Pictured: The wildflower bloom at Carrizo Plain National Monument. Photo by Kimberly Rivers.

by Alison Huyett

As an avid runner and mountain biker, I can’t believe how lucky I am to live in Ventura. In less than 30 minutes, I can drive from my house to Los Padres National Forest and the Topa Topa Mountains and access beautiful trails and breathtaking views. On my morning runs I’ve spotted many different kinds of wildlife (including a bobcat!), and I’m grateful we can all experience wilderness and protected wildlife habitat so close to town.

The coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing wildfire crisis here in the Los Padres and throughout the state remind me, and so many of us, of how much we rely on our public lands and rivers — and the importance of protecting them into the future. 

That’s why I support the PUBLIC Lands Act (S.3288) — a Senate bill that, if passed, would protect more than 1 million acres of public lands and well over 500 miles of rivers from Southern to Northwestern California, including on the Central Coast. This legislation, which has already passed the House, will safeguard vital wildlife habitat, increase recreation opportunities and benefit California’s economy. 

The PUBLIC Lands Act will support essential habitat for wildlife up and down the state. In Southern California, for example, the bill will protect a wildlife corridor for mountain lions, bobcats and golden eagles. The bill will safeguard Northwest California’s precious rivers, teeming with salmon and steelhead, from new dams. And on our own Central Coast, the PUBLIC Lands Act includes protections for Los Padres National Forest, which is home to over 450 different wildlife species, including the endangered California condor.

Congress can expand recreation opportunities on public lands in our own backyard. Right now, locals and visitors can experience Los Padres and the Carrizo Plain National Monument by hiking, camping, bird watching, horseback riding, kayaking, hunting, fishing and mountain biking. The PUBLIC Lands Act adds to this incredible array of activities by designating the approximately 400-mile long Condor Trail as a National Scenic Trail, which connects the northern and southern areas of Los Padres with a single hiking route. 

Residents in Northwest and Southern California will also see increased opportunities to recreate outside under this legislation. In Northwest California the bill will preserve local trail access and expand areas for wilderness hiking, fishing, mountain biking and whitewater boating. And in Southern California, where park access is limited compared to the rest of the state, the PUBLIC Lands Act will designate over 30,000 acres as protected wilderness, and 45 miles of wild and scenic rivers throughout the San Gabriel Mountains.

By expanding protections for California’s public lands and rivers, Congress can also make a smart investment in our state and local economies. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, in 2019 the outdoor recreation industry produced 691,000 jobs and $92 billion in consumer spending in California. Local communities benefit from public lands protection, too. Visitors spend $25 million annually on trips to Los Padres National Forest alone. 

Protections for Central Coast public lands are particularly important right now, as Los Padres National Forest is currently facing logging threats. The U.S. Forest Service has proposed a new project that would allow clearing of rare, old-growth chaparral and logging of large trees (some of which are hundreds of years old). The proposed logging site spans 755 acres and includes popular recreation areas like Pine Mountain. The PUBLIC Lands Act would ensure these public lands remain protected and accessible into the future. 

We are lucky to have many champions for public lands representing our state in Washington, D.C. I appreciate the work of Senators Harris and Feinstein and Representatives Carbajal, Chu, Huffman and Schiff to protect public lands up and down the state. Yet there is still more work to do. 

California voters value our public lands, and we urge our leaders to continue prioritizing protections for these special places.

This year, Congress can pass legislation to ensure that locals and visitors can continue to experience California’s special public lands, rivers and wildlife. Join me in asking our elected officials to protect beautiful places close to home for generations to come.

Alison Huyett is Patagonia’s Environmental Campaigns and Engagement manager and lives in Ventura.