February 27, 2017

Building community through restoring its natural habitats

One man's passion for nature inspired a movement to preserve native ecosystems in Southern California

Back to Natives Restoration founder Reginald Durant and volunteers work to restore habitats in Orange County, California. Photo courtesy of Back to Natives Restoration


Meet the finalists for The Atlantic’s Renewal Awards, underwritten by Allstate. These individuals are the forces behind the 25 nonprofits competing for $100,000 in grant money. Five winners will be announced March 30 at The Renewal Summit in Washington, on TheAtlantic.com, and here, on The Renewal Project.

Reginald Durant founded Back to Natives Restoration in 2005 to help preserve the natural habitats in his Orange County, California, community. The organization promotes the use of native plants, as well as habitat restoration and preservation through education programs.

To do this work successfully, he knew he needed community volunteers. Back to Natives recruits those members with the Durant’s own mantra: “A little ‘ecological enlightenment’ and a chance to get your hands dirty is the best way to improve relations between people and Nature.”

Meet Reginald Durant and follow Back to Natives Restoration on Twitter (@Backtonatives), Facebook, and Instagram.

Describe your community:

We work to make the environment healthier for the plants, animals and people of Orange County, California, and beyond.

What inspired you to do this work?

Seeing a need for habitat restoration in local wildlands. Non-native invasive plant species were crowding out the native plants that native animals required to survive.

If community members are involved in restoring their local wildlands, they will take ownership of the projects and work to protect that habitat and spread the word about the importance of native plants, biodiversity, and healthy ecosystems. The challenge came when I realized local land managers did not have the funds or staff available to recruit, train, and supervise large groups of volunteers.

What ways are you helping to make your community thrive?

Without a healthy environment—without clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy soil to grow food—animals (including humans) will have nowhere to thrive.

What do you love about your community?

We love all of the beautiful, wild, open spaces in Orange County and throughout California (and beyond!) and want to protect them for animals and humans to thrive and enjoy.

What’s one thing you want outsiders to know about your community?

NO one is an outsider to Nature; we are all a part of our environment and what we do affects everything and everyone else. Whether you affect the environment positively or negatively is your choice. Choose wisely.

What leader or leaders inspired you?

I’ve always loved Nature, but my partner Lori Whalen inspired me to found Back to Natives and spend my days working to protect local habitat.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.
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