California Leads the Way on Conservation & Climate

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Originally published on the NRDC Expert Blog.
By Helen O’Shea

Senator Alex Padilla has introduced bold new legislation to advance conservation in the Golden State. The PUBLIC Lands Act would designate nearly 600,000 acres of new wilderness, more than 583 miles of new wild and scenic rivers and expand an existing national monument by over 100,000 acres. Protecting California’s world-famous natural heritage is the key to helping stave off both the biodiversity crisis and climate change.

The special places protected include Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains, which provide places to hike, camp, and recharge in nature for more than 10 million Angelenos. Heading north, the bill prohibits future oil and gas drilling on over 300,000 acres in the Central Coast region, protecting rivers and parks near cities like Santa Maria and Fillmore that need more natural spaces close to home. Further up the coast, the bill will expand recreational opportunities and provide the funds and resources needed to build over 295 miles of new trails in Northwest California, providing local communities and visitors with new ways to explore this remarkable part of the Golden State. It would also designate 379 miles of new wild and scenic rivers in the north state.

Image via NRDC

Land use decisions have often deprived low-income communities of color of access to parks and nature. Ensuring all these special places can thrive for future generations will help California achieve its goal of protecting 30% of our lands and water by 2030 and will expand access to parks and open space for under-served communities. Natural spaces like rivers and forests are critical to human health and well-being and can provide significant physical and psychological benefits while mitigating the effects of climate change that President Biden is committed to tackle.

On January 27th, President Biden issued an Executive Order to tackle the climate crisis domestically and abroad. In it, he boldly established 30×30 to help reverse the negative impacts of climate change and biodiversity decline by protecting more natural areas. Biden directed his Administration to identify opportunities for communities across the country to help the nation achieve its conservation goals, and ways to engage stakeholders to identify locally driven, science-based solutions. Senator Padilla’s new legislation establishes California as a leader and provides an important piece of the many approaches that will be needed for protecting public lands and waters as part of the 30×30 vision.

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