For Kelda Wilson and her three children, Lance, Haley and Jada, visits to the Carrizo Plain National Monument are a fond family tradition — one they are ready to defend.
It’s what inspired them to join well over 100 people — including U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, retired Congresswoman Lois Capps and San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon — at a rally Saturday at Mission Plaza to show support for the national monument located on the eastern edge of SLO County.
“We go out every spring to the Carrizo. It’s a ritual,” Wilson said.
It’s a ritual that could be under threat.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is reviewing the protection status of seven national monuments, including the Carrizo Plain, at the request of President Donald Trump, who has called the designations “another egregious abuse of federal power.”
Saturday’s speakers discussed the importance of the plain — popular for its spring wildflower bloom, among other things — to San Luis Obispo County financially, recreationally, environmentally and culturally.
Pat Veesart, who has lived on the monument for 15 years, disputes Trump’s characterization of the monument designation as a government land grab.
“It was a long process,” he said. “It was a public process. It was not a land grab.”
Veesart also noted the monument is a refuge for several endangered species, more than anywhere else in the lower 48 states.
“This is the last hurrah for a whole suite of species,” he said.
The plain is also home to sacred Native American sites. Violet Cavanaugh, vice chair of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, said she and several others spent the recent summer solstice praying at Painted Rock, considered one of the best examples of Native American rock art in the world and one of her tribe’s most sacred spaces.
Harmon said the plain brings substantial tourism revenue to the city, but also provides “respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life.”
Capps discussed the bipartisan origin of the plain’s monument designation, beginning with a bill she co-sponsored along with former Republican Congressman Bill Thomas, a predecessor of Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
“If Bill Thomas could do it, why can’t Kevin McCarthy?” Capps said to the crowd.
Capps’ own successor from the 24th Congressional District, which encompasses San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, Rep. Carbajal, was the final speaker Saturday.
He discussed visiting the plain two weeks ago. Though it was 100 degrees at the time, “the beauty and majestic sight overshadowed the discomfort of the temperature,” he said.
The congressman told the crowd he wrote a letter to Zinke asking him to protect the Carrizo Plain’s monument designation.
Carbajal said next he plans to send Zinke a canvass picture of the plain “to remind him what we are talking about when we say this place is special.”