Despite the concerning results of the national election, residents of Northern California have good reason to celebrate! Actions taken in early January by the Obama administration will protect important natural resources in the region as well as public health and jobs.
California Coastal National Monument
President Obama used the Antiquities Act to expand the California Coastal Monument just before he left office. Senator Barbara Boxer and Representatives Lois Capps (D-24-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-18-CA) and JaredHuffman (D-2-CA) had introduced legislation to protect these areas. Communities all along the coast engaged in a variety of discussions about the legislation and gave feedback at a public meeting in 2016. But in a continuing refrain, Congress did not follow our legislators’ lead. Secretary Jewell and President Obama decided to act before it was too late.
Some people have wondered why this is necessary since the lands are, for the most part, already managed by the federal government. Incorporation of these lands into the National Monument will allow them to be managed with a focus on protection and public access for future generations while taking local citizen concerns into account. This designation makes commercial and resource exploitation of the lands unlikely. The Bureau of Land Management will coordinate with state, local, and tribal governments as part of the planning process using the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as a tool for civic engagement.
In the fall, the Northcoast Environmental Center had written to Congressman Huffman, Senator Boxer, and President Obama to request support of this legislation. Julie Fulkerson, former mayor of the City of Trinidad, supported the action and said, “Our children and future generations depend on us to have the wisdom to plan ahead and provide protections for our fragile environment and coastal habitat.”
“These public lands are certainly breathtaking, and preserving their beauty for all to enjoy continues California’s legacy of coastal access and recreation for everyone,” Surfrider Foundation’s California Policy Manager and local resident Jennifer Savage said. “At a time when California’s coast is being developed as never before and adaptation to climate change grows ever more imperative, the natural character of these coastal lands means they’re likely to be more resilient.”
New on-shore additions make this National Monument more accessible to the public and add ecological richness to the offshore sea stacks and ledges that protect important marine life. Protection of these areas not only increases opportunities for greatly enhanced public education but also offers protection of fisheries and recreation, a local economic driver.
“Trinidad Head is a sacred and spiritual spot for the Yurok people and most of our members are of Yurok descent,” Trinidad Rancheria representative Shirley Laos said. “It’s part of the spiritual landscape of our people.” Speaking in support of the addition of Waluplh, Wiyot Tribal Chief, Ted Hernandez said, “The Wiyots will always stay true to protecting what the Creator and our ancestors left us. This is not just for us, but for all our neighbors and friends who call this area home.”
Here are the areas from north to south which will be added to the spectacular California Coast National Monument:
- Trinidad Head, a promontory jutting off the coast of Humboldt County. A historic lighthouse sits atop sheer cliffs overlooking crashing waves and rugged sea stacks.
- Waluplh-Lighthouse Ranch, near Loleta, has spectacular panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, Eel River Delta, and the south spit of Humboldt Bay.
- Thirteen miles south, the Lost Coast Headlands include rolling hills and dramatically eroding bluffs, punctuated by freshwater creeks, ponds, and pockets of forest.
- Cotoni-Coast Dairies in Santa Cruz County extends from the steep slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains to marine terraces overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Approximately 5,800 acres, it encompasses ancient archaeological sites, riparian and wetland habitats, coastal prairie grasslands, and woodlands that include stands of coast redwood.
- Piedras Blancas in San Luis Obispo County provides visitors the opportunity to tour a historic lighthouse overlooking the site’s namesake white coastal rocks, and observe a colony of massive northern elephant seals loafing in the sun.
- Orange County Rocks and Islands, just off the coast of Orange County, treat visitors to dramatic crashing waves, unique geology, and an abundance of marine-dependent wildlife including pelicans and seals.
Smith River Headwaters Protections
Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) secured a twenty-year ban on new mining projects in an ecologically and economically critical region in Southwest Oregon.
The areas protected include the watershed of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River in Oregon, the watershed of Rough and Ready Creek (an eligible Wild and Scenic River and tributary to the National Wild and Scenic Illinois and Rogue rivers), as well as 17 miles of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River.
These rivers are known for their wild salmon and steelhead populations, and provide vital economic, recreational and natural resources to the area. Recreationists seeking to explore the Kalmiopsis region bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to Curry and Josephine counties in Oregon.
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument
Also protected from mining would be the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River—two prized native salmon and steelhead rivers that flow directly into the Pacific Ocean along the spectacular Wild Rivers Coast of Southern Oregon and Northern California.
“The people of Del Norte County, the Elk Valley and Tolowa Dee-ni’ tribes, and thousands of other Californians and Oregonians who cherish the Smith River have united in working to secure two decades of protection for this spectacular landscape and its wildlife for future generations,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-CA. “I applaud the Obama Administration for taking this action today and thank my colleagues for their hard work and support.”
The NEC and local conservation organizations have fought repeated battles to stop nickel mining in the area for over 40 years. In recent years, foreign mining companies have sought to strip mine for nickel in the area, putting at risk the fishing, recreation and clean water supply for area residents and communities. Now citizens have an opportuntiy to pass permanent protections for the area which is directly adjacent to the botanically important Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area in southern Oregon.
Northern California joined Southern Oregon in celebration when Senator Boxer (D-CA) and Congressman Huffman (D-CA) announced jointly with Senators Wyden, Merkley (D-OR) and Congressman DeFazio (D-OR) that 48,000 acres of biologically rich lands had been added to the existing Cascades—Siskiyou National Monument.
The addition of these lands will assure protection of perhaps the most biologically rich environments in the west, if not the nation. The place where the Cascade, Siskiyou and Klamath mountain ranges come together has long been studied and celebrated as the origin of many vegetation and wildlife communities that need protection. Scientists and local leaders, including the City Councils of Ashland and Talent in Oregon, strongly supported protection for additional lands. The original monument was set aside in 2000 to protect the region’s distinctive flora and fauna, old growth forests and the native redband trout population in Jenny Creek.
These lands have suffered some of the worst of our western legacy of intensive logging. Most of the lands lie within the checkerboard of what are referred to as the “O&C Lands”—lands where a hundred years ago railroad interests were given a checkerboard of public land mixed with federal lands managed mostly by the U.S. Forest Service. Driving by the lands to the east of Interstate 5 or flying over them north of Iron Gate Reservoir in California reveal the checkerboard pattern clearly, with small thickets of trees and shrub that compete among hot, eroded lands of prior repeated clear-cuts. In contrast, many of the public U.S. Forest Service lands appear in somewhat better shape due to public oversight, better management practices, harbor shaded waterways and green trees. Though the private lands located within the National Monument will continue to be private, this layer of National Monument protection will allow the public and scientific community to have more robust involvement in future planning.
Conservation organizations and commercial timber companies have argued for very different outcomes, but this action in the last days of President Obama’s administration assures progress in local conservation efforts as well as protecting and expanding recreation opportunities.