Protect California land that is desert in all but name

Two years ago, Rep. Jared Huffman tried unsuccessfully to convince Congress to better protect some Northern California land. He’s back now, but the job doesn’t get any easier, especially when Republicans control the House of Representatives. However, the cause is not hopeless.

Huffman, D-San Rafael, represents California’s 2nd congressional district, which stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border along the coast. His constituents are not without federal lands on which to recreate and experience nature. The district is home to Redwood National Park, Six Rivers National Forest, Trinity National Forest, Point Reyes National Seashore, and more. That’s not to mention the many state parks, preserves, and forests along the entire North Shore.

Those lands are protected from development based on their designations, but the highest level of federal protection is rare. The best protection federal lands can receive is designation as “wildlands.” Only about 2% of the land in the lower forty-eight states have it.

Huffman’s bill, the Northwest California Working Forest, Recreation and Wildlife Act, would extend wildlife protections to approximately 260,000 acres in Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties. It would also protect 480 miles of river with the similar Wild and Scenic designation for waterways.

The bill is one of three targeting different parts of California. They are tied up as part of a larger Protecting California’s Unique and Beautiful Landscapes through Investment Act that Senator Alex Padilla is guiding in the Senate.

When environmentalists and legislators talk about protecting public lands, some users of those lands get defensive. Hunters, fishermen and ATV drivers are concerned that the new rules will limit their access to land that belongs to them as well as to any other American. They can relax in this case. The bill does not limit hunting and fishing or close vehicle access to legal roads or trails (illegal ones are another matter).

The bill will also not expand federal properties. The goal is to protect what already belongs to the public, not to acquire private land.

Other elements of the bill would encourage recreation and visitors. I would support trail improvements, build visitor centers, and restore forests. Experts would study the feasibility of creating a Bigfoot National Recreation Trail through the Klamath Mountains for hiking and an Elk Camp Ridge National Trail that would be open to motorized recreation.

There is also a security component. Wildfires do not recognize the boundaries of national forests when the winds push them towards communities. Therefore, the bill directs coordinated fire management and response, as well as restoration strategies that include increased logging and remediation of illegal marijuana grow sites.

These changes could revitalize local economies near protected lands through increased tourism, logging, and restoration work that will take years.

Huffman has balanced his bill with elements for both Democrats (environmental stewardship and clean waterways) and Republicans (timber and economic support for rural areas). That should be an easy pass in both houses of Congress, but it wasn’t the last time, so there’s no guarantee this time.

The next step is to build a coalition of sponsors. Members of the Northern California congressional delegation should join Huffman and then the entire California team.

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