UPDATE, WITH MORE LOCALS: Press release from the Northwest Mountains and Rivers Campaign
Businesses, community leaders, and conservationists from across the region today applauded the introduction of legislation by Rep. Jared Huffman and Sen. Kamala Harris that would protect and restore some of Northwest California’s most unique lands and waters, improve community safety from fire, and help local communities capitalize on the region’s reputation as an outstanding destination for fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoor recreation opportunities.
The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act would conserve approximately 262,000 acres as wilderness, designate 379 miles of new wild and scenic rivers, and create a special restoration area of more than 700,000 acres. The bill was crafted after years of input from business leaders, conservationists, anglers, mountain bikers, fire management professionals, and other stakeholders interested in the enjoyment and well-being of these iconic lands.
Visitors come to this region from around the globe to fish for steelhead and salmon, float the rivers, hike and mountain bike the backcountry trails, and find solitude in primeval redwood groves. The legislation will support the regional economy and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities by spurring new infrastructure and upgrades to old roads, trails and camping facilities, and by improving forest health and resilience to wildfire.
“As a local business owner, I am glad to see the introduction of the Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act,” said Aaron Ostrom, co-owner of Pacific Outfitters. “My father started our business in 1968 and my brother and I have continued the family tradition of helping people get the gear they need to explore, camp, fish, and hunt across our region. These beautiful places support all of our local businesses, since people come to the area to explore and shop while they are here.”
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generates $92 billion in consumer spending and 691,000 direct jobs in California. Residents of the state’s 2nd congressional district spend $1.93 billion annually on outdoor recreation, and 134 outdoor companies are based here.
“The Trinity River is one of those special steelhead fisheries where you can have multiple fish days. It’s kind of unique in that way,” said fishing guide Leslie Ajari. “Rivers like this can provide a really good quality of life. We have to think in bigger terms about how to keep watersheds like the Trinity productive as habitat and as places where fishing helps support local economies. I’m very pleased that Rep. Huffman’s and Sen. Harris’s bill will do this for the Trinity and other important streams in one of the last great steelhead strongholds in North America.”
The legislation would establish the Elk Camp Ridge Recreation Trail for off-highway vehicles and mountain bikes, and the Horse Mountain Special Management Area. It would also call for developing a Regional Trails Plan and studying the feasibility of establishing The Bigfoot National Recreation Trail, which would highlight the world-renowned botanical and biological diversity found in this region..
“I started backpacking in the 1970s after returning from the Vietnam War,” said U.S. Navy veteran Steve Robinson. “Like many veterans, the adjustment back to civilian life was difficult. Backpacking was and still is my therapy. I believe we all need to spend more time in parks and wilderness, but public land is especially important for those of us with PTSD or other forms of trauma. I am very grateful to Rep. Huffman and Sen. Harris for recognizing the importance of public lands for all of us to heal and connect with our wild lands.”
“We are enthusiastic about the expanded mountain biking opportunities that this legislation would create, including trails in Del Norte County and a Trinity Lake Trail,” said Tom Phillips, Chair of the Redwood Coast Mountain Bike Association. “It also would authorize the Horse Mountain Special Management Area and a Regional Trail Study to create and expand even more mountain biking trails in the future.”
The legislation will help cleanup public lands and waters impacted by trespass marijuana grows by creating a local, state, federal and tribal partnership to coordinate activities and provide resources and expertise.
“Pristine public forests are currently experiencing an emerging new threat from the destructive ramifications associated with illegal cultivation of cannabis,” said Mourad Gabriel, Ph.d, Executive Director, Integral Ecology Research Center. “Rep. Huffman’s and Sen. Harris’s continued forward vision is necessary for those invested in this topic to gain a foothold and start to effectively address this misuse of our public lands.”
The measure would also help improve community fire safety by creating a network of roadside shaded fuel breaks in the South Fork Trinity-Mad River Restoration Area, and requiring the US Forest Service and the BLM to work with local residents to create a new coordinated fire management plan for all of the designated wilderness areas in the region.
The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act was built from the ground up to protect the unique public lands and waters of Northwest California, enhance outdoor recreation opportunities, help safeguard local residents and communities from catastrophic wildfire, restore vital fish and wildlife habitat, and boost the regional tourist and recreation economy.
