Let the Public Enjoy Our Public Land

Monday, May 9, 2011

When I think of conservation of public land and natural resources, I think of President Theodore Roosevelt and the famous trailblazer John Muir. The legacy left behind by these two American icons is remarkable. Between the two of them, they helped save Yosemite Valley, protect Sequoia National Park, create five National Parks, proclaim 18 new U.S. National Monuments and establish the United States Forest Service.

Like Roosevelt and Muir, I believe that it is important for government to play a role in the conservation and preservation of our public lands to ensure that our children and grandchildren can enjoy the beauty of our great country and its resources. Without responsible management of our public lands, our national parks, forests and wilderness areas may be put at risk.

But I find it troubling that for the past 30 years, the public has been restricted access from millions of acres of public land without any justifiable reason. Although millions of acres have been deemed as unsuitable for wilderness, these lands are still subjected to a host of restrictions that prevent the public from enjoying it, and will continue to be off limit unless the Congress will step in and release it to the public.

Take the Cache Creek and Yolla Bolly Contiguous areas for example. Right here in our backyard, we have more than 34,000 acres of public land that have been cut off from many recreational activities. While I understand the need to protect the beauty of this land, the current restrictions are unfounded, since the Cache Creek and Yolla Bolly Contiguous areas have been deemed as non-suitable for wilderness designation by the Bureau of Land Management in California. 

Last year, my efforts in preserving California's Off-Highway Vehicles (OHV) fund, was an attempt to ensure that citizens get to enjoy the outdoors and that the government will keep its word. After having already "borrowed" 90 million dollars from the OHV fund, which was deemed as un-touchable, the General Fund has "asked" the OHV Community in California to sacrifice even more to overcome the budget crisis. This year the General Fund had taken other 10 million dollars from the fund, this time without even attempting to pay it back. Both times I have voted against such policies, not wanting to destroy something that is working, such as self-sufficient OHV activities.

Together with the success of OHV facilities, opening these new areas for public access will increase local revenues significantly and strengthen the economy in rural areas that have been struggling. Allowing these lands to be managed as multiple use areas opens them up to responsible resource development such as healthy forest management and grazing as well as numerous recreational activities including motorized sporting and increased hunting and fishing. These activities would help create jobs and generate new revenue for local communities across the country. Working together, we can find a responsible way to balance public use with our efforts to safeguard these natural resources for generations to come.

California Congressman Kevin McCarthy has recently introduced a bill in Congress, The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act which would ensure greater access to millions of acres of public land and end decades of unwarranted restrictions.

As usual, the opposition has taken their rhetoric to the extreme, claiming that McCarthy's bill would automatically open up these lands to hazards such as oil drilling and mining. In actuality, these public lands will still be protected if this legislation becomes law. Any land management decision made by local officials will still be under scrutiny by public reviews, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and many other applicable government regulations.

Local Congressmen Wally Herger and Tom McClintock have also joined in on this effort and have signed on to be co-sponsors of the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act and I hope Congress and the President sign on in support.

For me, making the decision to grant the public access to public land is just common sense. If the public owns it, they should have every right to enjoy it. Passing this measure will ensure that we balance the efforts made by President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir with the public's basic right to enjoy our country's public resources.