San Francisco Chronicle: Padilla proposes increased protection for 1 million acres of California wilderness

By Kurtis Alexander

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., announced Monday that he is introducing legislation to increase protection of more than 1 million acres of public lands in California, mirroring part of a wilderness bill approved by the House earlier this year.

The proposal would preserve redwood forests along the north coast, create a trail stretching from Monterey County to Los Angeles and expand the popular San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in Southern California, among other things.

The conservation push comes as the new administration in Washington encourages protection of the nation’s wildlands. President Biden has been a champion of the 30 by 30 campaign, an effort to safeguard 30% of U.S. land and waters by 2030.

“It is incumbent upon us to be thoughtful stewards of these special places so that our communities can enjoy them and benefit from America’s natural resources for generations to come,” Padilla said in a statement.

In February, the House passed the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, which expands land preservation and recreation opportunities across several states. Padilla’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, is limited to California. It’s dubbed the Public Lands Act, short for Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California.

The legislation would designate more than 300,000 acres of public lands in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties as “wilderness,” the most restrictive classification of federal land. It would create a 400-mile long Condor National Scenic Trail in and around the Los Padres National Forest. It would increase the size of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument by 109,000 acres and establish a national recreation area along the San Gabriel Valley foothills.

The proposal is likely to face at least some pushback in the Senate, notably from Republicans wary of limits the bill would put on commercial activities, such as logging, mining and ranching. The protections that are proposed, like in the House bill, pertain almost entirely to federal land and do not, for the most part, affect private holdings.

If the legislation is approved by the Senate, a big if given the Democrats’ razor-thin majority, how the Senate bill and House bill are reconciled remains to be seen. Pieces of both could be included in a larger bill, perhaps on infrastructure or the budget.

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