U.S. House Subcommittee Hears Testimony on Bill to Restore and Protect Northwest California Public Lands and Rivers

Huffman measure would support local economies and improve forest health and wildfire resiliency

July 10, 2019 — The House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands today heard testimony on legislation to benefit some of Northwest California’s most unique lands and waters. The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act (H.R. 2250), sponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), would protect and restore important public lands and rivers, improve community safety from fire, and help local communities capitalize on the region’s reputation as an outstanding destination for fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoor recreation opportunities.

The bill would conserve approximately 262,000 acres as wilderness, designate 379 miles of new wild and scenic rivers, and create a special restoration area to protect communities from fire. Years of input, from business leaders, conservationists, anglers, mountain bikers, fire management professionals, and other stakeholders, has led to broad public support for the legislation.

Testifying before the committee, Kent Collard, owner and director of the Bar 717 Ranch/Camp Trinity in Hayfork, CA, said, “Like many other businesses in this area, ours is fueled by people seeking to experience the wild beauty of Trinity County. Our business is recreation, and recreation is a growing industry as California’s population increases and urbanizes. The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act recognizes and promotes the economic opportunities that recreation presents to our rural communities. We need wilderness, clean free-flowing rivers, trails and healthy forests to sustain our business, just as we need economic development in our communities for our employees and their families to thrive. H.R. 2250 recognizes these needs are interlinked and works to support both preservation and the economic development that recreation-based business in the region require.”

The public lands and rivers at the heart of this legislation are the setting for countless world class outdoor recreation pursuits, including steelhead and salmon fishing, river floating and rafting, backcountry hiking and mountain biking, and sightseeing among the primeval redwoods. Such activities help support the regional economy and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities by encouraging new infrastructure and upgrades to roads, trails and camping facilities, and by improving the health of the forest and its resilience to wildfire.

“The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act is important to those of us who work and live in Humboldt County, because it will help support our local economy,” said Steve O’Meara, founder and president of Kokatat, whose 180 employees produce paddlesports apparel and gear. “Fifty years ago, I established my business here in Arcata, because of the amazing recreational opportunities available in the region. Further protections of our public lands and rivers will greatly enhance the economic and recreational opportunities for our future generations.” 

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generates $92 billion in consumer spending and 691,000 direct jobs in California. Residents of the state’s 2nd congressional district spend $1.93 billion annually on outdoor recreation, and 134 outdoor companies are based here.

Cynthia LeDoux-Bloom, PhD, a fisheries biologist at Humboldt State University, said, “The rivers of the northwest corner of California provide some of the best remaining habitat in the state for at-risk fishes, such as salmon and steelhead. Anything we can do to better protect and restore stream habitat, water sources and forests here will support the ongoing efforts to rebuild their populations and the fisheries that depend on them. This legislation has been built with feedback from the scientific community to do that.”

Provisions in the bill would help improve community fire safety by creating a network of roadside shaded fuel breaks in the South Fork Trinity-Mad River Restoration Area, and requiring the US Forest Service and the BLM to work with local residents to create a new coordinated fire management plan for all of the designated wilderness areas in the region. 

The legislation would also help cleanup public lands and waters impacted by trespass marijuana grows by creating a local, state, federal and tribal partnership to coordinate activities and provide resources and expertise.

Additionally, the legislation would establish the Elk Camp Ridge Recreation Trail for off-highway vehicles and mountain bikes, and the Horse Mountain Special Management Area. It would also call for developing a Regional Trails Plan and studying the feasibility of establishing The Bigfoot National Recreation Trail, which would highlight the world-­renowned botanical and biological diversity found in this region.

Representatives Judy Chu and Salud Carbajal, both (CA-D), are original cosponsors of the bill. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) sponsors the bill in the Senate.