Public TV series This American Land segment on local efforts to protect Northwest California https://youtu.be/FClqYjm6bhY?
Also see Northwest California Mountains and Rivers support website: https://mountainsandrivers.
- Huffman Introduces ‘Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act’ To Restore and Protect Local Land (2018)
Press release from the Office of Rep. Jared Huffman:
After incorporating community input and ideas from across northwest California, Rep. Huffman (D-San Rafael) introduced his legislation today to guard communities against wildfires, provide local jobs, restore lands impaired by illegal marijuana growing operations, and permanently protect many of northwest California’s spectacular wild places and pristine streams. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is introducing companion legislation in the Senate today.
Huffman’s Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act includes several innovative new programs to increase fire resilience, restore forests and fish habitat, stimulate local economies through forest stewardship programs, and enhance recreational opportunities including through trails and visitor centers. The legislation would not limit hunting or fishing, close any legally open roads or trails to vehicles, or affect access to or the use of private property. The wilderness designations and Wild and Scenic River designations do not impact existing rights and would not limit access.
“I am grateful to the countless constituents and stakeholders who have helped me improve the Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act, a carefully developed bill to support communities and protect unique public lands for future generations,” said Rep. Huffman. “In California’s second district, we live among some of the most majestic public lands in the world. My legislation takes key steps to preserve these lands and manage them to their full potential, ensure fire resilience, support healthy wildlife, and grow the rural economy. With this bill, we are also engaging in a larger conversation on making our forests healthier, while ensuring that both ecosystems and rural economies are resilient.”
California is home to some of the nation’s most scenic wild spaces and boasts the nation’s largest outdoor economy,” said Sen. Harris. “However, under this administration, California’s beautiful public lands and its outdoor economy are under direct threat. Restoring and expanding our public lands means protecting Americans’ right to clean air and clean water and providing everybody the opportunity to explore and enjoy the outdoors. That’s why I am proud to partner with Rep. Huffman to protect and restore the mountains, forests, and rivers of Northwest California for generations to come.”
“We are grateful to Representative Huffman and Senator Harris that this legislation includes the clean-up of trespass marijuana grows on our public lands,” said Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal, “Not only are these trespass grows a public safety issue, but cleaning them up is a tremendous benefit to down-stream communities who are impacted by toxic runoff of this illegal activity. Eradicating and cleaning up these trespass grows on federally managed lands helps all of us.”
“Our region benefits economically when people come to visit our spectacular, world-renowned public lands and rivers,” said Gregg Foster, Executive Director, Redwood Regional Economic Development Commission (RREDC). “We appreciate this positive impact and are grateful for Rep. Huffman’s and Sen. Harris’ prioritization of a multi-faceted approach to protecting and restoring our public lands and hence directly supporting our local economy.”
“We’re grateful that Rep. Huffman and Sen.Harris recognize that protecting our public lands and rivers is vital for sustaining the famous steelhead and salmon runs of this region and our fishing-based economy,” said Herb and Patty Burton, Owners, Trinity Fly Shop. “Fishing our beautiful lakes and rivers is a way of life for us - the backbone of our 37-year-long family business. This legislation will benefit the South Fork of the Trinity River and all of us who guide and fish the iconic Trinity and its tributaries.”
During this process, Rep. Huffman consulted with dozens of community leaders, tourism organizations, outdoor recreation groups, restoration specialists, tribes, county supervisors, conservation groups, forestry experts, fisheries scientists, fire ecologists, the timber industry, and other business owners.
Rep. Huffman held four public meetings on the legislative proposal in Eureka, Crescent City, Weaverville, and Ukiah and has met with constituents both in California and in Washington D.C. about the bill.
Interested individuals can explore maps of these proposals, see a list of frequently asked questions, and access a one-page summary of the bill here.
Rep. Huffman’s bill is cosponsored by California Representatives Rep. Carbajal and Rep. Chu, who are each introducing bills today to enhance California’s public lands and which will also be introduced by Senator Harris in the Senate.
