Creation of Huge National Monument Rests With White House

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Creation of Huge National Monument Rests With White House

Creation of Huge National Monument Rests With White House

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Berryessa Snow Mountain_feature image
Hikers traverse Snow Mountain during a summer trip led by the conservation group Tuleyome. (Charlotte Orr/Tuleyome)

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.

Click to enlarge. (David Pierce/KQED)

"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."

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The "man-made lake" to which she refers is Berryessa, created in the 1950s with the construction of Monticello Dam, near the town of Winters. Local opponents to the designation say the lake, while picturesque, doesn't merit special protections. They fear that national monument status would curtail activities like hunting and motorized watercraft on the lake. Thompson has repeatedly assured them that it would not.

Ultimately, the specific restrictions put in place for national monuments and conservation areas depend on how the management plan is eventually written by federal land managers.

Thompson said by his own count of comment cards at the Napa town meeting, sentiment was running about 80/20 in favor of a national monument or national conservation area. The state of California (via its Natural Resources Agency) has joined area legislators and conservationists in calling on the president to use his pen to put protections in place.

Jewell says her preference is still to protect the area by legislation, but "in a number of instances the president has used his executive authority because Congress has failed to act, not because they have disagreed, they just have failed to act, and that is the case here."

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"I don't care how we get it done," added Thompson in a separate interview, "just so we protect it."

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