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Big California Public Lands Package Introduced in Congress

A new public-lands package would create a new South Fork Trinity-Mad River Special Restoration Area. (Jeff Morris/Pew Charitable Trusts)
A new public-lands package would create a new South Fork Trinity-Mad River Special Restoration Area. (Jeff Morris/Pew Charitable Trusts)
April 11, 2019

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – More than a million acres of public lands would be protected if three new bills just introduced in Congress become law.

The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act would designate 245,000 acres of wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument. It would safeguard rivers and create the new Condor National Scenic Trail.

San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon says protecting open space is important to the fight against climate change.

"One of the main reasons the federal administration wants to open up public lands is to extract fossil fuels, and I think we need to do everything in our power to keep that from happening,” says Harmon. “In addition, open space and public lands will continue to grow in terms of their impact on carbon-sequestration efforts, because we are going to need to take carbon out of the atmosphere."

Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein introduced the three-bill package on Wednesday, and Representatives Jared Huffman, Salud Carbajal and Judy Chu are fronting the House versions. Opponents say that current protections are sufficient and that public lands should be managed with the country's energy needs in mind.

A second bill called the Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act would establish the South Fork Trinity-Mad River Special Restoration Area, and add 262,000 acres of wilderness plus hundreds of miles of wild and scenic rivers.

Gregg Foster, executive director of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission, says the pristine environment is a major economic driver in the area.

"We can attract tourism, which has a direct benefit,” says Foster. “But it also creates an environment that is attractive to folks to want to come and live in this area. One of the challenges for rural areas like ours is to create a high quality of life and keep talent in our communities. And I think this will help with that."

The third bill, the San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act would add more than 30,000 acres to the Yerba Buena, San Gabriel and Sheep Mountain wilderness areas in Southern California.

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

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA