In October, Congress passed the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Act of 2006, designating more than 275,000 acres of federal roadless lands as wilderness. The bill creates several new wilderness areas, adds to existing ones, and establishes new Wild and Scenic River segments. Among the places protected are portions of California's fabled Lost Coast, containing the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the Lower 48.
The groundwork for the bill was laid seven years ago. Lynn Ryan, North Group Conservation Chair (Redwood Chapter), recalls the day in 1999 when she learned in the California Wilderness Coalition newsletter of the effort to inventory all roadless Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands in California to begin the process of passing a California wilderness bill in Congress. (Sierra Club California, eleven Club chapters, a dozen groups, and several committees are active members of the coalition.)
California Senator Barbara Boxer, the bill's Senate sponsor, told activists that each area being considered for wilderness designation needed to be "adopted" by a group or individual, who should then build support for that area. "I learned how to inventory boundaries, how to draw little dirt roads on maps, how to talk not just to hikers, but to hunters and ranchers about my survey," Ryan says. "We pored over maps and spoke with neighboring landowners, explaining that wilderness would keep things as they are, with no new roads, grazing permits, or mining claims, but they could still graze cattle and fight fires like they do now, while preserving wildlife habitat and clean water."
Recruiting Humboldt State University students to join her, Ryan surveyed her adopted area and solicited letters of support from businesses and elected officials in Humboldt and Mendocino Counties. "We went on lots of hikes, searched for old trailheads, fixed flat tires, pulled each other out of ditches and back up on ridges, got lost and found, slept under the stars in the middle of nowhere and listened to mountain lions screaming in the night, and laughed a lot," she recalls.
Coalition members worked with Northern California Congressman Mike Thompson to introduce a bill in the House of Representatives, answered tough questions from Senator Dianne Feinstein to gain her endorsement, dogged Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for his nod of approval, and obtained letters of support from every county supervisor in Humboldt County. In a remarkable show of support, 21 of the 24 county supervisors in the five California counties encompassed by the bill went on record favoring it.
Lost Coast Adopted: Among the areas protected by the Northern California Wild Heritage Act of 2006 are parts of the Lost Coast, above, containing the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the Lower 48. The bill protects more than 275,000 acres of federal roadless land as wilderness.