It could become California's largest national monument -- or not.
The future of about 350,000 acres of federal lands north of the Bay Area likely now rests in the hands of President Obama and his Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell.
Proponents of special protections for the huge, biologically diverse tract of land have changed their strategy. For years they've been pushing Congress to create a national conservation area that includes a mishmash of federal lands stretching from Lake Berryessa, 100 miles north to Snow Mountain in the Mendocino National Forest.
But as bills from Democrats Mike Thompson and Barbara Boxer have languished in the House and Senate, respectively, the call has gone out for President Obama to use his executive power and designate the lands instead as a national monument. That status would create similar protections from development. It could also become the largest national monument in California, rivaling the newly created San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in area.
For guidance on the matter, Obama will look to Jewell, who was in the region lately attending town meetings and even slogging across creeks to get a sense of the landscape and the range of opinions surrounding its future.
"I’m not prepared to make a recommendation," Jewell told me following a recent public meeting in Napa. "I’ve just been absorbing the information here." Jewell admits that there’s "a lot of complexity here — different landowners, a man-made lake, there’s a lot of factors that need to be taken into account."