Specifically, the Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act would:
Restore forests and watersheds and increase fire resilience:
- Designate a new “South Fork Trinity-Mad River Restoration Area” covering 730,000 acres of the South Fork Trinity River, Mad River, and North Fork Eel watersheds in Trinity and Humboldt counties, where restoration projects will be developed collaboratively and implemented through stewardship contracts. A careful fuels reduction program of individual tree removal, including shaded fuel breaks, within the Restoration Area will reduce the danger of unnaturally severe fires and restore the ecological health of previously logged forests. This will decrease fire danger along roads where most human-caused fires occur and will improve forest diversity. Proceeds generated from these projects will be returned to fund work in the Restoration Area.
- Establish a partnership of federal, state, and local entities to clean up and restore federal public lands in northwestern California degraded by illegal trespass marijuana grows. Illegal marijuana growing on public lands, which can include unlawful pesticide and fertilizer use, has catastrophic impacts on wildlife and water quality and poses serious threats to public safety.
- Authorize old-growth redwoods restoration in Redwood National and State Parks through partnerships between the Department of Interior and state and local stakeholders. Ancient old-growth redwood forests provide carbon storage, clean air and water, are the ancestral home of several tribes, and bring millions of visitors to California every year.
- Require federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to cooperate and coordinate when managing fires in northwestern California’s wilderness areas. Landscapes that are managed by multiple federal agencies, such as the Trinity Alps Wilderness, require a coordinated approach to fire.
Expand Recreation Opportunities:
- Direct federal agencies to work collaboratively with each other, local communities, and other interested parties to assess trail improvement needs in national forests in Del Norte, Humboldt, Trinity, and Mendocino counties. This could offer a blueprint for increasing access to trails for hikers, equestrians, off-road enthusiasts, and others throughout the region. Direct a study, and if feasible, authorize construction of mountain biking routes in Del Norte County.
- Designate the Elk Camp Ridge Recreation Trail and study the possibility of establishing the Trinity Lake Trail and the Bigfoot National Recreation Trail. The Bigfoot National Recreation trail will highlight the immense ecological diversity of Northwest California’s ancient conifer forests and other unique landscapes from southern Trinity County to Crescent City.
- Designate the Horse Mountain Special Management Area, which would enhance the recreational and scenic values of the recreation area while conserving plants, wildlife, and other natural resource values.
- Authorize the construction of interagency visitor centers in Weaverville in Trinity County and Crescent City in Del Norte County to support recreation and inform visitors about opportunities in nearby public lands.
Conserve Ecologically Significant Areas:
- Permanently protect roughly 260,000 acres of federal public lands by expanding nine existing wilderness areas and establishing eight new ones. Wilderness designation prohibits logging, mining, the construction of new roads and other development while allowing recreational activities such as camping, hunting, fishing, and horseback riding. The appropriate management of fire, including fire-fighting with bulldozers and aircraft, can continue in these wilderness areas to protect public safety. Wilderness designation only applies to federal public lands. Existing, legal landowner use and road access will not be impacted.
- Designate 379 miles of new Wild and Scenic Rivers and mandate federal agencies to create management plans for 101 miles of existing Wild and Scenic Rivers. This will protect the region’s purest and wildest remaining rivers from the construction of new dams or major new water diversions. Protecting streams and watersheds safeguards habitat for endangered salmon and steelhead populations and conserves vital sources of clean water for drinking, fishing, and recreation. Wild and Scenic Rivers will not impair existing private property rights or existing water rights, and will not impair federal and state fire agencies’ ability to do whatever is necessary to protect life and property.
- Establish the Sanhedrin Conservation Management Area, where the U.S. Forest Service would focus on conserving, protecting, and enhancing late-successional forest structure, oak woodlands, and grasslands.
Huffman’s legislation incorporated several changes following his public meetings and call for feedback, including:
- The addition of law enforcement from federal land management agencies, the National Guard Counter Drug Program, and scientific experts to be represented in the remediation partnership to address illegal trespass grows;
- In Trinity County, the removal of Bonanza King and eastern Trinity Alps additions from earlier wilderness proposals;
- In Del Norte County, the removal of Ship Mountain and Blue Creek from earlier wilderness proposals;
- The removal of all wilderness boundaries 200 feet away from private timber parcels, in response to landowner concerns regarding California Forest Practice Rules;
- Modifications of wilderness to address landowner and recreation concerns.