The California Chaparral Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit environmental organization that's dedicated to preserving what remains of California's chaparral - the state's most characteristic, yet most imperiled, native shrubland ecosystem. Through scientific research, Nature education, and activism, we strive to be the voice of the chaparral and all the life it supports.
Chaparral is California's most distinctive wildland. Characterized by drought-tolerant, woody shrubs, and shaped by a Mediterranean-type climate (hot, dry summers & mild, wet winters), chaparral covers most of California's coastal foothills and interior mountain slopes. Check out our Chaparral Pagefor more detail on California's remarkable native shrublands.
To promote an understanding of and appreciation for the chaparral and the Mediterranean-type climate in which it thrives in order to:
- Foster connections with Nature and the creative spirit it can inspire
- Explore innovative ideas to create a new Nature-centered, engaging education model
- Preserve and protect native shrubland ecosystems, especially the chaparral
- Reconcile our modern existence with Nature to enhance our lives and protect our planet
- Diversify the environmental community (please read our article on addressing inequality)
The only way to heal environmentally and personally damaging behaviors is to address their actual cause - our disassociation from Nature and self, and the resulting alienation from each other.
Despite civilization's influence, our ties to Nature remain strong as evidenced by the positive impact of spending time outdoors surrounded by the green felt of plant life, the conversations of birds, insects, and frogs, and the fragrance of sage, sumac, and ceanothus. With an open heart, Nature can foster a reconnection with the innocent, wild self that dwells within each of us. As that connection becomes stronger, it becomes increasingly easy to follow the dreams we have for ourselves, recognize when we project our inner conflicts on others, and see the natural environment as an integral part of who we are.
Nature provides a path to recognize and acknowledge psychological patterns that do not serve us. By losing ourselves in Nature, we can find ourselves.
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The California Chaparral Institute was established shortly after the 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego County, the 273,000 acre wildfire that marked the beginning of the California's new era of catastrophic mega fires.
During and after the Cedar Fire, chaparral was inaccurately blamed as the cause of the fire’s devastation. San Diego County government responded to this misperception by proposing a program to clear 300 square miles of backcountry habitat. After six years of involvement by the Institute and others to help the county develop a new fire risk reduction plan based on science, the county proceeded with their original program. The program was dropped after the Institute successfully challenged it in court.
Since 2003, the Institute has produced publications and provided hundreds of public presentations explaining the value of the chaparral ecosystem and how we can live safety within California’s fire-prone environment. The Institute has also coined several popular concepts shortly after the 2003 Cedar Fire to help promote science-based fire safety and an appreciation for the chaparral including reducing fire risk in our communities “from the house out rather than from the wildland in” and identifying legacy chaparral stands over 50-years-old as “old-growth chaparral.”
Chaparral now is more commonly recognized as an important part of California's natural environment. The US Forest Service issued a major policy statement in 2013 recognizing the value and fragility of the chaparral and has held several symposia focusing on the ecosystem services it provides. New publications are also helping the public recognize and appreciate the chaparral.
Still, there remains an artificial distance between people and Nature that continues to propel environmentally damaging projects and perceptions about the natural environment. As a consequence, the California Chaparral Institute continues to encourage leaders to tackle the resulting problems by first looking within, examining our own biases, and developing solutions in collaboration with Nature, not against. In this way, Nature can play a positive and restorative role in our lives.