Carrizo Plain | Credit: Caitlin Fitch

The House of Representatives on Friday passed the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, which would increase access to public lands for local communities. The legislation was led by local representative Salud Carbajal, along with representatives Judy Chu, Adam Schiff, and Jared Huffman.

The act was introduced as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — which is considered “must-pass” legislation — and includes Carbajal’s Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, as well as protections for Northwest California and the Los Angeles Area.

Representative Salud Carbajal | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Carbajal’s addition would be the first wilderness protection on the Central Coast in 20 years, and includes areas in the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

“Nature is priceless, but it is too often taken for granted,” Carbajal wrote in a release announcing the legislation’s passing. “I will continue fighting to protect the public lands that make the Central Coast uniquely beautiful, so our children and grandchildren can enjoy them for generations to come.”

Policies that protect public lands from development, Carbajal said, “make a real difference in the fight against climate change, give residents and visitors the opportunity to appreciate the great outdoors, and boost our local economy, all while preserving the plant and animal life that call these public lands home.”

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Similar amendments to the NDAA legislation are expected to safeguard more than a million acres of public lands and well over 500 miles of rivers in California, Arizona, Colorado, and Washington.

The Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act is a key step in ensuring “equitable access to public lands for local communities,” according to the release, and is critical in addressing climate change by protecting 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030. 

Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein also introduced two accounts of their own as companion legislation to the California bills: the PUBLIC Lands Act and the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act.

“We must be thoughtful stewards of these special places so that communities can continue to enjoy them and benefit from our rich natural heritage for generations to come,” Padilla said. “And we must do so in a way that reverses racial and economic disparities in access to nature and our public lands.”

The legislation will still have to go before the Senate, where Padilla said he is encouraging his fellow senators to  follow the House of Representatives’ decision.

“I will be pushing my colleagues in the Senate to follow suit and pass these critical protections,” Padilla said.

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