by Steve Evans, Wild Rivers Director
AB 2975, the bill proposing a state safety net for federal wild and scenic rivers in California, passed the California Senate on August 9, 2018 and is on its way to Governor Brown for his signature. Authored by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), the bill provides state protection for a federal river in California if Congress or President Trump acts to remove a river from the federal system or weakens the protection provided by federal law.
Governor Brown can sign the bill, choose to allow the bill become law without his signature, or veto the bill. It is crucial that conservationists email Governor TODAY to urge him to sign AB 2975 so that our federal wild and scenic rivers in California are protected against the roll-backs in environmental protection being pushed by the Trump administration and Congress.
AB 2975 is aimed directly at past attempts by the House of Representatives to remove federal protection from a segment of the Merced Wild River to allow for expansion of McClure Reservoir. The proposed reservoir expansion would flood a segment of the river popular for whitewater boating, fishing, and hiking. The threatened segment also provides habitat for the rare Merced River salamander and is in part of the Merced River Wilderness Study Area. Given the anti-environmental policies of the current Congress and the Trump administrations, conservationists fear new threats to already federally protected rivers and other wild places in California.
AB 2975 requires the California Natural Resources Agency Secretary to hold a public meeting if Congress or President Trump were to eliminate or weaken protection for any of the 750 miles of federal wild and scenic rivers in California in existence as of Jan. 1, 2018. The Secretary can then choose to administratively add the federal river to the state system. The Secretary’s authority to add a river to the state system and any protection afforded a river under the proposed statute sunsets as of Dec. 31, 2025. The California Legislature may then consider permanently adding any of these rivers to the state system through legislation.
The proposed state safety net applies to segments of some of California’s most popular white water rivers on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, including the Tuolumne, Merced, Kings, and Kern. Other federal rivers afforded a state safety net by AB 2975, include the Black Butte River, Middle Fork Feather River, Owens River Headwaters, Cottonwood Creek, Amargosa River, Big Sur River, Sisquoc River, Sespe Creek, Piru Creek, North Fork San Jacinto River and Fuller Mill Creek, Bautista Creek, and Palm Canyon Creek. AB 2975 does not apply to rivers that currently enjoy just state or joint federal-state protection.