Targeted by Trump, Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument has wealth of wildlife, science group says

The sprawling national monument, one of 22 under review by the Trump administration, earned high marks for its diverse wildlife in a recent survey.|

For wealth and diversity of wildlife, little-known Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, established two years ago, outshines world-renowned Yosemite National Park, which draws more than 4 million visitors a year.

The sprawling monument, stretching 100 miles from the Lake Berryessa area in Napa County to Snow Mountain in the Mendocino National Forest, can’t match Yosemite’s stunning granite cliffs and spectacular waterfalls.

But in the eyes of pure science, the 330,780-acre monument - a recreational mecca for hikers, hunters, mountain bikers and whitewater boaters - beats Yosemite for species richness and diversity, said Brett Dickson, a conservation biologist and president of Conservation Science Partners, a research nonprofit.

“That’s really a striking result,” he said, calling Berryessa Snow Mountain “truly iconic.”

Dickson and his colleagues came by their assessment in an analysis of the 22 land-based national monuments under review - and subject to possible shrinking or elimination - by President Donald Trump.

Yosemite is not part of the review, which includes Berryessa Snow Mountain and five other national monuments in California, but the national park established in 1890 was used for comparison purposes in the analysis, Dickson said.

The results, released this week by the Center for American Progress, appraised the ecological and scientific value of the monuments according to 12 indicators, such as uninterrupted landscapes, biodiversity, unique terrain, night sky darkness and climate resilience.

The national monuments are “some of the most spectacular places in the country,” said Jenny Rowland, research and advocacy manager for public lands at the Washington, D.C.-based center, a public policy think tank founded by John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is conducting the review ordered by Trump in April, earlier this month recommended a significant scaling back of the 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument, a vast canyon region of red rocks in southeastern Utah.

Zinke, a former Montana congressman, said the monument designation was “not the best use of the land.” His final report to the White House is due in August.

Dickson’s analysis did not prioritize the 22 monuments under Zinke’s review, but it gave high marks to Berryessa Snow Mountain, assigning a score in the ?90th percentile for four out of 12 indicators.

One other monument, Craters of the Moon in Idaho, had four scores in the ?90th percentile, and Cascade Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon was the only one with five scores in that range.

Scores for each monument were based on comparisons with 1,000 other randomly located areas of similar size across the west. “We wanted this to be a tough competition,” Dickson said.

Berryessa Snow Mountain got top marks for containing rare natural systems, which Dickson said was a “compelling result,” and for climate resilience, which refers to the opportunity afforded wildlife to migrate in response to climate change. As a whole, the 22 monuments contain “a pretty spectacular range of diverse ecological features,” Dickson said.

California political leaders have ?strongly supported the state’s national monuments.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who worked to create Berryessa Snow Mountain, said in April, when Trump’s order was issued, that overturning the monument designation “would be grossly out of step with the will of the public.”

In June, the California Legislature passed a joint resolution declaring the federally protected lands are “integral to the history, culture, economy, natural environment and values … for which California is globally renowned.”

The measure - authored by Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, and co-authored by Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, and Sens. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and Bill Dodd, D-Napa - was adopted on the 111th anniversary of the signing of the Antiquities Act, which gives the president authority to create national monuments on federal land.

The resolution was supported by ?73 local, state and national organizations, including environmental and recreation groups. It had no formal opposition.

Sixteen presidents have used the ?Antiquities Act to designate 157 national monuments. It remains unclear whether Trump has the authority to eliminate ?one.

The other California monuments under review are Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County, Giant Sequoia in the southern Sierra east of Visalia, San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles County, and Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow, both in San Bernardino County.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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