Signs of Nature: Leading Coachella Valley Communities to Nearby NatureAlex Ocañas, Conservation Social Scientist July 19, 2021
For decades, communities across the world have been suffering through what some call an ‘extinction of experience’ as opportunities for interaction with nature are steeply declining. Considering the well-documented benefits we reap from interactions with nature, such as improved physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being, this trend creates obvious concerns for human communities. Less obviously, the decline in human-nature interaction undermines preservation of nature at large. Separating humans from nature creates a positive feedback loop where fewer people are motivated to protect nature, and thus fewer will have the chance to encounter and enjoy nature. To protect people, we must protect nature. The Living Desert is approaching this mission by helping more people find enjoyable interaction with nature.
In the United States, Latino/LatinX communities are particularly underserved in terms of opportunity to enjoy nearby natural areas. One study of urban residents found that 75% of time in nature was experienced by only 32% of the study population1. The Living Desert hopes to help eliminate this shortcoming in the Coachella Valley. Our project, Signs of Nature, intends to bridge the widening gap between people and the rest of nature by installing dozens of permanent signs across the Eastern Coachella Valley, where vibrant Latino communities are located, to direct our neighbors to where and how they can enjoy nearby nature. We are grateful to our partner the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy for funding for this important project.
Knowing just what to include on the signs isn’t exactly, well… second nature. A significant portion of our last few months has been spent asking local middle schoolers, Boys and Girls Club members, and adult community leaders and experts – what does nature in the Coachella Valley look like to you? And, how do you prefer to enjoy it? Just like art, nature reveals its meaning and fulfillment in different ways to different people. Ensuring that the Signs of Nature meet the interests and expectations of focal communities where they will be placed is an essential component of the project. Signs will be located in and near schools, parks, and other public gathering places where community members are most likely to come across them.
The Signs of Nature are destined to highlight nearby natural areas, provide a map and directions for how to get there, suggest what activities are possible there, and have information about which of our cherished Coachella Valley wildlife species one might have the chance to enjoy during their visit. The activities listed will have been hand-selected by our community contributors – picnics, hiking, spending time with family, and learning from expert naturalists to name a few. Some signs even include tips for viewing wildlife from home, where many people can interact with nature if they know how to find it.
Almost anyone in our Valley can find a bat flying over their home or a butterfly fleeting through flowers – they might just need a reminder of where to look! We hope the Signs of Nature can point us all back toward our connection with and appreciation for our natural, wonderfully wild world.
Signs of Nature has been generously funded by the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy through California’s Proposition 68. We look forward to installation of the first set of signs in Fall 2021.
1 Cox, D. T., Hudson, H. L., Shanahan, D. F., Fuller, R. A., & Gaston, K. J. (2017). The rarity of direct experiences of nature in an urban population. Landscape and Urban Planning, 160, 79-84.