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Legacy Project tells a new story for California


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The California Environmental Legacy Project, a statewide educational media initiative, challenges the notion of people vs. nature and explores a new and hopeful story for California. The project is funded by a $3 million National Science Foundation grant awarded to Sacramento State in 2009. Its purpose is to connect Californians in their everyday lives to the stewardship of the natural systems that support us.

“It’s about reconciliation. It’s about hope. It’s about a new partnership with nature,” says project director Jim Baxter, a Sacramento State professor of biology. “We’re changing this place dramatically. It’s changed in the past. It’s changing now in our hands, and it will continue to change in the future. How it changes is up to us.”

The project’s most ambitious effort to date is Becoming California, a two-hour documentary narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Jane Fonda, with a score by Grammy winner Pat Metheny. Becoming California is scheduled to air early next year on public television stations throughout the state.

Baxter and Jeffrey White, a biology professor at Humboldt State, are the documentary’s executive producers. They hope the program will find a national audience.

“It’s California-centric, yes, but the message is much broader than just California,” Baxter says. “It’s about overcoming seemingly contradictory notions of preserving the environment while having the quality of life we want. The documentary explores examples of balancing the needs of nature with the demands of civilization, what we call reconciliation. How we’re succeeding at that in California could be a model for other places.”

California’s story is told in three “chapters”: its physical and biological assembly; how culture, population growth and technology have accelerated environmental change; and how reunification, partnership and coexistence are the new forces for positive environmental change.

In addition, the California Environmental Legacy Project has funded and produced site-specific films for visitor centers at five state and national parks throughout California. All are narrated by Fonda and scored by Metheny. The first film debuts this fall at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook in Culver City. Others will roll out over the next few months at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore and Redwood state and national parks.

The project’s other efforts include an online educational portal and a K-12 education program.

“All of the programs revolve around the idea of change: how this place has changed on its own geologically, climatically and biologically, and how, even before we arrived, it was changing in dramatic ways,” Baxter says. “Go back 100 million years, and California was mostly under water. A lot of tectonic collisions created this place, and the sea levels were rising and falling. What it looks like now is a snapshot. And, 100 million years from now, who knows what it’ll look like.“

In addition to Sacramento State, the Legacy Project’s partners are Humboldt State, California State Parks, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, UC Davis and San Diego Natural History Museum.

Learn more about the work of the California Environmental Legacy Project at Also found online is a video tour of California from a helicopter, narrated by Jim Baxter. For media assistance, contact Sacramento State’s Office of Public Affairs at (916) 278-6156.

– Dixie Reid