Mountains and Rivers

Mountains and Rivers:  New Wilderness Proposals in Redwood Chapter

New Wilderness

On Feb. 10, 2020, public lands advocates got the exciting news that the full House of Representatives has voted to pass Rep. Jared Huffman’s Northwest California
Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act.

Before coming to a vote, the bill was consolidated with two other California bills and two from other states to form a larger package, HR 2546, that combined will designate 1.37 million acres of federal lands as wilderness, protecting them from extractive industries and other abusive uses while expanding recreational opportunities, improving fire management, and boosting local economies

“Visitors from all over the world come to California’s second district to explore, recreate, and find solitude on our diverse public lands,” said Huffman. “My bill includes protections for wilderness and rivers, but it’s more than that – we’re creating significant new recreation and tourism opportunities, proactively managing forests for fire resilience and watershed health, and remediating harmful trespass marijuana grow sites that have threatened our public lands. My bill takes a comprehensive approach for everyone in Northwest California who has a stake in the future of our public lands - whether it’s supporting the outdoor
recreation economy, clean water, or healthy forests, it’s critical to take care of these places and ensure a future for the communities that rely on them.”

Now it’s on to the Senate, where Sen. Kamala Harris has consolidated our own Northwest bill with San Gabriel and Central Coast wilderness legislation to form an omnibus bill tentatively titled the “Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California (PUBLIC) Lands Act.”

Late in July 2019, Congressman Jared Huffman introduced HR 6596, the “Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act,” which contains provisions protecting hundreds of thousands of acres in Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte and Trinity counties.

Huffman, who has worked on the bill since being elected to serve District 2 in 2012, said the bill is a “creative blend of old school wilderness protection with very innovative management strategies and I think should be supportable by a broader constituency than if it were a standard wildernesses bill.”

Highlights of the bill include:

  • Protection of 317,000 acres of federal public lands as “wilderness.” Wilderness is the strongest protection available for certain areas of public land available under federal law.
  • Designation of 379 miles of new “wild and scenic rivers” and mandates federal agencies to create management plans for 101 miles of existing wild and scenic rivers providing critical habitat for threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. This would mean there would be no new dams, major water diversions, logging or mining along these waterways.
  • Direction for federal agencies to explore ways to improve motorized and non-motorized recreation trail opportunities, including mountain biking, on national forest and adjacent Bureau of Land Management lands in Del Norte, Humboldt, Trinity, and Mendocino Counties.
  • Restoration of public lands affected by illegal trespass marijuana grows.
  • Authorization of the construction of two public visitor centers in Trinity and Del Norte counties.
  • Conducting a study on the establishment of the “Bigfoot National Recreation Trail” from Crescent City to the southern Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness boundary that will highlight the immense ecological diversity of northwestern California’s ancient forests and other unique landscapes.
  • Restoration of about 730,000 acres of forest to reduce danger of wildfires, which would include creation of roadside shaded fuel breaks and projects to thin overcrowded second-growth plantations.

The bill will not expand federal lands, will not limit existing hunting and fishing rights, will not close any legal roads and trails, and will not affect how private property is accessed and used.

This proposed legislation has sprung from deep historical roots. When Congressman Mike Thompson represented this area ten years and more ago, he championed the “Northern California Wild Heritage Wilderness Act,” (the“Wilderness Bill” for short to most of us.) This legislation passed in 2006 with the ardent support of the Sierra Club, giving permanent protection to 275,000 acres of spectacular wildlands in five Redwood Chapter counties from Del Norte to Napa. At the time, some other areas with equally valid wilderness attributes had to be excluded for various land-management reasons, and all the potential wilderness in Trinity County was left out because it was outside Congressman Thompson’s district.

Fast forward to the 2010 census that led to Congressional redistricting. When the smoke cleared and the ink dried on the map, Trinity County with its handful of voters had been added to the new “coastal” Congressional district now held by Rep. Huffman, who like Rep. Thompson is renowned for his passion for public lands protection. At the same time some tracts omitted from the 2006 bill had become suitable for wilderness status, for example after completion of restoration projects requiring heavy equipment.

The new opportunity for action was too promising to pass up.  For the past five years a broadly based stakeholder group has been working quietly to define eligible area boundaries, identify outstanding natural features, and hold quiet discussions with neighboring private landowners and local tribes. The campaign is called Northwest California Mountains and Rivers, or just Mountains and Rivers for short.

 Please visit the the Mountains and Rivers website, to see detailed maps and learn more about what is being proposed and how you can get involved.

Redwood Chapter will continue to monitor the bill as it evolves. We’re also looking forward to leading Outings into these diverse areas to give Club members and others an opportunity to see how special these wild places are.