Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, this week announced a proposed legislative package aimed at protecting more than 1 million acres of public lands in Los Angeles, including 30,000 acres in the San Gabriel Mountain range, along with lands in the Northwest California and the Central Coast.
The Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California, or PUBLIC, Lands Act would designate an additional 600,000 acres of California land as wilderness, as well as more than 853 miles of California streams as new wild and scenic rivers in California, including 45 miles in the San Gabriel area.
One of three bills within the package, the San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act, would expand the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument by more than 109,000 acres to include part of the western Angeles National Forest. It would also create a National Recreation Area along the San Gabriel Valley foothills and the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel River
That bill aims to increase equitable access to public lands for the 17 million people in the Los Angeles County area, which Padilla noted is one of the most park-poor, densely populated and polluted areas in the nation.
“Our public lands are one of our state’s greatest gifts — from the San Gabriel Mountains, to the Central Coast, and through Northwestern California’s forests and rivers. It is incumbent upon us to be thoughtful stewards of these special places so that our communities can enjoy them and
benefit from America’s natural resources for generations to come,” Padilla said during a news conference on Monday. “And we must do so in a way that reverses racial and economic disparities in access to nature and parks. Some of the protected land in this bill serves densely populated areas of the state that don’t have equal access to nature, which will help rebalance this historic disparity in access to untouched wilderness.”
The package was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and was led by Rep. Judy Chu, who said “the Los Angeles area is one of the most park poor areas of the country, despite the presence of the gorgeous rivers, forests, and mountains of the San Gabriels right in our backyard.
“House passage was the first step, and now I am grateful to Senator Padilla for working to advance the San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act through the Senate and to President Biden’s desk,” Chu said.
The Senate bills were co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and would help conserve 30% of California lands and waters by 2030, according to Padilla’s office.
“From lush forests to majestic deserts to scenic coasts, California’s iconic landscapes have few rivals. In light of climate change, our growing population and challenges to the flora and fauna, protecting these special places is even more important. I’m pleased to partner with Senator Padilla on this effort and look forward to working with our colleagues to pass this bill,” Feinstein said.
Wilderness Society California Deputy Director Daniel Rossman described the proposed legislation as “great news for Pasadenans.”
“We treasure the nature that we have so close to us. So in the heart of the San Gabriels, this would expand the national monument that was designated by President Obama in 2014 to include the foothills that are closest to our home,”he said. “And all of that National Forest land — about 109,000 acres — would be added to the national monument that, quite frankly, was left off during the 2014 designation. And I know something that the local community really has wanted to see for a long time.”
“That level of protection and management approach is something that will enhance the area for perpetuity,” according to Rossman. “Then we’ll also establish the most valuable protections of wilderness for the last remaining wild places in the landscape, and also our rivers, with wild and scenic river designations, like the East Fort San Gabriel river — a very popular place that many people go on the weekends.”
“I also think it’ll be exciting that we will be at the sort of western end of this national recreation area,” he added. “The [U.S.] Park Service is really emphasizing real opportunities to collaborate on connected trails or recreation opportunities for our backyard.”
The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act would protect about 262,000 acres of public lands by designating them as wilderness, as well as 379 miles of rivers. It would also restore forest and fish habitat and aid the cleanup of lands and waters that have been impacted by trespass marijuana grows.
According to Padilla’s office, that bill would also help wildfire resiliency in the northwest region by requiring federal agencies to develop coordinated fire management plans with input from communities.
The final bill, the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, would designate 288,000 acres of public lands in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument as wilderness, along with 159 miles of streams as wild and scenic rivers. It would also establish a Condor National Scenic Trail for 400 miles from Los Angeles to Monterey County, enhancing equitable access to the Los Padres National Forest.
“The Central Coast is home to some of the most beautiful public lands in America. It’s up to us to be good stewards of the environment and the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act will conserve over 250,000 acres of public land for future generations to inherit and enjoy,” Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, who is leading the Central Coast bill in the House of Representatives. “It’s crucial that we act now to permanently protect the great outdoors, which provide invaluable local watersheds and opportunities for outdoor recreation that support our health and our economy. I thank Senator Padilla and Senator Feinstein for their leadership in this important fight to preserve our public lands.”