Big Wilderness Protection Bill Passes U.S. House, Heads to Senate

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
The South Fork Trinity River is one of many places that would receive greater protections under a new wilderness bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Photo Credit: Jeff Morris/Pew Environment Group

SAN GABRIEL MOUNTAINS, Calif. — A massive public-lands bill, now headed to the U.S. Senate, would better protect more than three million acres of public land, including one million acres in California.

The Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act combines eight pieces of legislation, including four that cover the Golden State.

Belinda Faustinos, executive director of the nonprofit Nature for All, said bills like the San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act will make the wilderness experience much more accessible to families.

“The U.S. Forest Service has managed the San Gabriel Mountains for purposes of water supply, which is critically important,” Faustinos pointed out. “However, there was very little attention paid to how it could be managed as a recreational resource.”

In addition, the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act would benefit the Los Padres National Forest, and the Carrizo Plain National Monument and would designate a 400-mile National Scenic Trail from Los Angeles to Big Sur.

The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act would protect more than 300,000 acres, encourage wildfire prevention and boost the outdoor economy. But opponents argue the changes could hamper jobs in logging, oil and gas development and mineral extraction.

Kate Hoit, California state director for the Vet Voice Foundation, supports the bills, adding public lands have played a pivotal role in helping veterans recover from the stress of deployments.

“There’s 1.8 million living veterans in California right now,” Hoit explained. “And the ability to access these public lands has made it easier to transition back to civilian life – whether that’s reconnecting with family and friends, or hunting, fishing, hiking and finding time, and peace and solitude, in the outdoors.”

A fourth bill, the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, would add 191,000 acres to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Los Angeles.

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

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