Push underway to improve protections for more than 280,000 acres of public land in the Tri-Counties
Proposal would add wilderness designation to parts of the Carrizo Plain National Monument, and the Los Padres National Forest. But, past efforts failed.
It’s an ambitious proposal to bring new, and expanded protections to hundreds of thousands of acres of public land in the Tri-Counties.
"The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act is really about expanding protections for certain landscapes in the Los Padres National Forest, and the Carrizo Plain National Monument," said Bryant Baker.
He's the Director of Conservation & Research with the conservation group Los Padres ForestWatch.
This week, Democratic Congressman Salud Carbajal of Santa Barbara introduced the legislation. It would designate more than 280,000 acres of land in the region as wilderness. Five new wilderness areas would be created, and eight existing ones would be expanding. A wilderness designation is the highest level of protection you can give to public land.
Linda Castro is the California Wilderness Coalition’s Assistant Policy Director. "The concept is to protect some remaining wildland, and waters," said Castro.
It would ban new gas and oil drilling in the wilderness areas. The proposal would also add wild and scenic river protections for nearly 160 miles of rivers and creeks in the Los Padres National Forest.
The idea isn’t a new one. In fact, versions of the legislation have been introduced for around a decade, going back to when Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps of Santa Barbara represented much of the region. But, it's never garnered enough support to make it through both houses of Congress.
Baker said they’ve built a strong coalition involving everyone from community leaders, to ranchers to support the latest version of the bill. He’s hoping after all these years, the concept finally has enough steam to make it over the finish line.
Castro said they are also trying to be clear about what the legislation won’t impact, to try to reduce opposition. She said it won't closed legally opened roads to motorized vehicles, or affect the use of private lands.
Existing livestock grazing will be able to continue, but new grazing could be limited. And, Castro said in the event of wildfires, firefighters will have full access to take whatever action they need to battle blazes.
The legislation is intended to be part of a package of bills providing new protections for some of California’s public lands. As of Thursday, the companion U.S. Senate version of the bill hadn't been introduced yet.