González, Savage: President Obama’s Yosemite visit reminds of public land opportunities

By José G. González and Jennifer Savage, Special to The Mercury News | 6/17/2016 

This article was originally posted in Mercury News.

With President Obama’s planned Father’s Day visit to Yosemite to celebrate 100 years of the National Park Service, we welcome his enthusiasm for protecting public lands for all people.

Our country’s population is as diverse as our natural landscapes. That’s why we applaud his efforts to protect places that represent our rich history and conserve our natural treasures.

As president, Obama has protected places that tell the story of Native American, Latino, African American, Asian-American and women’s history. Here in California, the president has designated the San Gabriel Mountains, César E. Chávez, and Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monuments as well as three new national monuments in the desert.

Regardless of background, Californians prize open space. Millions of visitors explore our stunning national parks, monuments and forests every year. We hike, surf, camp, canoe, bike, rock climb, walk the beach, picnic together and ooh and ahh at wildlife and stunning vistas.

California represents equality of opportunity, and our public lands and spaces — open to everyone — are a symbol of this. We value equitable access so that all people may enjoy and benefit from exploring the outdoors. We have a state park system that millions visit each year. The public’s right to access our beaches matters so much that we codified it into state law.

 However, not all of our communities have access to open space and public lands. The Census Bureau predicts that by 2043, a majority of our country’s residents will be people of color. Yet recent research showed that 73 percent of Americans who participated in outdoor activities were white.
There is much still to be done to protect our state’s natural treasures for generations to come and to engage diverse communities in the outdoors. We see an opportunity to address these issues in two ways.

First, we support the California Coastal National Monument Expansion Act. This legislation, brought forth by Sen. Barbara Boxer and Reps. Jared Huffman, Lois Capps and Anna Eshoo, would protect 6,200 acres of public lands in Humboldt, Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo Counties as part of the California Coastal National Monument.

The Cotoni-Coast Dairies on Santa Cruz’s northern coast are a part of these lands. These 5,800 acres of former farmlands boast rare species, coast redwoods, and rolling terrace grasslands. Riparian corridors flow directly into Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, home to gray whales, sea otters and harbor seals.

Designating the Cotoni-Coast Dairies as a national monument would also link together a vast landscape of coastal open spaces and upland forests. These include state and local parks, private nature preserves, working forests, agricultural lands, beaches and protected ocean waters. If Congress fails to act, we support action by the President to protect these valuable areas.

Second, we urge the President to embrace a vision for conservation for the next 100 years for all people. We have an opportunity with the centennial of the National Park Service to both celebrate what we’ve accomplished and plan for the next century. There is much we can do to ensure that our public lands reflect the demographic and ethnic diversity of our nation.

To move this vision forward, we ask the President to issue a Presidential Memorandum that focuses on the importance of national parks and public lands for all people. This memorandum should direct federal land management agencies to adopt guiding principles for a more inclusive approach to public lands.

We can take these actions now for our communities and for generations to come. Our national parks and other public lands must reflect, honor and engage all Americans — for our families and our future.

José G. González of Fresno is the founder of Latino Outdoors. Jennifer Savage of San Francisco is the California Policy Manager with Surfrider Foundation. They wrote this for the Mercury News.


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