A massive public lands bill approved Feb. 12 by the House of Representatives will preserve more than 416,000 acres of wildlands in three Southern California counties, adding protection for such sensitive species as Nelson’s Bighorn Sheep, the California Condor and the Santa Ana Sucker fish.
By a 231-183 vote, (six Republicans voted for the bill), the House passed the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act, an omnibus bill that includes more than 1.3 million acres of wilderness and 1,000 miles of wild and scenic rivers in California, Washington and Colorado. To become law, it needs Senate approval and must be signed by President Donald Trump.
The act incorporates two local measures:
• The San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act, authored by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, an effort that started in 2002 by then Rep. Hilda Solis. Though part of the larger bill, this is the first time the act received a vote of the full House.
Under this provision, the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument established in 2014 will be expanded by 109,143 acres, going from 346,177 acres to 455,320 acres to include the Arroyo Seco. Chu’s bill would add 31,069 acres of wilderness, including an expansion of Sheep Mountain Wilderness near Wrightwood to help the threatened breed, and 8,417 acres of the western Angeles National Forest near Ventura County as a wilderness area to protect the California Condor. In addition, 45.5 miles of wild and scenic rivers would be added, mostly in the Angeles, including the East Fork of the San Gabriel where the sucker fish are struggling to survive.
Also, Chu’s provision creates a 51,107-acre San Gabriel Mountains National Recreation Area, or NRA, a swath of non-forest land that hugs the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers from the mountains through El Monte and Pico Rivera, which also run east-west parallel to the 60 Freeway from Whittier to Rowland Heights along the Puente-Chino Hills.
“Being declared a NRA, we will have a line item in the budget and that means, monies for future trails, greater signage, better hiking opportunities and maybe even a national visitor’s area,” Chu said Wednesday during an interview.
•The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, authored by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, more than doubles the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area by adding 191,000 acres in a ring of wild lands surrounding the San Fernando Valley. The long-established SMMNRA — home to trails and an isolated population of mountain lions — would now include wildlife corridors between the Santa Monica Mountains in the west and the San Gabriel Mountains in the east.
The addition includes a narrow stretch along the Los Angeles River and its tributary, the Arroyo Seco in west Pasadena; the Verdugo Mountains above Glendale; the San Rafael Hills, a portion of Chantry Flat hiking area above Sierra Madre, Millard Canyon, the Simi Hills and the Santa Susana and Conejo mountains in Ventura County.
The overall bill includes 40,000 acres of wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest in Ventura County.
“If we don’t take action, these wildlife corridors will disappear. Mountain lions, bears, incredible species of birds and other wildlife such as bobcats and deer will disappear,” said Schiff, during a Wednesday interview.
Schiff’s Rim of the Valley portion doesn’t just protect wild parts of the mountains surrounding Los Angeles. It includes urban parks and historical sites, dipping southeast to envelop Griffith Park, Hansen Dam Recreation Area, Sepulveda Basin, Ernest Debs Regional Park, El Pueblo De Los Angeles Historical Monument in downtown Los Angeles and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
The National Park Service’s role would be expanded to serve the “Rim of the Valley Unit.”
“The Rim of the Valley expansion isn’t just about open space. We are talking about historical resources and urban parks,” said Dennis Arguelles, Los Angeles program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit that advocates for the National Park system.
The NPS had opposed the measure in 2018 because it didn’t have the budget nor staff to handle more land. In August 2018, the agency reported it had a $11.6 billion deferred maintenance backlog and needed to focus on critical needs within the 409 areas it manages.
Schiff re-introduced the measure separately for the third time in March. Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote a companion measure in the Senate.
During the House vote Wednesday, many Republicans said the bill was a waste of time because it would not pass the Senate and Trump already said he would not support it.
“This bill is destined to fail. We are wasting our time with messaging bills that have no future,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
Schiff said the original bill gained bipartisan support and hopes the larger wildlands bill passed Wednesday gains more Republican support in the Senate. Sen Kamala Harris will introduce a bill incorporating the California provisions, Chu said.
“I’ve also been fighting we make sure we expand funding for the National Park Service,” said Schiff.