The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, which will protect forests, shrub and grasslands, and wild rivers on California’s Central Coast. The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) last year.
The measure, which is supported by more than 500 civic groups and leaders, landowners and inholders, businesses, elected officials, schools, farmers and ranchers, and recreation leaders, passed as part of a larger package of public lands conservation bills.
Many of the public lands protected with this legislation provide access to green space near developed communities, and are more accessible than national parks in the region.
It is the product of years of discussion and negotiation involving business leaders, conservationists, elected officials, ranchers, mountain bikers, and other stakeholders interested in the use and well-being of these iconic lands.
“This is an historic opportunity to protect special places on the Central Coast, secure the first wilderness protection on the Central Coast in 20 years, and leave a legacy for our children and grandchildren,” said San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon.
“Permanent protection of Central Coast public lands is key to our region’s tourism industry, to protecting endangered wildlife, and to preserving vital cultural and ecological resources,” Harmon said.
Last year, Sen. Kamala Harris also introduced the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act in the Senate. Harris is expected to re-introduce a single piece of companion legislation that will protect public lands in the Central Coast, as well as in the northwest and San Gabriels areas.
“This is a major milestone for the House to pass this bill,” said Harmon. “Now, we turn to urging Sen. Harris to move this important legislation forward in the Senate.”
The act protects special places in the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument on California’s Central Coast. Los Padres National Forest, California’s second largest national forest, rises from the Pacific Ocean to over 8,800 feet in elevation and provides habitat for 468 species of wildlife, including the endangered California condor and the southern steelhead.
The Carrizo Plain National Monument is home to irreplaceable Native American cultural sites and an incredible diversity of plant and animal life, including threatened and endangered species such as the majestic Tule elk and Pronghorn antelope.
Local community members and visitors to the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument enjoy outstanding recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, bird watching, horseback riding, kayaking, hunting, fishing, and mountain biking.
The legislation would designate the approximately 400-mile long Condor Trail as a National Scenic Trail, connecting the northern and southern portions of the Los Padres National Forest by a single hiking route.
“Not too long ago, I went hiking for the first time and was stunned by the beautiful Central Coast scenery,” said Alexis DeHorta, a student at Pioneer Valley High School in Santa Maria. “I recently founded an Animal Awareness Club at my school and my peers and I work together to protect local wildlife.
“The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act helps ensure important wildlife protections, and that we can all continue enjoying the wilderness.”
“The wild public lands and rivers of the Central Coast are critically important to veterans and active duty service members,” said Vitali Mostovoj, Lt. Col. USAF (ret.). “As veterans, we want to continue serving our great nation by protecting our magnificent public lands for future generations, as veterans beginning with President Grant have done.
“These lands also provide a place of peace and solitude to help veterans with the transition back to civilian life. I am thankful that the House of Representatives has passed this important bill and urge the Senate to follow suit.”
The Central Coast is a top tourist destination because of the region’s iconic scenery and world-class restaurants, wineries and breweries, which yield clear benefits for the local economy.
Increased tourism and outdoor recreation opportunities through public lands protections will provide an additional economic boost to local communities, particularly in the area surrounding the Los Padres National Forest. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, visitors already spend $25 million annually on trips to the National Forest.
“Our public lands and wilderness are our nation’s greatest treasures,” said Rose Macario, president/CEO of Patagonia. “Beloved by Californians of all stripes, our public lands support a nearly $92 billion outdoors industry that makes our state healthier, happier, and more prosperous — and they’re also vital to the fight against climate change.
“We are grateful for the passage of the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act in the House and to see nearly 300,000 acres of land protected as wilderness, as well as hundreds of miles of rivers protected as wild and scenic.
“As business headquartered on the Central Coast, these lands and rivers enhance the quality of life that draws so many of us to live, work and do business in this region.”
If signed into law, the act will protect more than 245,000 acres of wilderness and 400 miles of the Condor National Recreation Trail. It will also create two scenic areas encompassing 34,500 acres and safeguard 159 miles of wild and scenic rivers.
The Central Coast Wild Heritage Campaign comprises more than 500 civic groups and leaders, landowners and inholders, businesses, elected officials, schools, farmers, ranchers, and recreation leaders who support Carbajal’s and Harris’ efforts. Learn more at centralcoastwild.org.