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Northern California has spectacular public lands, but over the years forests and watersheds have been devastated by extensive logging, massive wildfires and illegal trespass marijuana grows.

So Congressman Jared Huffman is drafting legislation that would help turn things around. It’s called the Northern California Conservation and Recreation Act — focused on restoring damaged areas and further protecting federal lands, all while promoting outdoor recreation.

In this LoCO Video Report we hear from Huffman and take you to his first public meeting in a series, where citizens get a chance to weigh in on the new bill.

Huffman says, “We’re trying to look at all the different ways we can improve the health of these public lands, improve the access and enjoyment to them where it makes sense, and just to become better stewards and protectors over the long term for these places.”

But what’s great, is that many of people truly do care about the land and its well being. That’s why Monday night’s meeting at the Wharfinger Building in Eureka was a packed house.

Pat Higgins is the managing director of the Eel River Recovery Project and came to support Huffman’s efforts.

“We’re ready for recreation and ecotourism to be part of our local economy and we’re ready to work at preserving nature into the economy, so there’s a self perpetuation in that,” he says. “People come here for the rivers and the beauty because we steward it well, then we’ll continue to do so, because it’s part of how we make a living.”

The bill focuses on various objectives. First, restoration and economic development. Projects include restoring 700,000 acres of the South Fork Trinity River and Mad River watersheds, clean-up of illegal marijuana grow sites, an inter-agency visitor center in Trinity County and better agency coordination on wildfire management.

Then, enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities by designating special management areas and exploring trail opportunities. Even the possible construction of the Bigfoot National Recreation Trail from southern Trinity County to Oregon.

“I love the idea of the Bigfoot trail and I think we need the southern extent of it along the east side of the Eel,” said Higgins. “And the recovery project is very interested in maintaining biodiversity and clean water, and wilderness is a great way to do that.”

The final aspect of the bill is conservation. Lands would be designated as “wilderness” and rivers as “wild and scenic,” giving protection to old growth forests and endangered fish habitat.

Huffman adds, “This is for areas where we can expand recreation and wilderness protection, where coho salmon recovery can take a big leap forward with some proper management and on the ground action, and protect communities from wildfires. Or better coordinate fire response strategies in wilderness areas for example.”

And although there was a wide variety of concerns, majority supported the bill and offered suggestions.

Stephen Sungnome Madrone is a professor of forestry and watershed management at HSU and the executive director for the Mattole Salmon Group.

He says, “In order to restore salmon habitat in watersheds we’ve got to work on both public lands and private lands. And this bill is going to go a long way in trying to assist with public lands restoration and protection but we need to take it further and get some incentives via stewardship, tax incentives, and permit incentives, to encourage the private land owner to invest their own resources into helping take care of the watershed.” 

As for funding all these projects, Huffman says, “that piece is going to need some work,” and “there will need to be partnerships.”

Citizens also encouraged Huffman to not only ensure funding for the Forest Service but also the California Conservation Corps and the Bureau of Land Management.

Huffman will finalize the bill over the next few weeks and will introduce it within the next few months. He encourages you to send him feedback.