Huffman Introduces Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act

April 10, 2019

Washington, D.C.-– 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.