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Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Protect Central CA Wilderness

The Carrizo Plain National Monument is part of a proposed new wilderness area in Central California. (Alison Sheehey)
The Carrizo Plain National Monument is part of a proposed new wilderness area in Central California. (Alison Sheehey)
October 17, 2017

LAKE PIRU, Calif. – Outdoor enthusiasts, local businesses and conservation groups are praising a new bill introduced Monday in Congress to give extra protection to 245,000 acres of public land in Central California.

Sen. Kamala Harris and Representative Salud Carbajal introduced the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act. It would link up existing islands of wilderness within the Los Padres National Forest, which runs from Lake Piru north of Los Angeles up to the Monterey area.

Coralie McMillan, whose family members are sixth-generation ranchers in Shandon, says open space is a precious commodity that must be preserved.

"My husband and I are the keepers of the ranch for our children," she says. "And it's the same for the public lands - that right now we are the keepers so then we can pass it on to our children and they will to theirs."

The bill also would set aside an additional 159 miles of wild and scenic rivers and establish the 400-mile Condor National Recreational Trail, which runs the length of the Los Padres forest. The Carrizo Plain National Monument lies within the area to be given official wilderness protection.

The Trump administration is studying whether to shrink the boundaries of the monument in order to pave the way for development.

Christopher Danch, the founder of the Condor Trail Association, says the Los Padres has almost no publicly funded trail work. Most of the maintenance on 1,200 miles of trails is currently done by nonprofits.

"We're hoping that the notoriety of this trail can bring in the kinds of funding that is necessary and eventually be able to help in terms of the management of the corridor which the trail moves through," he explains.

Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Vitali Mostovoj, a member of the Vet Voice Foundation, says veterans have a special reason for wanting public lands to remain pristine.

"We protected our country from overseas," he says. "We really love this country and want to protect our natural resources so they get passed on to future generations. Veterans coming back who have problems with post-traumatic stress syndrome need a place where they can have peace and solitude to recover."

Hans Cole is the director of environmental campaigns and advocacy at Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and gear company based in Ventura. He says the company wouldn't exist if people didn't have access to public land.

"This is really a place that we depend on for the recreation access, for the value it brings to our watershed here, and we also value the incredible biodiversity and natural beauty of the area," Cole stresses.

A new report from the Center for American Progress found that almost six percent of all consumer spending in California goes to the outdoor recreation sector, and that the average resident lives only one and a half minutes away from an outdoor recreation spot.

Matthew Sayles with the California Wilderness Coalition says, “The Los Padres is a huge generator of tourism dollars and secondary funds that pick up all the businesses that are on the outskirts of this vast amount of public land.”

He adds that the protections will better protect habitat corridors for wildlife, saying “It’s more of a linear attempt at protecting wild lands within the core center of the Los Padres National Forest, so that animals have the ability to range through further and further north within the forest without hitting development outside the wilderness boundaries.”

A similar bill was introduced in 2014 and 2015 but congressional leaders have never brought it up for a vote.

Suzanne Potter/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - CA