H.R. 4109 is presented to House Natural Resources Committee; ForestWatch submits testimony
Washington, DC – On June 28, 2012, a Congressional committee heard testimony on a bill that would expand wilderness areas and off-road vehicle access in the Los Padres National Forest. The House Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands considered input from supporters and opponents of the bill and did not take any other action. ForestWatch submitted testimony outlining our concerns with the bill and we will continue to monitor the legislative process.
In February 2012, local Congressman Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) introduced legislation (H.R. 4109) to extend the current boundaries of federally-protected wilderness areas in the Los Padres National Forest. The bill has been generating local controversy because it would also open new areas of the forest to motorized off-road vehicles, and would kickstart a controversial exchange of land between the U.S. Forest Service and a local water district near Lake Piru.
The bill – dubbed the Los Padres Conservation and Recreation Act of 2012 (H.R. 4109) – applies only to national forest land in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The main provisions of the bill include:
- Extending the current boundaries of the Sespe, Matilija, and Dick Smith wilderness areas in the heart of the Los Padres National Forest, increasing the size of these areas by 63,576 acres (20%);
- Establishing the 18,520-acre Condor Ridge Scenic Area along the crest of the Gaviota Coast in Santa Barbara County;
- Protecting 89 miles of backcountry rivers and streams under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers system, including Mono and Indian Creeks in Santa Barbara County and the upper Sespe and upper Piru creeks in Ventura County;
- Establishing two officially-sanctioned “OHV Areas” in the Ventura backcountry totaling 65,833 acres, where off-highway vehicles such as dirtbikes, ATVs and four-wheel drive vehicles would be encouraged;
- Opening 69 miles of remote forest roads that have been closed for several decades due to law enforcement and public safety concerns, wildfire risk, and protection of sensitive resources, and authorizes the construction of three new OHV routes in remote areas of the forest; and
- Requiring the Forest Service to trade several hundred acres of public land around Lake Piru in Ventura County to a local water district.
Recently, H.R. 4109 was brought to a hearing before the House Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, on Thursday, June 28th. While ForestWatch continues to support the portions of this bill which would expand wilderness areas and add to designated Wild and Scenic Rivers of the Los Padres, we also continue to withhold our support for the bill as a whole – in particular the provisions that would open backcountry roads to public use, approve the construction of new off-highway routes, and ‘sneak’ through the controversial landswap near Lake Piru.
The bill now awaits markup by the full House Committee on Natural Resources. Here, changes to the bill could be made, after which it would go to vote on the House floor. The Senate must also pass the legislation (again, changes could be made at this step of the process), and then the final version of the bill must be signed by the President. Given this election year, it seems unlikely that Congress will have enough time to act on H.R. 4109, but ForestWatch will continue to track it and work with members of Congress to remove the harmful provisions from the bill should it move forward.