Do we have the foresight to protect local wilderness?

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A couple of weeks ago, the National Park Service came out with a report recommending that the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area basically be doubled in size–by adding another 170 thousand acres to it.

As the Daily News reported. 

The addition, which would double the size of the recreation area, includes a narrow stretch along the urban shores of the Los Angeles River and its tributary, the Arroyo Seco; the Verdugo Mountains above Glendale; the San Rafael Hills; foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and the Simi Hills, Santa Susana and Conejo mountain areas in Ventura County.

“Expanding Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area would provide one of the most densely populated areas in the United States better access to open space and recreational opportunities, as well as increase protection of ecological connections for wildlife,” said Martha J. Lee, Acting Regional Director of the National Park Service’s Pacific West Region, in a prepared statement.

By tying together urban parks with wild lands, the Rim of the Valley addition gives low-income children an entrance to nature, said Robert Garcia, founding director of The City Project, a nonprofit advocating for environmental justice and healthier land use for urban L.A.

LA Congressman Adam Schiff is hosting a town hall at the LA Zoo tonight. He says the next step after getting public input at the town hall tonight and another one tomorrow night in Ventura County is to draw up legislation and take it to Congress to get the go-ahead from lawmakers for the expansion. He’s hoping to have a bill ready for President Obama’s signature by the end of the year.

KCRW’s Chery Glaser talked to Rep. Schiff to talk about the plan.

Rep. Schiff: “If we want to preserve that wonderful and abundant wildlife we need to preserve these open spaces and wildlife corridors, so this legislation would help to do that. It would help bring management and resources from the park services to these areas. And I look back at what the Congress did in the 1970s in creating the Santa Monica Recreation Area; they knew how LA was going to grow and if they didn’t’ act and that these beautiful spaces would be gone. And the question is, do we have the same foresight today as we encroach on this wilderness and to also preserve it for future generations?

KCRW: Many local residents and supporters were advocating for even more land to be added – 300 thousand acres versus the 170 thousand the national park service is recommending, what is being left out?

Rep. Schiff: There are number of very large areas predominantly to the north of Los Angeles that would be excluded, And significantly, it wouldn’t include two very important wildlife corridors that happen to link some of the Angeles forest with Las Padres and other parks and open space areas that are very important for wildlife to be able to travel through.

It’s not that the park service didn’t think these areas are worthy of protection, it’s just that it didn’t want to take on too much.

KCRW: Hundreds of comments have come in supporting the larger plan so can the public’s input or the public momentum overturn the park service’s recommendation and go for the larger expansion?

It’s really all depends on what we can get the votes for in Congress. When the draft report came out and they saw public comment, there were 3-4 thousand people who wrote in and I would say probably 95 percent of them said go big, go with Alternative D and give us the largest possible park. They didn’t end up going that big, they did up going substantially where they were with the draft report with a few minor tweaks here or there, but that’s not binding and the public can still say this is what we want you to do, and the only issue is can we get the votes for it?

KCRW: Folks who are opposed, what are they worried about?

Rep. Schiff: I think you had two categories of people who weighed in that were against expansion. One were people who frankly don’t like the park service that much didn’t  think the park service does a very good job and don’t want to see the park service managing more land than they have already. That’s a small number of people but we did hear from them. There were also concerns raised that there are oil and gas resources in this area and there were concerns raised will this impact the ability to develop those oil and gas resources?