Huffman bill seeks to expand northwest California wilderness protections
California 2nd District Congressman Jared Huffman said while it is unusual to include active logging in a wilderness protection bill, the bill he introduced to Congress on Friday is not your everyday piece of environmental legislation.
On top of protecting hundreds of thousands of acres of North Coast land and hundreds of miles of rivers in Humboldt, Del Norte, Mendocino and Trinity counties from development, Huffman’s Northwest California Wildernesses, Recreation and Working Forests Act goes beyond by including new trails, coordinating cleanup of illegal marijuana grows on public land and bolstering defenses against large wildfires.It’s a bill that Huffman (D-San Rafael) has been working on since his first year in Congress. And in the five years since, he’s said hundreds of individuals helped work out any points of contention.
“The fact is we’re going to create a lot of economic activity though this bill,” Huffman told the Times-Standard on Friday. “It’s a real creative blend of old school wilderness protection with very innovative management strategies and I think should be supportable by a broader constituency than if it were a standard wildernesses bill.”
The bill would prohibit further development of about 260,000 acres of federal public lands and about 380 miles of rivers, meaning no new dams, major water diversions, logging, mining and other development.
For Humboldt County, this includes creeks like Honeydew, Big, Bear and Gitchell creeks in the King Range; Salmon Creek and southern portions of the Elk River in Bureau of Land Management land northwest of Fortuna; the creation of the Mad River Buttes Wilderness Area at the headwaters of Redwood Creek among others.
A majority of the wilderness areas will be placed in Trinity County. The bill would also authorize old-growth redwoods restoration in Redwood National and State Parks through a partnership of federal, state and local stakeholders.
However, Huffman said the bill will not expand federal lands, will not limit existing hunting and fishing rights, will not close any legal roads and trails, and will not affect how private property is accessed and used.
While about 11,200 acres of available timber production land would be removed by the bill, Huffman said his legislation would actually have a net positive impact on timber production.
That’s because the bill calls for the creation of 730,000 acres of forest restoration areas in the South Fork Trinity River, Mad River, and North Fork Eel watersheds to reduce the danger of large wildfires.
The fire prevention work would include logging of even-age forest stands and creation of roadside shaded fuel breaks to reduce fuel buildup.
Only about 11,200 acres of the wilderness protection lands the bill would create are currently open to logging, which Huffman’s office states is 2.5 percent of the 449,000 acres open to U.S. Forest Service lands open to logging in all four counties.
The bill also calls for greater recreational use through the creation of a Bigfoot National Recreation Trail between Crescent City to the southern Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel River Wilderness Boundaries; two new visitor centers; and a directive to a federal agency to explore new motorized and nonmotorized trail uses.
Redwood Regional Economic Development Director Gregg Foster said well-managed public lands and recreational opportunities are a major draw for people to visit Humboldt County and nearby regions.
“At RREDC, we recognize that well-managed public lands are critical to our regional economy,” Foster said in a statement. “We appreciate Congressman Huffman’s broad approach to environmental protection, restoration of our watersheds, and economic development.”
Pacific Outfitters co-owner Aaron Ostrom said he also supports the bill’s introduction.
“These beautiful places support all of our local businesses, since people come to the area to explore and shop while they are here,” Ostrom said.
While there have been calls at the state, federal and local levels for increased enforcement against illegal cannabis grows and cleanup of the damage they leave behind, Huffman said there is not a coordinated approach by these entities on how to enforce these grows on public lands
Huffman said this bill seeks to fix this through the creation of the Northwest California Public Lands Remediation Partnership.
The partnership’s focus will be finding funding to cleanup illegal cannabis grows in the Klamath, Shasta-Trinity, Six Rivers, and Mendocino national forests along with Bureau of Land Management public lands while also creating partnerships with other entities that perform the same work such as Integral Ecology Research Center in Blue Lake.
“Cultivation of marijuana on our public lands has an egregious impact on our federal natural resources,” the center’s executive director Mourad Gabriel said in a statement. “Therefore focused attention with invested stakeholders put forward in this bill is a primary step to resolving this tragedy of our commons.”
Huffman said the bill would also call for the forest service and the BLM to work together to plan wildfire prevention work in the new wilderness areas, which Huffman said is not occurring.
Humboldt County Board of Supervisors Chairman and 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said in a Friday statement that protecting public lands is essential to the county because the natural landscapes that will be protected are “investments in the well-being of our communities.”
“Northwest California’s public lands are critical to our community’s quality of life and to our local economy,” Sundberg said. “This legislation will help ensure that this legacy is protected for future generations.”
Huffman said there is a need for Congress to provide further funding for the protection of public land, but says there are provisions in the bill that will allow for federal agencies to partner with outside groups more easily for aspects like campground maintenance.
Fees associated with logging activities will also be retained at the local level to provide funding for projects, Huffman said.
Huffman said that the bill he introduced Friday is the best version he could put forward because of the years of input and consultation with the public, conservation agencies and environmental experts.
“We want to urge people to stay engaged and keep telling us what they think,” Huffman said. “If there are more good ideas and feedback we’ll continue to trying to improve this as it goes forward.”
A map of the proposed wilderness and wild and scenic river protection areas proposed in the bill can be found online at bit.ly/2uXxxBf.