Ventura County residents undoubtedly appreciate the region’s natural assets. This election season, local voters have been asked to renew their commitment via local measures to help preserve agricultural and open space. This effort comes after residents of the county and most cities passed 20-year-long initiatives in the 1990s. In various cities, land conservancy members work tirelessly with landowners to maintain a precious natural landscape that we too often see get gobbled up in development. And now, the U.S. Congress is weighing legislation, the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, that would continue along the same path of preservation, but this time for public lands in the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument.
While the legislation would encompass 245,500 acres of wilderness and 159 miles of wild and scenic rivers in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument from Monterey to Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, locally, we would see protection for the last remaining section of the Sespe Creek, White Ledge Peak in the Ojai Valley, sections of Piru Creek; and it would create additions to the Chumash Wilderness and Sespe Wilderness, and the Condor Trail National Recreation Trail, plus more. One may wonder, though, why now? And is the Los Padres National Forest really being threatened? The answers are multilayered.
First, the bill’s authors — U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, — have announced that they will not run again and that 2016 will conclude their tenures as legislators. Surely, there will be environmental advocates to take their places, but picking up this particular endeavor, should it not pass before Congress breaks for the holidays, is uncertain. Supporting Boxer and Capps right now is critical. Second, the sense of urgency. Even though the average person may not be seeing massive residential developments taking over the forest, the issue of protection lies in other land uses. For instance, oil exploration.
On Oct. 11, the Center for Biological Diversity, Los Padres ForestWatch and Defenders of Wildlife filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other federal agencies over invalid and outdated Endangered Species Act approvals on a 2005 U.S. Forest Service plan that allowed expanded oil and gas development throughout the Los Padres National Forest. The lawsuit is an effort to stop the further industrialization of public land, which has a string of serious environmental impacts, from climate pollution to harming endangered species, including steelhead trout and the California condor; plus, it would threaten to pollute water supplies. Though the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act wouldn’t stop oil exploration on public land that already has oil leases, it would protect and preserve lands without such leases, indefinitely, from any future threat.
With area voters’ commitment to conservation and preservation of natural resources, showing support for this legislation should be an easy decision. Remaining complacent, though, is too often our default attitude toward important issues. We encourage readers to show their support for this bill and its passage this year by going to http://centralcoastwild.com/, clicking on “Get Involved,” which will direct readers to a form that will be sent to members of Congress. Boxer and Capps both also have forms on their websites where one can show support.
We cannot let pass such an opportunity for future preservation.