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Bills to Protect CA Public Lands Get Votes Today in D.C.

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The South Fork of the Trinity River is one of the places that would get extra protections from a public lands bill now before Congress. (Jeff Morris/The Pew Charitable Trusts)
The South Fork of the Trinity River is one of the places that would get extra protections from a public lands bill now before Congress. (Jeff Morris/The Pew Charitable Trusts)
 By Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA - Producer, Contact
November 20, 2019

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Three bills that would protect 1 million acres of public land in California get votes today in Congress. The House Committee on Natural Resources is expected to approve all three, setting them up for a full House vote.

Amanda Barragar from Trinity County, an environmental advocate with the group Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment, said the Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act can help protect northern California from catastrophic wildfires.

"This bill promotes forest restoration and fuels reduction work," she said, "especially along roads, where most fires start, and near communities."

Another bill, the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, would extend wilderness protections to almost 250,000 acres, create two scenic areas and designate 159 miles of Wild and Scenic rivers. The third bill primarily would expand San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in the foothills near Los Angeles.

Opponents say that new designations would be unnecessary impediments to commercial development.

Josh Andujo of the group Nature For All is a member of the Gabrielino Tongva Tribe, which supports extra protections for their ancestral homeland.

"Our territory stretched from Malibu into Newport Beach, the Channel Islands into San Bernardino," Andujo said. "For us, we still hold our ceremonies up there. My family holds a ceremony that goes back 250 years, with our water ceremony."

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Vitali Mostovoj said he's concerned about the high suicide rate among veterans and first responders. He said he thinks access to more pristine public lands can help them cope.

"Getting people out in nature is very important," he said. "Going just to a campground by itself is not enough; you need to be out in the open, where you're alone, to be with nature as a whole. That is why our wilderness areas are so important to preserve."

The bills have strong bipartisan support and haven't attracted any organized opposition, although they do have some detractors among lawmakers who believe the government should privatize more public land.

Details of the Central Coast bill are online here, the Northwest California bill is here, and the San Gabriel bill is here.

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Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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