Where Are They Now? Ryan Henson

Ryan Henson snowshoeing in the Sierras.
Former NEC intern and current Senior Policy Director at California Wild Ryan Henson snowshoeing in the Sierras. Photo courtesy of Ryan Henson.

I was an intern at the NEC while serving in the U.S. Navy Reserve and attending College of the Redwoods in 1987 and 1988. The experience of working alongside NEC legend Tim McKay made an indelible impression on me. [Editor’s note: Tim McKay was Executive Director of the NEC from 1976 until his death in 2006.]

Like many NEC interns, Tim kept my 19-year old self busy cutting stories out of newspapers and filing. But I was also treated to something that I never had from my parents: intelligent, fact-based discussions about life and politics.

I was raised with very conservative political beliefs that ran contrary to Tim’s. Over the course of a year and a half, Tim introduced me to the Socratic method as we discussed politics and Tim made me explain and defend the reasons for my beliefs and political positions. I likewise cross-examined Tim. It was stimulating for a young mind, one that values ideas and ideals, and it helped push me over the “edge” toward an eco-progressivism that I already felt in my heart.
I was also treated to Tim’s stories about his decades of conservation work, and these stories were an inspiration that lasted throughout the subsequent years as I transferred to the University of California at Davis and moved on in life.

While a student at UC Davis, I began an internship with the California Wilderness Coalition (CalWild) in 1989. CalWild works to protect and restore the wildest remaining portions of California’s public lands. I decided to start working for CalWild full-time in 1994.

Since that time, I have been deeply involved in the passage of several public land protection bills and in the establishment of six national monuments. Working to pass a public lands bill for the North Coast from 2001-2006 gave me an opportunity to work with Tim many times over the course of those years. Sadly, Tim passed away in 2006 just shortly before the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act of 2006 was signed in to law.

After Tim’s passing, I went on to work on what would become the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 that protected over 779,000 acres of wilderness and 104 miles of stream as wild and scenic rivers in California. I was also involved in the establishment or enlargement of several National Monuments, including San Gabriel Mountains, Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, Berryessa Snow Mountain, California Coastal and Cascade-Siskiyou.

I was also deeply involved in the 2016 Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) that protected 6.5 million acres of Bureau of Land Management public lands in the California desert.

Unfortunately, CalWild is now having to fight to keep the Trump administration from opening these desert monuments to energy development and mining. With the NEC and others, we are fighting to preserve our National Monuments from being stripped of their protections.

On a happier note, my work has taken me back to northwest California. Along with the NEC, CalWild is currently working with Congressman Jared Huffman on legislation that would:
•    Establish a 700,000-acre “restoration area” in the South Fork Trinity River watershed and in the federal portions of the Mad River and North Fork Eel River watersheds where the ecological health of previously logged forests will be improved;
•    Protect over 326,000 acres of federal public lands as wilderness by expanding nine existing wilderness areas and establishing ten new ones;
•    Protect over 480 miles of stream on federal land as wild and scenic rivers;
•    Restore public lands affected by illegal trespass marijuana grows;
•    Explore the possibility of establishing a “Bigfoot National Recreation Trail” that would highlight the immense ecological diversity of northwestern California’s ancient forests and other unique landscapes;
•    Direct federal agencies to conduct a trails study that would explore ways to improve recreation on public lands in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties.

When not fighting for wild California, I spend my time with my wife Bonnie and a menagerie of animals in Shasta County. I am grateful for my experiences at the NEC that helped to shape my work for years to come.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here