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Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

The Los Padres National Forest and the Ventana Wilderness

Environmentalists advocate wilderness designation for part of Andrew Molera State Park

April 2010

by Mike Splain, Chair, Local Wilderness Committee

Molera oaks
Veteran oaks dot the ridgeline in the proposed Andrew Molera State Wilderness. Photo courtesy of

The Sierra Club, Ventana Wilderness Alliance, California Wilderness Project, and a host of local residents and firefighters are promoting wilderness protection for 912 acres of Andrew Molera State Park. The property, north and east of Highway 1 on the northern border of the park has no trails or roads. Full of natural beauty, it is a prime candidate for wilderness designation. We have asked Assembly member Bill Monning to sponsor a bill making the designation.

Andrew Molera State Park, truly a gem of the Central Coast, is a fascinating mosaic of vegetation types, wildlife habitats and cultural sites. Prior to the 1965 genesis of the park, cattle grazed the coastal flats of what was then Molera Ranch. Nowadays it’s hikers who frequent the prairies, woodlands and beaches west of Highway 1. Ecologists conduct avian research and species reintroduction programs. Archaeologists study the remnants of a once-extensive Esselen encampment, and history buffs make pilgrimages to the famed Cooper Cabin, immortalized by author Mary Bell: “windowless and doorless, behind the long windbreak of eucalypts.”

But to the handful of intrepid travelers who venture into the uplands east of the highway, an entirely different landscape unfolds. Oak woodlands and sage-scrub yield to open grasslands and primeval redwood forests. High atop Molera Ridge, one of the grandest vistas on the Big Sur Coast reveals itself. Pfeiffer Ridge, the valley of the Big Sur River and the volcanic mass of Point Sur dominate the western horizon. To the north and east, hills descend precipitously into the trackless headwaters of the South Fork Little Sur. Gazing across at the crystalline summit that inspired poet Robinson Jeffers, verses come to mind; “noble Pico Blanco, steep sea-wave of marble.”

Home to an extraordinary biodiversity, including the endangered Smith’s blue butterfly and southern steelhead, this wild canyon is one of those rare locales where evolution has conducted its business, unimpeded by human interference for eons. Those who dare leave the trail to wander the “wild back side” of Molera Ridge will bear witness to meadows and forests “beautifully busy with majestic old growth redwood and chattering birds, vibrant ferns and forbs, and the most beautiful stretch of pristine river imaginable,” as one hiker has described it. He even recalls “. . . the not-very-long dead body of a large mountain lion, curled up under a huckleberry bush near the stream, where it had finally laid down its bones to die in a place where there was cool drinking-water nearby and it knew it wouldn’t be molested by humans.” Indeed, most humans will never set foot here, and that’s just as it should be. But the de-facto wilderness state of this inaccessible corner of the Santa Lucias offers little in the way of long-term protection.

It’s no secret that budgetary crises have spurred closures of many State Parks and talk of selling off portions of others. Consequently, nothing short of legislative designation can genuinely secure the wilderness qualities of State Park lands.

Molera lupin
Silver lupine (lupinus albifrons) overlooks Pico Blanco and the South Fork of the Little Sur in the proposed Andrew Molera State Wilderness. Photo courtesy of

However, a small but vocal contingency of property owners has expressed opposition, citing concerns that state wilderness designation would impact maintenance of the so-called “Big Box” fire line, located within the adjacent Ventana Wilderness. The Big Box fire break was constructed in 1977 in an effort to contain the massive Marble Cone wildland fire. Re-opened for the Kirk Complex of 1999 and again during the Basin Complex of 2008, this line has historically been maintained only with the imminent threat of an active wildfire. In other words, Forest Service funding has not been (nor likely ever will be) sufficient to continuously maintain the Big Box. Regardless, opening it in time has never been an issue; with a wildfire emergency, federal money pours in to fund bulldozer and hand crews who invariably clear the ridge-tops hours, days, even weeks ahead of the advancing burn. A widely circulated myth holds that wilderness designation interferes with fire line construction. Although heavy machinery is generally not permitted in designated wilderness, state and federal wilderness acts both allow the use of mechanized equipment during an emergency. The very existence of the Big Box (almost entirely within federal wilderness) provides undeniable proof that the “interference myth” is patently untrue.

Your help is needed

Bisected by the spectacular South Fork Little Sur River, the East Molera is wilderness in every sense of the term; all that’s needed is legislative designation. Opponents of such designation have embarked on a campaign of disinformation that can only be defeated by the outspoken support of the conservation community. If you love these lands and want them to remain wild, it’s critical that Assembly member Monning hears from you. Please don’t hesitate —write a letter or email expressing your support for the Andrew Molera State Wilderness today. Tell Bill Monning why you believe the East Molera is a part of California’s natural legacy, and worthy of permanent protection.

Please contact Assembly member Bill Monning at or call 649-2832 (Monterey) or 425-1503 (Santa Cruz).

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