With its rocky peaks, stunning waterfalls, rare flowers, bald eagles and herds of endangered tule elk, Northern Californians long have known that the Berryessa Snow Mountain region is a national treasure worthy of protecting. Even as a new resident of the state, I can see that.
Now, at long last, the federal government agrees with us.
President Barack Obama last week designated the region a national monument, permanently protecting the 350,000 acres of public land that touches Yolo, Napa, Lake, Mendocino and Solano counties.
Just a few hours’ drive from Sacramento, Berryessa Snow Mountain already is a popular destination for camping, hiking, fishing and biking. Its new-found status as a national monument will enhance the region’s reputation, generating millions of additional tourism dollars while also preserving fragile plant and animal habitats.
It’s a victory for Northern California. And yet many Republicans in Congress are angry about it.
For years, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Sen. Barbara Boxer have been trying to enact legislation that would turn Berryessa Snow Mountain into a national conservation area.
And for just as many years, lawmakers on the other side of the aisle have shot down those attempts, citing the additional layer of bureaucracy that it would create.
So hopeless was the situation that Thompson and others petitioned Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to turn Berryessa Snow Mountain into a national monument.
The Antiquities Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, allows presidents to bypass Congress and bolster protections for land owned by the federal government.
Obama used this authority for Berryessa, and for the Waco Mammoth Site in Texas, and Basin and Range Province in Nevada.
His actions renewed Republican calls to gut the Antiquities Act. But that’s short-sighted political spite, and a disservice to Roosevelt, a great Republican, though one of a very different ilk from this century’s Republicans. Today’s Republicans would do well to emulate Roosevelt’s environmentalism.
Because Obama has created the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, the local economy will benefit by $26 million to $50 million during the next five years, according to the Winters Chamber of Commerce. Tourism will increase 20 percent to 30 percent. And existing operations will become more efficient as the federal agencies that oversee the region – the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – collaborate more on conservation efforts and recreation.
These are reasons to celebrate.