The rugged 100-mile stretch from Lake Berryessa to 7,000-foot Snow Mountain is making its way, slowly but surely, to national status.
That will be good for the gateway communities, for ranchers and farmers who want to protect traditional uses, for those seeking access to prime outdoor recreation, for those seeking better management of public assets.
The House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a hearing on the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area Act (H.R. 1025/S. 483) in July. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, now has requested a committee markup.
Sen. Barbara Boxer has asked for a Senate hearing and the bill will come up in the next round of public lands hearings before the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining.
National Conservation Area status is unique among public lands – not a national park, but not a checkerboard of different agencies. In special large-scale landscapes, it brings together an unwieldy patchwork of public lands under one management umbrella.
It was a California invention, pioneered by U.S. Rep. Clem Miller, who represented King’s Range along the “Lost Coast” of Northern California. The problem, as he saw it in 1961: areas of public lands where the “ownership map looks like a crazy quilt” that “obviously does not make for efficient management.”
Even with conflicts over uses, he saw that “Almost everyone concerned with the future of this magnificent area realizes the value of an orderly, coordinated approach to its complicated management problems and great opportunities.” The King’s Range National Conservation Area, the nation’s first, was signed into law in October 1970.
Berryessa Snow Mountain is a perfect fit for Miller’s vision.
At the House hearing, Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, asked the right question: What really would be the benefits for people that cannot be done without the designation? Today’s crazy quilt of public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Land Management would come under single management and a local council would make recommendations for these public lands. The proposal is locally driven among landowners, civic groups and elected officials.
If Congress doesn’t act on the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area Act, national monument status beckons. Sixteen presidents since Theodore Roosevelt have used that authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect unique natural and historical features in the United States. Thompson should invite Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to visit the area. Fall is a great time to see Berryessa Snow Mountain!