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Conserve for the future 

To address the climate crisis, we must protect our public lands and rivers

Our lives have been profoundly changed by the pandemic. We have mourned the loss of loved ones, been separated from family members and friends, and experienced economic upheaval. Through this hardship, places like the Los Padres National Forest have provided many of us with much-needed solace and comfort in nature.

We are more aware than ever that spending time outdoors is essential for our well-being. Scientists are also telling us that protecting large swaths of public lands and rivers is one of the most effective ways to address the climate crisis. And we have just a few years left to take comprehensive action in order to meet the 2030 deadline. That's why it's imperative we act now to protect our public lands and rivers.

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-California)—in his first term in Congress—is leading the way on this issue by introducing the PUBLIC Lands Act. Included in this bill is the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, championed by U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) in the House, to permanently safeguard public lands within the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument. This includes preserving more than 245,000 acres of wilderness, creating two scenic areas encompassing 34,500 acres, and protecting about 159 miles of wild and scenic rivers. It also designates the Condor National Recreation Trail, a 400-mile-long trail that would connect the northern and southern portions of the Los Padres by a single hiking route.

The bill includes measures that would preserve more than a million acres of public lands and more than 500 miles of rivers throughout California. This effort already passed the House, and now we have a champion in the Senate.

Protecting public lands and rivers on the Central Coast is critical to our state and our nation's efforts to address the climate crisis. Both President Biden and Gov. Newsom have committed to protect 30 percent of our public lands and waters by 2030. Why is this so important in the fight against climate change? Protected public lands capture and store carbon out of the atmosphere. These places also help us adapt to and mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis that are already taking place. Investments in public lands are an essential and urgent piece of the puzzle to prepare for climate impacts like drought and wildfires, while preventing the worst of climate catastrophe.

The PUBLIC Lands Act is a down payment toward our 2030 conservation goal. It's also an important way we can prevent more carbon emissions. Twenty-five percent of all carbon emissions nationwide are due to fossil fuel extraction on public lands. The Central Coast has been under threat for years from oil and gas drilling. Sen. Padilla and Rep. Carbajal recognized this threat and included safeguards for more than 300,000 acres of public lands in the Los Padres and Carrizo Plain. These protections will help prevent future development and more damage from the resulting carbon emissions.

Additionally, the bill protects about 159 miles of rivers and creeks in the national forest. These are some of the last free-flowing and undammed rivers in Southern California. Safeguarding these waters protects habitat for fish and animals that are struggling to adapt to climate change.

Another benefit of the bill is that it will improve accessibility to the Los Padres for locals and visitors. By designating the Condor Trail as a National Scenic Trail, more resources will be allocated to preserving and completing this trail and the many others used to access it.

I am grateful for Sen. Padilla's leadership on this important issue—especially so early in his first term. It's clear that he's prioritizing the climate crisis and taking a holistic approach to protecting our future. He understands how important the Central Coast's public lands and rivers are and is taking steps to ensure that they are conserved for generations to come. That will be a legacy to be proud of. Δ

Mary Creasman is the chief executive officer of the California League of Conservation Voters. Send a response for publication to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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