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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 17th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 51 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 51

Carbajal reintroduces Central Coast Heritage Protection Act

By Kasey Bubnash

Congressman Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) reintroduced the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act on Feb. 11, a bill that would prohibit development and oil drilling on 250,000 acres of land in Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument. 

The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act aims to designate 250,000 acres of public land in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument as wilderness, safeguarding it from future development.

If approved, the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act would designate hundreds of thousands of acres of Central Coast land as wilderness, which Carbajal’s office said in a Feb. 11 press release is the “highest form of federal protection” for public lands. The bill would create four new wilderness areas in the Carrizo Plain National Monument and expand nine existing wilderness areas in Los Padres National Forest, preventing any future development in those areas, including new roads, structures, and oil and gas drilling. It would also establish a 400-mile long Condor National Recreation Trail stretching from Los Angeles to Monterey County and designate Condor Ridge and Black Mountain as new scenic areas. 

“Nature is priceless, but it is too often taken for granted,” Carbajal wrote in a statement to the Sun. “Pragmatic policies like the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act make a real difference in the fight against climate change and preserves the plant and animal life that call these public lands home. The bill will help to sustain the ecological future of 468 species of wildlife and more than 1,200 plant species and is crucial in the fight against climate change.”

The Heritage Protection Act has been in the works for years and has taken many forms, according to Rebecca August, director of advocacy for Los Padres ForestWatch, an organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and promoting sustainable access throughout Los Padres National Forest. 

“We’d be delighted if this passes,” August told the Sun. “There’s always more protection that can happen. But we’ve been working on these wilderness protections for 12 years now, this same bill.” 

August said that ForestWatch is one of many environmental organizations and bipartisan business owners, elected officials, landowners, farmers, ranchers, wineries, and recreationalists on the Central Coast that have been pushing for the protections outlined in the Heritage Protection Act for more than a decade. 

The bill was originally introduced in 2012 by one of Carbajal’s predecessors, U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Santa Barbara), as the Los Padres Conservation and Recreation Act, August said. Over the years it was reworked into something closer to its current form and reintroduced by former U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara), and then by Carbajal and former California Sen. Kamala Harris in 2017. 

While it passed the House during the last session of Congress, the Senate never considered the bill and it died as a result at the beginning of 2021, when a new session started. August said she has high hopes that it will make its way back through the House quickly and onto the Senate floor for further consideration. 

There aren’t many truly wild places left in California, August said, and areas near and in the Carrizo Plain National Monument and Los Padres have been under threat of further development and oil drilling in the recent past. This would protect these areas and habitats from those activities, she said, while also still allowing many forms of recreational activities. 

“So bringing more recreation and more of that tourism to the area will be nothing but good for the economy,” she said. 

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