Despite the political bluster we see and hear in the media these days, there’s an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats in California to come together over an issue that should matter to us all – protecting the great outdoors.
After all, right here in our own backyards are many of the most spectacular places in our country – Yosemite, Sequoia, and Joshua Tree National Parks, Lake Tahoe, the redwoods country, Los Padres National Forest, and many more treasures.
These places—and many other wonderful parks and forests throughout our state and country—are protected and accessible to the public thanks to the visionary work of both Republicans and Democrats.
Republican Theodore Roosevelt laid the foundation for our National Parks system. During his time in office, he designated 18 places as National Monuments. Many of these monuments were later re-designated National Parks by Congress, including what is now Lassen Volcanic National Park. Since TR’s time, leaders in both parties have recognized the important value of protecting our natural legacy.
President Ronald Reagan signed nearly 40 bills designating federal lands for protection under the Wilderness Act, more than any other chief executive. Trinity Alps in the north and Santa Rosa in the desert are two of the nearly 30 California wilderness areas protected during the Reagan years.
Reagan’s successors followed his example. President Bill Clinton designated Giant Sequoia National Monument. President George W. Bush also set aside historically significant areas as National Monuments, including the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in California and Hawaii.
Here in California, there is also a proud tradition of conservation from Republicans and Democratic leaders alike. As Governor, Reagan championed protection of California’s redwood forests, blocked a dam on the Middle Fork of the Eel River, and stopped construction of a highway through the Sierra wilderness.
Today, it’s more important than ever that we continue this bipartisan tradition of protecting the great outdoors as a legacy for our children and grandchildren. Conservation has immediate benefits too. It generates jobs and supports local economies throughout our state.
Communities in Fresno and Tulare counties, for example, experienced strong growth after Giant Sequoia National Monument was established in 2000. From 2000 to 2008, jobs grew in the “Giant Sequoia Region” by 11 percent and real personal income grew by 24 percent. Outdoor recreation—much of which takes place on public lands—also benefits California’s economy statewide, supporting more than 400,000 jobs and contributing $46 billion to the economy.
Unfortunately, a bill written by Central Valley Congressman Kevin McCarthy sends a message that continuing America’s bipartisan legacy of protecting open space is no longer important. Congressman McCarthy is the author of H.R. 1581, legislation that would eliminate protections for 62 million acres of wilderness-quality lands throughout the West, including 4.4 million acres in California.
This legislation doesn’t follow the important principle of balance in managing our public lands – ensuring that a variety of important needs can be met, including watershed protection, wildlife habitat conservation, and outdoor recreation opportunities, as well as timber, mineral, energy, and food production.
We ask all the California members of the House Natural Resources Committee—which has jurisdiction over this legislation—to think twice about H.R. 1581’s top-down approach to land management. We call on our elected representatives to stand strong for a balanced approach to managing our public lands that benefits California economically and reaffirms our state’s commitment to conservation.
Let’s continue our state’s tradition of working together across party lines to protect the great outdoors. That’s a legacy that we can all be proud to continue.