Bill Introduced to Establish NorCal Wilderness, Help Prevent Mega-fires

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The South Fork of the Trinity River is part of an area where selective forest thinning would be allowed under a new bill in Congress. Photo Credit: Jeff Morris/Pew Charitable Trusts

Suzanne Potter
California News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A new bill in the U.S. House would add to the Golden State’s protected wilderness and promote tourism.

It also would authorize thinning forests to help prevent large forest fires.

The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act, introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman, would establish a 729,000-acre South Fork Trinity, Mad River Special Restoration Area, where crews would thin individual trees to reduce fuel for wildfires.

Ryan Henson, policy director of the California Wilderness Coalition, or CalWild, says the bill would also create a commission working to restore sites scarred by illegal cannabis grows.

“They just take the processed marijuana and their weapons and they leave all their garbage, even all their tools, and they’ve often ditched creeks and diverted creeks,” he states. “And there’s literally thousands of sites on our public land in northwest California alone.”

The bill also would add wilderness protection to 313,000 acres of federal public land in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties.

It would encourage creation of new trails to improve public access, build two new visitor centers, and designate 379 miles of wild and scenic rivers at headwaters that support fishing.

Opponents argue the government should be freeing up more public land for commercial purposes.

But Gregg Foster, executive director of the Redwood Regions Economic Development Commission, supports the bill. He says it would be good for the growing tourism economy.

“We’ll actually see improvements in trails and designations so that the public can get access to these wilderness areas, which are really unique,” he states. “And so for our tourism industry, that’s something that we can really market going forward.”

Kendall Smith, a former Mendocino County supervisor, says the bill takes a balanced approach to land management, and calls it a win-win.

“By bringing together all of the various constituencies in the district, the pristine places will be able to be maintained, and it’ll help pull together problem solving on the ground in the various communities where these public lands are,” she points out.

The bill also would establish the Horse Mountain Special Management Area in a popular spot for snow play, hiking and mountain biking. And it would direct a study for a possible new Bigfoot National Recreation Trail to highlight the ancient forests in and around Trinity County.

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

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