On September 23rd, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the annual spending bill for the Department of Defense that included a package of land and water protection bills that will greatly benefit California and the planet. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a must-pass annual funding measure for the Pentagon. Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado and other key members of the House successfully worked to add the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act (called “PAW+”) to this year’s NDAA.
The PAW+ Amendment will benefit several states including California, where it will protect and restore over 1.5 million acres of public lands and more than 684 miles of rivers and streams in the San Gabriel Mountains, Rim of the Valley corridor in Los Angeles County, Central Coast, and northwest California. Among other things, the bill will:
- Protect the few remaining ancient trees, promote the restoration of mature forest, and help reduce the threat severe wildfire to communities on over 870,000 acres (some 1,359 square-miles) of mostly previously logged federal land in Trinity and Humboldt counties
- Encourage the cleanup of areas on federal land throughout the state impacted by illegal marijuana growing
- Authorize the construction of new public lands visitors’ centers in Trinity and Del Norte counties
- Help establish hundreds of miles of new trails, including new long-distance trails such as the proposed Condor Trail in the Los Padres National Forest near Ventura and Santa Barbara and the proposed Bigfoot Trail in northwest California that will connect Redwood National Park to other wild lands
- Protect over 625,00 acres (over 976 square-miles) of public land as wilderness in Del Norte, Trinity, Humboldt, Mendocino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles counties. Wilderness is the highest degree of protection available for federal public lands under federal law
- Protect 684.5 miles of streams as wild and scenic rivers in these same counties. Wild and scenic river status is the strongest protection available to streams under federal law
- Protect over 165,000 acres (over 257 square-miles) in other ways, including as additions to the existing San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and a new national recreation area in Los Angeles County, and as scenic areas among other designations
- Protect wildlife migration pathways in Los Angeles County
- Ensure that Native Americans can continue to use the lands included in the bill for cultural purposes
These benefits for California were originally proposed as four separate bills:
- Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act by Representative Jared Huffman
- Central Coast Heritage Protection Act by Representative Salud Carbajal
- San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act by Representative Judy Chu
- Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act by Representative Adam Schiff
The former three bills were combined into a larger omnibus bill that passed the House of Representatives in February 2021 on a bipartisan vote. Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein have since introduced companion legislation in the Senate: the Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California (PUBLIC) Lands Act (S. 1459) and the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act. Senator Padilla is currently trying to get a hearing for S. 1459 in the Senate. The Rim of the Valley bill has already received a hearing in that body and now must get a final vote.
The vote to add Representative Diana DeGette’s amendment to the NDAA was 222-200, with most Californians voting for or against it along party lines. The one California Republican exception to the mostly partisan vote was Representative Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita who broke ranks and voted in favor.
Look for an alert from us soon urging people to thank all those who voted yes on this important protection bill.
Unfortunately, a separate measure meant to protect millions of acres of the California desert sponsored by Representative Raul Ruiz did not make the final cut of amendments to the NDAA. He plans to continue to work with Senator Feinstein in the Senate to pass the desert protection measure.