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Close to Home: Preserve nature for future generations

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Northern California offers some of the best trout fishing in the world. Why? Because California’s diverse climate, geography and ecology provide some of the best habitat for fish and wildlife anywhere. Much of this habitat is found on public lands.

Sportsmen and women in California have free or low-cost access to millions of acres of land and water that has been conserved and managed for their natural, recreational and resource values. This isn’t the case in much of the world or even on the East Coast of the United States.

Within a three-hour drive of Sonoma County, one can fish for steelhead on the Eel or Trinity rivers or for trophy trout in the upper Sacramento River or Putah Creek. All on public land.

But California’s public lands are under siege from a variety of threats. Exceptionally severe wildfire, sustained drought, a warming climate and ill-advised political gambits grounded more in ideology than science are primary ingredients in the witches’ brew of influences that are drying up, burning up, using up or otherwise degrading or eliminating habitat in this state.

Trout Unlimited is committed to tackling the challenge of conserving our public lands in the face of these threats and keeping alive the unique sporting legacy these lands and waters have made possible. It’s encouraging to see that some leaders in Congress are committed to this same goal.

Our representative in the House, Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, is one. We salute Huffman and Sen. Kamala Harris for their recent introduction of the Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act, which would better protect and restore lands and streams vital for water supply, salmon and steelhead and the growing outdoor recreation economy in this region.

This legislation would conserve the landscapes and waters that make this area so special through a combination of forest restoration, new river and upland habitat protection measures, wildfire prevention treatments, rehabilitation of illegal trespass marijuana grow sites and new trails and other infrastructure to promote and expand recreational use. The type of inclusive lawmaking that developed this legislation is laudable.

This bill’s Wild and Scenic River designations would ensure that no new dams or out-of-basin water diversions are developed in designated waters and protect a half-mile-wide corridor of habitat along them. Wild and Scenic River designations don’t infringe on private property rights, established recreational uses such as fishing and hunting or valid existing mining claims.

The bill would also establish special restoration areas, such as one in the South Fork Trinity River watershed and the Forest Service-managed portion of the Mad River watershed to implement a serious restoration and wildfire threat reduction effort. This would improve forest diversity and decrease fire danger along roads where most human-caused fires begin. It would also help protect water quality in these watersheds, which happen to be two of California’s best steelhead streams. These types of intensive restoration efforts are vital to restoring our ecosystems where natural fire cycles have been interrupted.

There is no universal solution for reducing the threat wildfires pose to our communities and coldwater fisheries. We can, however, take meaningful steps to make our public lands less prone to exceptionally severe wildfires and more resilient to its impacts through proper management.

Huffman and Harris are trying to ensure that our public lands will be preserved for future generations with the introduction of the Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act. The Redwood Empire Chapter of Trout Unlimited strongly supports this legislation and urges its rapid passage into law.

Charlie Schneider of Petaluma is president of the Redwood Empire chapter of Trout Unlimited. Eric Leland of Petaluma is a board member of the Redwood Empire Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

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