History and Mission


A Great, Spirited Land:

The board members of Friends of the Inyo have spent countless hours discussing the name, Friends of the Inyo. FOI was originally organized over 30 years ago to comment on the Inyo National Forest (INF) forest planning process. Since then, FOI has evolved into its current form, a local membership-based group working on a broad range of public land issues. Does the name FOI really convey who we are and what we are trying to accomplish? After all we are more than the Friends of the Inyo National Forest, which was the original intent. We work on public lands in Inyo and Mono Counties, partnering with Bureau of Land Management offices in Bishop and Ridgecrest, as well as the National Park Service. We’ve kept with the name because of continuity, and because the word Inyo has power. Most think it is a Paiute word, meaning “dwelling place of the great spirit.” As those of you who walk, climb, bike, ski, run, birdwatch, backpack and otherwise wander here know, it is a great, spirited land.

Preservation, Exploration, and Stewardship, the names of our program areas, are serious words, words with potential and power in them.


Preservation seems obvious: we would like to keep Eastern California a functioning, vital place, not only for humans, but also for all of the other creatures that call our place home, such as bighorn sheep, collared lizards and sage grouse. While the task of preserving this place might seem simple at first, it is becoming more complex as humans develop the earth’s surface. At one time it seemed that drawing lines on maps, delineating National Parks, Wilderness areas, areas for wildlife preserves or of historical concern, would maintain the places that are important to us, with healthy wildlife and great recreation areas, but it is becoming clear that lines on the map don’t do it alone.

There are forces at work that will cause immense and powerful changes. Global climate change is an obvious threat to the integrity of our landscapes. Another force is the growth of human populations in the urban areas of California and Nevada, and the resulting demographic changes and recreational uses of public lands. Wind-born pollution from afar that changes our air quality, or brings chemicals that affect amphibians, is yet another factor. These changes are ultimately unknowable in their direction and magnitude. Humans must have the heart and wisdom to will the perpetuation of wild creatures for them to continue to thrive. Management and planning will be essential to the future of wild creatures. For many of them, benign neglect will not suffice—active efforts by man will be necessary.

Our traditional constituency for wild lands is shrinking, especially as a percentage of our population. The core of our biological region is our wild land. Wilderness requires a committed caring constituency in order to remain protected and be managed appropriately. Last summer my wife Kay and I took a five day backpack trip with friends, in over Piute Pass, down Piute Creek to the John Muir Trail, up into Evolution Valley, over through Darwin Canyon, and out Lamarck Col. A classic backpacking trip, wonderful scenery, wildlife, clear skies, warm days. We saw lots of folks backpacking, and most of them were baby boomers, in their 50’s and 60’s, and white. While our party was not all middle aged, and that was great, the vast majority of those in the backcountry were. As the baby boom group of backpackers gets older, we need replacement wilderness users who care about wild places, to carry on the work of stewarding these places.

California’s demographics are changing and we need not only younger folk, but people of diverse ethnicity and backgrounds. There is lots of competition for the time and energy of the young. Video games, movies, music, motorized recreation, all of the temptations of modern life. These are not bad things, but do not build awareness and appreciation of the natural world and wild places that being quietly outside does. Preservation is not just lines on a map, but the building of constituencies, telling the stories, taking a child for a hike, or backpacking. It is going to meetings, writing letters, using your time and resources to give back to the land we love!


This is the greatest joy. Get out there, go see it. Get your socks dirty, and take someone new with you, take someone young. Most of the 600 plus members of FOI directly experience wild places frequently. If possible this summer introduce someone else to the wonders of the natural world. Inoculate them with the wild. Go walk, bird, backpack, do something with them outdoors. Friends of the Inyo has many field trips, take them on one.


Give something back to the places that you love. Check out our newsletter or website for the many available opportunities to spend time cleaning or restoring a place you cherish. And, of course, take someone new with you!

So where does that leave Friends of the Inyo? There are many groups doing good work both locally and nationally on environmental issues. FOI is the group that is focused on and concerned with the big picture here in Eastern California. We advocate, we explore, we educate, we live here, we are not going anywhere, and we need you. This place needs active stewards who are willing to work, to donate, to give back. Thanks once again to all of you who support FOI with your time, your wallets, and your hearts. Time and money are precious things; thank you for investing your resources in Friends of the Inyo. Thanks for walking the walk for the dwelling place of the great spirit.

-James Wilson, founding member and former board president


James spent and forgot more days working for the protection and preservation of the Eastern Sierra than most of us will ever know. He grew up in the Central Valley working in the agricultural industry–loading trucks, picking fruit and working in peach canneries. James and his wife Kay moved to Bishop, CA in 1977, and raised their daughter Rosanne here. They owned Wilson’s Eastside Sports, an outdoor retailer in Bishop, until the fall of 2012 when they sold it to longtime store general manager Chris Iversen. The store continues to cater to hikers, climbers, backpackers, cross-country skiers and natural history enthusiasts from all over the world. James, a founding member of Friends of the Inyo, was also an active member of many local conservation and civic organizations, including the Eastern Sierra Audubon Society and the Bishop Rotary. He enjoyed chasing birds and the peace of wild places in his spare time. 

James passed away in June of 2015.