Huffman Presents Proposed Public Lands Management Bill; Then Asks, What Do You Think?

U.S. Representative Jared Huffman @RepHuffman

Congressman Huffman is currently working across the 2nd District during the Congressional August Recess. This past Monday the 14th of August at the Wharfinger in Eureka Ca, Congressman Huffman met with a packed room to present a proposed bill he is calling A Balanced Approach to Land Management.

Monday evening’s meeting, instructed the Congressman, needed to stay focused on this draft legislation for improving the management of public lands despite the tumultuous national issues. A single sheet of paper gives the highlights of the law Huffman thinks he will submit later in the year. You can read the proposed legislation and its summary here.

Before beginning his recap of the bill, Huffman said “This is potential legislation. We are seeking feedback on what we have so far. We are looking for feedback on what else you would like to see included or don’t want to see.”

The proposed bill has three main articles. The first article, Restoration and Economic Development, proposes a 700,000 acre restoration area in the Trinity and Mad River watersheds. It also proposes a partnership of federal, state and local agencies to restore public lands affected by trespass marijuana cultivation. And this proposal would require federal agencies to cooperate and to coordinate fire management strategies for public lands.

The second article focuses on Recreation. Specifically, it seeks a Horse Mountain Special Management area, a Bigfoot National Recreation Trail in the Klamath Mountains, an Elk Camp Ridge Recreation Trail and the construction of identified mountain bike trails in Del Norte County.

And the third article looks at Conservation. The current draft proposes expanding nine wilderness areas and creating ten new ones. It would designate 300 new miles of wild and scenic river protections, and a Sanhedrin Conservation Management Area.

Marijuana cultivation was especially salient to the audience. Several people expressed support for the legislation because it aims to remove environmental damage from “trespass grows.” The details of how this will be accomplished are not filled in as of yet. When asked what he foresees for cultivation cleanup, Huffman said “I have long been of the view the damage we are seeing in our public lands is unacceptable. The best way to draw [the industry] out of shadows is regulation and legalization. I support that initiative.” The draft legislation talks about forming a partnership and which agencies and stakeholders will be involved, but the details are left to be developed. Monday, one man in the audience said the law needs to include harsher punishment because “they will just come back” after the cleanup. However, another man said that he has helped with several cleanups and no one has ever returned or caused further damage after a cleanup.

The draft legislation talks about forming a partnership and which agencies and stakeholders will be involved, but the details are left to be developed. Monday, one man in the audience said the law needs to include harsher punishment because “they will just come back” after the cleanup. However, another man said that he has helped with several cleanups and no one has ever returned or caused further damage after a cleanup.

Pat Higgins of the Eel River Recovery Project said of the legislation: “You are on the right track. Forest health is paramount. This affects our water supply. To protect and expand public lands is vital for water supply.”

However, several people had concerns that expanding wilderness areas means decreasing access for older citizens due to fewer roads. Huffman said his proposal will not close any roads. Huffman expressed support for maintaining access to these public lands for recreation and other uses. But the draft definitely urges decommissioning all unnecessary roads as identified by the U.S. Forest Service.

Another topic of interest regarded fire management. Huffman says that recovery of severely burned areas is a priority and that selective logging is his vision for making that happen. He also mentioned prevention “along roadways where most fires begin.” Mostly though, Huffman says new policy implementing coordination and cooperation among the federal agencies that manage public lands is the goal of this draft legislation. And Huffman added that he wants to encourage the agencies to use their budgets cooperatively.

One person said he like the selective logging mode of fire management because it’s a source of trees for the local mills. And another said that fire suppression is the cause of the hot, destructive fires we see in the modern era, and that the current fire management budget is strongly over-allocated toward suppression and under-allocated toward fuel reduction and prescribed burns. Cal-Fire’s 2017 budget is about $300 of fire suppression for every dollar of fire prevention allocated.

Congressman Huffman was clear to say that this is a proposed draft. Huffman said he is trying to get feedback before he submits the bill. Congressman Huffman prefers the feedback come electronically, but handwritten is fine and so are phone calls to his offices. The Congressman requests as much specificity as possible. If you have concerns, be clear what affects you and how. Ideas about what would be better for your needs are also encouraged. The official email for your feedback on this is ca02publiclands@gmail.com

Getting Off Topic
Potter Valley Project
Despite the admonishment to stay focused on the proposed public lands management bill, Denver Nelson asked the Congressman about the Scott Dam on the Eel River and whether he supported removing it. Huffman responded by saying he’s gathered stakeholders from “Sonoma to Humboldt”  to meet on the topic. Huffman reports that PG&E has expressed “agnosticism” about the Potter Valley Project. However, a lot of people have come to rely on the water PG&E abandons after making their 9mw of power. The stakeholder group is focusing on “how do we keep them whole while we protect fish and wildlife of the Eel River.” Huffman went on to say he hopes to “avoid a ten or twenty year FERC process” by “taking a shot at finding a solution for everyone.”

Local readers may be aware that PG&E must renew the license on their 9mw hydropower generator in Potter Valley through FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, by 2022. The water PG&E “abandons” after using it to generate power in the headwaters of the East Branch of the Russian River Watershed becomes available for use by others under California water rights law. And the water has become an economic resource to Potter Valley as well as the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA). The total amount of water diverted away from the Eel River varies between 17 and 23 million acre feet per year depending on precipitation amounts.

On a side note, there’s a video on the Cal Trout’s website. Craig’s Corner features our Congressman out floating on the Trinity River this last spring. Among other things, in that video, Huffman says,

…a little further to the south is the Eel River. And the Eel is an amazing river. The stories of what it used to be like are wonderful and captivating. And there’s some momentum building really for investing in the watershed, looking at the flows. There’ll be an opportunity to talk to PG&E about re-licensing the Potter Valley Project. They indicate they no longer want to operate that as a hydroelectric project moving forward, so where that goes, what it translates to in terms of investments in that river, the fishery…there’s gonna be some great opportunities. We need to make it work for the water supply side of both the Eel and the Russian River, but the stakeholders are talking to each other. I’m facilitating those conversations…”

Last Chance Grade
Another important stakeholder group Huffman mentioned at the Wharfinger Monday evening addresses the Last Chance Grade project. Between Trees of Mystery and Crescent City, a distance of about ten miles, there are four places with one-way controlled-traffic signals on the 101. Caltrans’ webpage on Last Chance Grade says a study from 2000 finds there are 200 active slides in that zone! Congressman Huffman says his goal for the stakeholder group is to plan ahead of the impending catastrophic event. The stakeholder group is looking for a re-route that is the least damaging to the old growth and the tribal interests as possible. He hopes that with a unified plan funding will be easier to obtain. Although, no environmental NGOs are listed on the project’s list of partners.

Monday, Congressman Huffman momentarily celebrated obtaining $5 million for seismic studies that will identify where a road is possible. To build the new road, Huffman says he plans to apply for some federal emergency transportation money. However, Huffman says the Last Chance Grade project does not meet the criteria exactly for the funding pool he has identified. If the application for these federal dollars fails, Huffman says he will redirect the application to the California Transportation Commission and hope that the dire nature of Del Norte County losing its only direct connection to its home state will propel the Last Chance Grade project to the top of California’s transportation spending priority list.

If you are interested in hearing the Congressman in person on this matter, he will be in Ukiah on August 29th from 1:30-2:30 p.m. at the City of Ukiah Civic Center, Council Chambers, 300 Seminary Ave.

And the email address to send in your written comments on the draft legislation is ca02publiclands@gmail.com

 

 

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