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No victory quacks after “Lame Duck” Washington, D.C. Trip

In mid-December of last year, CalWild’s Senior Policy Director, Ryan Henson, flew to Washington, D.C. to advocate for end-of-session opportunities in Congress to pass Senator Alex Padilla’s Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California (PUBLIC) Lands Act and Representative John Garamendi’s and Senator Alex Padilla’s Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act. Alas, both bills failed to pass, but the trip was still very much worthwhile as an effort to build new and sustain existing Washington relationships. 

The PUBLIC Lands Act is a combination of three bills championed in the House of Representatives by Congress members Salud Carbajal, Judy Chu, and Jared Huffman. All three bills passed the House of Representatives in February 2021 on a bipartisan vote. Among other things, the PUBLIC Lands Act will promote restoration on over 729,000 acres of mostly previously logged federal land, protect 625,830‬ acres (over 977 square miles) of public land as wilderness, designate 684.5 miles of streams as wild and scenic rivers, and protect over 165,000 acres in other ways, including a 109,000-acre proposed addition to the existing San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. 

The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act legislation would expand the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument (BSMNM) designated by President Barack Obama in 2015 to include 3,925 acres of adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Lake County currently known as Walker Ridge. Representative Garamendi’s bill would also rename the mountain in Lake and Colusa Counties from “Walker Ridge” to “Molok Luyuk” which translates as Condor Ridge in the Patwin language. The bill would direct the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to complete a management plan (unfinished since 2015) for the BSMNM National Monument, require the BLM and USFS to engage in meaningful consultation with tribes regarding the development and implementation of the Monument management plan, and provide opportunities for BLM and USFS to enter into voluntary agreements with tribes like the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation for the day-to-day management of the National Monument. 

Disappointing outcomes despite the support of Senate Republicans

Due to opposition from Representative Bruce Westerman of Arkansas in the House, the Berryessa bill failed to pass in 2022 despite gaining the support of Senate Republicans. Senator Padilla and Representatives Thompson and Garamendi will reintroduce the bill soon but will repeat their call from last year (made along with the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation) for President Joe Biden to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect Molok Luyuk by expanding the BSMNM.

The PUBLIC Lands Act also failed to pass in 2022. CalWild and our partners will be calling upon Representative Chu to both reintroduce her bill to expand the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument (SGMNM) by 109,000 acres, as well as call upon Pres. Biden to use his authority to enact the enlargement of the SGMNM through the Antiquities Act.

Ryan Henson with USFS Chief Randy Moore

Despite these losses, Ryan’s trip to Capitol Hill included some happy moments, such as meeting with Chief Randy Moore, head of the USFS. Chief Moore oversaw California’s National Forests for 14 years before being nominated as America’s first African-American Chief of the USFS. The agency manages over 20 million acres in California, which is almost 20% of the state. Ryan was pleased to hear from Chief Moore that California’s National Forests are still very much on his mind. CalWild has worked hard to win more resources for certain USFS programs, including advocating for fire as a management tool, so Ryan was gratified to learn about the meaningful progress that’s been made in several of those programs. 

Bringing California into national discussion and pushing forward

Ryan Henson with Congresswoman Judy Chu and staff

Ryan also made the rounds among key leaders with the BLM and other agencies, especially those about to launch important planning efforts for California’s federal lands and waters. Just as a good attorney tries to personalize a client before the jury, CalWild’s goal in Washington meetings is to “bring California” into the national discussion, especially those specific parts of the state directly affected by key federal policy programs, proposals, or plans. Although we prefer to work in D.C. with local partners from California, it’s also important to engage with national organizations on these trips. Over the years, our efforts have been aided immensely by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF) who maintain Washington offices, and have skilled lobbyists on staff. Like CalWild, these organizations work to empower local people to lobby on behalf of the lands and waters they love. As so often before, both Pew and CLF assisted Ryan on the December “lame duck” trip. 

We intend to reestablish our periodic in-person presence in Washington, D.C. in 2023 now that COVID may no longer restrict travel. CalWild staff André Sanchez and Andrea Iniguez will be the next to stride the marble halls of Congress for our team in March.