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When the going gets tough: The 2016 election and California’s federal public lands

by Ryan Henson, Senior Policy Director

There is no way to sugarcoat it: The 2016 election, at least at the federal level, was an utter catastrophe for public land conservation both in California and across the nation. For eight years the most radical anti-environmental extremists in Congress have been checked either in the Senate or by President Obama’s veto pen. Now, those checks have been swept away.

We can almost certainly expect a number of concerted attacks against our nation’s most important conservation and environmental laws in the years to come. We can expect these rollbacks at the national level to be matched here in California by efforts to build roads into our last unprotected wild places, to log our last ancient forests, to despoil our healthiest streams and perhaps even to sell some federal lands to private interests. This is not hyperbole. In fact, it is probably an inevitability given Congressional voting records, the public statements of candidates and President-elect Trump’s cabinet appointments thus far.

But all is not lost. Conservationists can maintain the enormous gains we have made in protecting federal public lands since the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 by:

  • Scrutinizing every piece of legislation proposed in Congress for threats to California’s federal public lands;
  • Tracking the activities of the Departments of Interior and Agriculture under the Trump administration for the same purpose; and
  • Monitoring how pressure from above affects the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service here in California, especially if this pressure results in an increase in logging, mining, road construction, oil drilling and other development efforts on the lands managed by these agencies.

Once we detect these threats, we will notify a network of public land defenders that can help us fight to protect our last wild places. That is where you come in.

CalWild will be working with partners to develop a rapid response network of people who are willing to serve as public land defenders. We are looking for people willing to lobby politicians, meet with federal agencies, join a rally or simply spread the word. Stay tuned for more information on the development of this network.

Numerous polls show that a majority of Americans support protecting wilderness, wildlife and clean water. With your help, we can turn this often latent support into a tidal wave of opposition against any politician who chooses to attack California’s national forests, Bureau of Land Management lands or national parks.

The Good News in CA

Noted champions for public land protection have been reelected in the House of Representatives, including California Representatives Julia Brownley, John Garamendi, Jared Huffman, Raul Ruiz and Mike Thompson. We also look forward to working with newly elected Congressmen Salud Carbajal who has promised to continue retiring Representative Lois Capps’ legacy of protecting our glorious Central Coast — the land of the condor — from the encroachments of the oil industry.

While we are losing legendary wilderness champion Senator Barbara Boxer to retirement, we are hopeful that new Senator Kamala Harris will continue Ms. Boxer’s outstanding work. In her career, Senator Boxer protected over 1,031,000 acres of wilderness and 100 miles of streams as wild and scenic rivers, in addition to the creation or expansion of several national monuments and other protected areas.

Wilderness used to be a bipartisan affair, and it can be again. That is especially true in California, where 49 Golden State Republicans have sponsored wilderness bills between 1956 and 2016. As is often pointed out, President Reagan protected more acres as wilderness than any other occupant of the White House in history. We hope that that kind of conservation bipartisanship is another way in which California can lead the country.

Be a part of that by becoming a CalWild member today. We rely heavily on our members to strengthen the advocacy campaigns and community organizing necessary to win for wilderness.