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Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

The Los Padres National Forest and the Ventana Wilderness

Farr introduces new wilderness bill for Big Sur

February 2010

by Vicky Hoover and Rita Dalessio

Arroyo Seco River
Portions of the Arroyo Seco river wuld be designated as “Wild and Scenic” under the proposed legislation. Photo by Jim Rose

Representative Sam Farr (D-Carmel) has introduced legislation that is currently wending its way through the approval process. The bill, HR 4040, would create a separate funding source for the Big Sur portion of the Los Padres National Forest and add portions of five local rivers to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Titled The Big Sur Forest Service Management Unit Act (HR 4040), the proposed legislation would protect public lands in the northern Santa Lucia Mountains by multiple measures, including

• Designation of over 90 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers including portions of the Arroyo Seco, San Antonio and Carmel Rivers, as well as Big Creek;

• The designation of the Horse Canyon and Horse Pasture additions to the Ventana Wilderness Area, along with several technical boundary adjustments resulting in a net increase of approximately 2,000 acres of federally designated Wilderness;

• Establishment of the Big Sur Management Unit (BSMU), which would replace the present Monterey Ranger District of the Los Padres National Forest—which is located quite far from the large southern portion of the Los Padres—California’s largest national forest. A separate management unit would provide greater management and budgetary autonomy desirable to address concerns unique to the Big Sur Unit.

• Designation of the BSMU as a Wildland Urban Interface Special Study Area with the requirement that a Fire Management Plan be created within one year, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. This NEPA requirement is innovative in that it would provide for public participation in the wildfire management planning process.

• Conversion of the Arroyo Seco–Indians Road (already closed to motorized vehicles by landslides) to the Arroyo Seco–Indians National Recreational Trail, a public thoroughfare offering unparalleled opportunities for hiking, equestrian use, bicycling, and other forms of non-motorized recreation;

• Establishment of the Jeff Norman Botanical Area, a plant community rich in endemic maritime chaparral on National Forest lands immediately south of Pfeiffer Beach.

With its focus on wild and scenic river protection, this bill complements, and completes, the wilderness protection for additional Forest Service lands in Representative Farr’s district that was achieved by his Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act of 2002. Unlike other recent California wilderness bills, the 2002 Big Sur legislation contained no wild and scenic rivers.

Tom Hopkins of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, who has been working with Farr’s staff on this bill since 2003, said, “This legislation will provide permanent protection for the last free-flowing wild rivers in the Ventana Region and implement other safeguards to protect these public wild lands and rivers for future generations. We all thank Congressman Sam Farr for his visionary leadership to protect the Big Sur Coast and Ventana backcountry.”

Other individuals and groups who have been key to the development of this legislation include Gordon Johnson, Director of the California Wilderness Project, and Steve Evans, Conservation Director of Friends of the River.

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