Drylands (US Geological Survey website; click on PDF icon to download the guide).
- + Learn about plants native to Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, or Wyoming. (Note: Start here if you’re looking for ways to improve your neighborhood beginning with your own home. Native plants improve air and water quality by, among other things, storing carbon, reducing erosion, holding down soil, and shading stream banks. They not only provide essential habitat for bees and other pollinators (see: the food you eat), they also provide food for larger animals. They use less water, are better adapted to local conditions, and engender less air pollution and mowing (read: none) than a lawn. And they make the difference between a landscape made of moondust versus a decent place to live.)
- + Investigate master naturalist programs in Arizona, California, Colorado (Fort Collins), Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico (Northern New Mexico), Oregon, Utah, or Washington (Bellevue).
Your vote matters, and so does your voice
Laws that affect the air we breathe, the water we drink, our wild neighbors (see an entirely unironic government press release here), our collective health, public land, and our planet’s oceans and atmosphere depend, for the most part, on someone to notice when things go wrong. Recently, a select few federal officials have tried to eliminate the role of medical and biological studies, scientific observation and results, and simple logic in policy decisions. They have eliminated or limited public access to information, rolled back environmental laws while quietly acknowledging dire consequences, reduced enforcement of laws, and reduced or eliminated opportunities for public comment.
Do citizens still matter to public policy? Absolutely. In spite of new exceptions, exclusions, and limitations, the National Environmental Policy Act still requires federal agencies to consider most of the environmental consequences of their actions and to make those considerations available to the public before making a final decision. Most states still require open meetings and allow public comment on projects that require state approval.
- + Comment on federal decisions that affect federal lands, migratory and local wildlife, and everyone’s air and water. The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension offers a helpful two-part guide to the National Environmental Policy Act, “Know NEPA” and “NEPA Response.” If you’d like to know more, the somewhat more detailed A Citizen’s Guide to the National Environmental Policy Act (2007) was still posted on the federal government’s NEPA site as of December 31, 2019. However, new changes proposed in January 2020 would not only reduce the public’s opportunity to comment, but would also strip NEPA requirements for the first time in 50 years. (See and comment on proposed changes to NEPA before March 10, 2020, here.)
- + Attend a public meeting. Most states have open meeting laws that require state and local government agencies to give residents opportunities to learn about and comment on new projects, management, and laws.
- + Comment on projects with the potential to harm a place or its occupants in your state. Ballotpedia offers a state-by-state and national guide to environmental policies in the U.S. These laws govern every decision each state government makes and, for the most part, allow opportunities for thoughtful feedback. If a proposed project in an area you know and love has the potential to destroy that area, your comments and observations could make a difference, particularly if people proposing the project haven’t visited the project area at the right time of year, the right time of day, or at any time.
Visit the websites of local, regional, and other non-profit environmental organizations
- + Desert Fishes Council
- + Mono Lake Committee
- + Owens Valley Committee
- + Bristlecone Chapter of the California Native Plant Society
- + Eastern Sierra Audubon Society
- + Amargosa Conservancy
- + Wildcare Eastern Sierra
- + Eastern Sierra Audubon
- + Eastern Sierra Institute for Collaborative Education
- + Friends of the Inyo
- + Eastern Sierra Land Trust
- + Inyo350
- + Basin and Range Watch
- + Great Basin Water Network
- + Mojave Desert Land Trust
- + Transition Habitat Conservancy
Contact local agencies and tribal environmental offices
- + Owens Valley Indian Water Commission
- + Big Pine Paiute Tribe Environmental Department
- + Fort Independence Indian Reservation
- + Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Environmental Department
- + Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District
- + California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Inland Deserts Region
- + Inyo County Water Department
- + California Department of Water Resources
- + Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
Investigate other opportunities to learn about or volunteer on behalf of denizens of desert and alpine neighborhoods
- + Read about efforts to restore the Amargosa vole.
- + See rattlesnakes share parental care.
- + Watch kangaroo rats foil desert sidewinders.
- + Read about the Grinnell resurvey project.
- + Browse archived field notes at the University of California Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.
- + Sign up for a workshop with the Jepson Herbarium.
- + Browse photos of your favorite California life forms at CalPhotos.
- + Learn how to keep a nature journal from John Muir Laws.
- + Contribute your observations to Project Budburst.
- + Volunteer for a citizen science project at Zooniverse or Citizen Science.gov.