Protecting Southern California Steelhead Could Mean Supporting — Or Opposing — A Los Padres Land Swap Deal…
California’s second largest national forest is found in Southern California: Los Padres National Forest (LPNF). This scenic public jewel extends nearly 220 miles across the Pacific Coast and Transverse Ranges, reaches over 8,800 feet in elevation, and provides habitat for 468 species of wildlife including our iconic Southern California steelhead.
Much of the headwaters of the Ventura River and Santa Clara River watersheds are found in Los Padres, and these precious areas need additional protections. Threats such as unauthorized off-road vehicle use and oil and gas drilling could be kept out of critical areas by applying federal Wilderness Act (1964) and Wild & Scenic River Act (1968) safeguards. Accordingly a few of our key partners in Santa Clara River work — Los Padres Forest Watch, Friends of the River, and Keep Sespe Wild — have joined in an effort to mobilize the Southern Los Padres Wild Heritage Campaign.
If the campaign is successful, a Congressional bill (Gallegly, R, Ventura Santa Barbara Counties) will be introduced and passed which applies Wild & Scenic River Act and Wilderness Act protections to more than a half dozen locations in LPNF and includes vital sections of Sespe and Piru Creeks and Matilija wilderness areas. Our partners and others have been working with Congressman Gallegly and his staff to draft the bill and garner support, but Gallegly’s support has a price tag.
For years, Gallegly has repeatedly attempted to pass a very different type of bill through congress – one that would authorize the swapping of Forest Service Lands in and around Piru Reservoir behind Santa Felicia Dam with other lands owned by United Water Conservation District (United).
On its face, the idea of giving United the lands under their water and giving the Forest Service “surface lands” might seem like a good idea. However, under the proposed swap United would also acquire 1 mile of perennial Piru Creek, and the Forest Service would largely acquire steep canyon slopes.
Even more importantly, if United eliminated the federal land ownership at Santa Felicia Dam or Piru Reservoir, they could then begin a process to eliminate the hard won protections in the National Marine Fisheries Service Biological Opinion for Santa Felicia which mandates critical Endangered Species Act protections for southern steelhead. Unless ESA protections could be assured and maintained, and a more equitable trade of lands could be arranged, the Land Swap is highly undesirable.
CalTrout and our partners have successfully stopped prior Land Swap bills, but this time there is the hint of a possible trade – Gallegly and United would support a Wild & Scenic & Wilderness bill if we would allow the Land Swap bill to proceed. We are working very carefully to examine options that would successfully eliminate any potential land swap negatives, and in turn provide maximum Wild & Scenic and Wilderness benefits.
This will, at the very least, be complicated. You may receive a Trout Clout email asking you to stop a bad bill — or support a good one.