The Protecting American Wilderness Act passed the House today. Next up: the Senate!

The Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act (H.R. 803) package of bills, is championed in California by Reps. Carbajal, Chu, Huffman, and Schiff, and will protect one million acres of public land and more than 500 miles of rivers in the San Gabriel Mountains, the Santa Monica Mountains, the Central Coast and Northwest California, in addition to public lands and rivers in Arizona, Colorado, and Washington. It’s a key step forward to ensuring equitable access to public lands and achieving California’s and the nation’s goals to conserve 30% of its lands and waters by 2030.

As a result of an amendment, the bill now includes the Outdoors for All Act (championed by Rep. Barragán), which codifies the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program. The ORLP program provides grants for outdoor recreational opportunities in urban and low-income cities nationwide. Together, these efforts are key to addressing the climate crisis, ensuring equitable access to public lands and supporting public health and economic recovery in California. 

This legislation is also critical to achieving the goals outlined in President Biden’s and Governor Newsom’s recent Executive Orders to protect at least 30% of our land and waters by 2030 to address the climate and extinction crisis and build resilience. The White House supports the bill and stated it is consistent with these climate goals.

Last year, similar legislation to protect California public lands and rivers passed the House twice. Then-Senator Kamala Harris and Senator Dianne Feinstein also previously championed similar efforts in the Senate. Advocates are urging the Senate to move quickly to pass these protections this year. 

The bill includes protections for the following special wild places in California:

  • Protection of public lands and rivers in Northwest California, including in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties. This includes protecting about 317,000 acres of public lands as wilderness, designating 379 miles of new wild and scenic rivers, and requiring management plans for an additional 101 miles of existing wild and scenic rivers to help ensure these watersheds continue to safeguard endangered salmon and steelhead populations, recreational opportunities, and drinking water for downstream communities.
  • Protection of special places in the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument, located in the Central Coast region. This includes approximately 245,000 acres of Wilderness, two scenic areas encompassing 34,882 acres, and about 159 miles of Wild and Scenic rivers. This would be the first wilderness protection on the Central Coast in twenty years, and is particularly important as many of these areas are currently under threat from extractive industries. The measure also includes the designation of a 400 mile-long trail, the Condor National Scenic Trail, which would connect the northern and southern portion of the Los Padres National Forest by a single hiking route.
  • In the Los Angeles area, the bill would expand the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument by over 109,000 acres to include the western Angeles National Forest. The bill would also designate over 30,000 acres as protected Wilderness and over 45 miles of Wild and Scenic rivers throughout the San Gabriel range. Finally, the bill would also establish a National Recreation Area in the San Gabriel Valley.
  • Also in the Los Angeles area, the bill would add more than 191,000 acres of the Rim of the Valley Corridor to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The Rim of the Valley stretches from the Simi Hills and Santa Susanas to the Verdugos and on to the San Gabriel Mountains. This is a vital wildlife corridor for animals such as mountain lions, bobcats, and golden eagles. 

Below are quotes from leaders marking this moment and urging the Senate to follow suit by passing legislation to protect these public lands and rivers:

Representative Judy Chu (CA-27)

“The San Gabriel Mountains, with their beautiful rivers, forests, and mountain trails so close to the density of Los Angeles, are a true gift to the millions who have little to no access to parks or green space. That is why I want to make sure as many people as possible have the chance to visit, both today and for years in the future. That is what today’s vote will help accomplish. As our state grows and our climate changes, its untouched wild lands and habitats could disappear. The Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, which represents one of the most important steps for public lands protection in our state’s history, would ensure that hundreds of thousands of acres of wild lands and habitats in Southern, Central, and Northern California are protected for generations to come.”

Shanna Edberg, Director of Conservation Programs, Hispanic Access Foundation

“Passing the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act in the House is a necessary step forward to addressing inequitable access to the outdoors in California. Latinos and other communities of color are almost twice as likely to live somewhere that is nature deprived than white communities, meaning there are far fewer parks, streams, beaches, and other natural places nearby. This leaves our communities with a legacy of poorer health and COVID-19 severity, higher stress levels, worse educational outcomes, lack of recreation and business opportunities and greater vulnerability to extreme heat and flooding. The Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act is crucial for bringing nature, and therefore equity and justice, closer to our underserved communities. We hope the Senate will pass these important protections this year.”

Rue Mapp, Founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro:

“Our state is rich with natural treasures but not all communities can access and enjoy these places.That’s why I’m so excited that the House passed the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act. Outdoor access is a fundamental right for us all. I look forward to working with the Senate to help protect our lands, wildlife, and waterways.”

Mary Creasman, CEO, California League of Conservation Voters:
“This bill will protect more than a million acres of public lands and well over 500 miles of rivers in California, help address climate change, and make the outdoors more accessible to all. That’s a win for all of us and an important investment in climate action, especially as we work to meet the Biden administration’s goal of protecting 30% of our lands and waters by 2030. We are grateful for the leadership of our Representatives in the House and we are eager for this effort to move forward in the Senate.”

Kate Hoit, Vet Voice Foundation’s California State Director and OIF veteran:
“Throughout California veterans share a strong connection to our public lands. Today we celebrate the House passing four historic public lands bills. This legislation affirms the importance of outdoor access for the nearly two million veterans living in California.”

Hans Cole, Head of Environmental Activism, Patagonia

“We’ve worked to protect lands and waters across the country for decades, and we are excited to learn the House of Representatives has passed legislation to permanently protect public lands and rivers throughout our home state of California. Americans of all political backgrounds enjoy the outdoor recreation opportunities provided by public lands and waters, and protecting California’s natural environment is an important part of how we will slow the climate crisis. We urge the Senate to follow the House’s lead and approve this legislation.”

Gregg Foster, Executive Director of Redwood Regional Economic Development Commission:

“Local economies in Northwest California benefit when people come to visit our spectacular, world-renowned public lands and rivers. I greatly appreciate and am excited to again celebrate House passage of this legislation that will protect and restore some of the region’s most cherished landscapes.”

Roberto Morales, Senior Organizing Representative, Sierra Club, and Chair of the Nature for All Coalition:

“The Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act ensures that public lands in California and across the country are conserved and that everyone, especially underserved communities, can enjoy the outdoors. Protecting nature and increasing access to the outdoors provides immense benefits to our health, economy and environment – especially at a time we need it most. We applaud the hard work of California champions – Representatives Chu, Huffman, Carbajal, and Schiff – to advance this legislation.”

Katie Hawkins, California Program Manager, Outdoor Alliance:

“Outdoor Alliance is thrilled that the House of Representatives has taken action to pass the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act. Protecting California public lands and waters is a win-win at a time when we need it. This package will improve outdoor recreation on some of California’s most incredible landscapes, support local economies, and advance the state’s goal of conserving 30% of its lands and waters by 2030. We look forward to championing these bills as they move on to the Senate.”

Dennis Arguelles, Senior Program Manager, National Parks Conservation Association:

“Los Angeles is the second most populous metropolitan region of the country, yet has less open space per capita than all other large cities on the west coast. Expanding the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area represents an opportunity to better protect and manage some of the region’s last open spaces, critical wildlife habitat, and historic places. By facilitating partnerships between the National Park Service and local communities, it will help connect youth and families to these resources and ensure future generations have access to the region’s natural and cultural treasures.”

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