Viewpoints

Carrizo Plain National Monument must remain a protected landscape

By James Patterson, David Blakely, Jeff Jorgensen and Richard J. Krejsa

Catch the ‘fleeting beauty’ of the Carrizo Plain wildflowers

The wildflowers are in bloom in San Luis Obispo County - especially along Highway 58 near the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The especially wet winter has led to an explosion of wildflowers along the Central Coast. The 2017 season is expected to
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The wildflowers are in bloom in San Luis Obispo County - especially along Highway 58 near the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The especially wet winter has led to an explosion of wildflowers along the Central Coast. The 2017 season is expected to

Over the course of our combined 24 years of service as former San Luis Obispo County 5th District supervisors, we have recognized and appreciated the Carrizo Plain and the valuable role it has played in the economy, culture and preservation of the fifth district. We’ve served as county leaders since the 1970s, bringing our own unique perspectives to the board in making this county a better place to live, work and play.

Today, as the fate of the Carrizo Plain National Monument hangs in the balance, we remain united in our commitment to protecting this unique landscape. We encourage our colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to join us in expressing unified support for the Carrizo Plain and the benefits it provides communities throughout the region.

The vast area in eastern San Luis Obispo County known as the Carrizo Plain has long been recognized as an important cultural, biological, archeological, agricultural, geologic, historic and economic resource. Native Americans frequented the area as far back as 10,000 years to hunt, gather native plants, and trade between tribes. It also had spiritual significance as shown by the pictographs at Painted Rock and is still very relevant to the Chumash today.

The Carrizo is one of the largest remaining examples of the greater 400-mile-long Central Valley grassland that has been almost entirely eliminated by urbanization and intensive agriculture. Biological resources, plants and animals unique to this environment have found safe haven on the Carrizo Plain.

Johna Hurl, Carrizo Plain National Monument manager, talks about the monument's unique features during a tour to commemorate its 15th anniversary Wednesday, June 1, 2016.

Recognizing the importance of – and threats to – what remained of this special landscape, The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife began purchasing large acreages at the southern end of the plain in the 1980s. Oil companies that found no viable oil deposits within the plain, along with ranches that had been struggling for decades to sustain economically viable operations, willingly sold their properties.

Eventually, the Carrizo Plain Natural Area was established. A steering committee was formed consisting of representatives from state and federal agencies, county governments, energy and mineral companies, local residents and others. A management plan was developed, launching what would become a three-decade conservation project that continues to unfold today.

In a bipartisan effort, Congressman Bill Thomas and Congresswoman Lois Capps drafted legislation to create the Carrizo Plain National Conservation Area that would elevate protection and management of the area. When Congress failed to pass that legislation, President Bill Clinton created what is now the Carrizo Plain National Monument in 2001.

Today, the monument is a world-class landscape that encompasses almost 250,000 acres framed by the Temblor Range on the east and the Caliente Range on the west. It includes the highest peak is San Luis Obispo County, the 5,106-foot Caliente Mountain. It is home to the largest concentration of rare, threatened and endangered species of plants and animals in California, along with the alkali flats of Soda Lake and the legendary San Andreas Fault.

This year’s “super bloom” illustrated the economic value of the monument, attracting thousands of wildflower enthusiasts to the county. The non-profit Friends of the Carrizo Plain operates a visitors center to educate and serve the thousands of visitors who come to the monument every year seeking opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, camping and hunting. It is also one of the best places in San Luis Obispo County to view the night sky.

The communities of Taft, Santa Margarita, and Atascadero – recognizing the economic value visitors to the monument provide – are formally recognized as Gateway Communities to the Carrizo Plain. The fate of these communities is directly tied to the continued protection of the Carrizo Plain as a national monument.

The current effort by the Trump Administration to potentially reduce or eliminate the size and protections of national monuments is wrong-headed and ill-advised, especially in the case of the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The stated reasons for undertaking this action do not apply here. The creation of the monument came after decades of careful study and extensive public input, and followed the establishment of the Carrizo Plain Natural Area in 1987. A resource management plan was drafted and the Monument Advisory Committee continues to meet to work with BLM, the managing partners and the public to implement the plan.

As former San Luis Obispo County Fifth District supervisors, we recognize the many values of the Carrizo Plain National Monument and strongly advocate that its protected status not be reduced or eliminated.

We urge our fellow colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to join us – along with other local elected officials, businesses and residents throughout the region – in ensuring that the Carrizo Plain National Monument remains an important component of our region’s economy, history, culture, and environment. Together, we can ensure that this special corner of our county remains protected for current and future generations to explore and enjoy.

Former county supervisors James Patterson, David Blakely, Jeff Jorgensen and Richard J. Krejsa represented District 5, which includes Carrizo Plain National Monument. Debbie Arnold is the current District 5 supervisor.

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