Green Piece

news2Fred Keeley says Coast Dairies faces threat from Alaska

The campaign to designate a 5,800-acre swath of tumbling hills and towering redwoods north of Wilder Ranch as a national monument open to the public is gaining momentum, but time may be of the essence for organizers.

That’s because a fight is brewing between a century-old bill and a Republican lawmaker from Alaska who wants to fundamentally alter it. Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) wants to reform the Antiquities Act, which allows the president to restrict the use of federal land. That effort could jeopardize the local plans to transform the property known locally as Coast Dairies into the Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument.

“There’s an urgency now that has been added,” says Fred Keeley, convener of the County of Santa Cruz Open Space Project. Possible changes, he adds, have “gone from being a remote possibility to being a real possibility.”

Young’s bill would strip the president of his power to designate national monuments, something he can currently do without Congressional approval.

Local advocates will host a Feb. 12 kick-off event at the Kaiser Permanente arena to rally locals around the monument. They hope to show the White House there’s robust community support for the designation. It’s part of a larger plan to gather at least 10,000 signatures to send to President Barack Obama.

“We are trying to build the widest, deepest base of support possible to petition the White House to designate the Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument,” says Keeley, whose term as county treasurer wrapped up last month. “This needs to happen in 2015.”

Acting up

As Keeley and company race to establish the Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument, the bill that worries him is H.R. 330, which would require Congressional approval for national monument designations, effectively gutting the Antiquities Act.

The Antiquities Act was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. It gives presidents the authority to set aside federal public lands as national monuments without Congress giving the go-ahead, though Keeley noted historically presidents of both parties have sought to work with local representatives rather than exercise absolute executive power. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, whose district includes Coast Dairies, is drafting a House resolution seeking designation.

Young’s bill, which is currently in a House committee, would likely have died in the Democrat-held Senate, but Republicans now hold a majority in both chambers of Congress.
While it’s hard to imagine Obama supporting the bill, Keeley, a former legislator himself, fears the plan might be slipped in as an amendment on an unrelated bill—perhaps one that the president wants to sign.

Matthew Shuckerow, a spokesman for Young, says H.R. 330 does not preclude future national monuments but rather seeks to create a more transparent process by mandating congressional approval.

“States that have lots of federal land—like Alaska—have been mistreated in unilateral [national monument] decisions,” says Shuckerow. Presidential designations, he adds, limit economic and transportation use of the land “without local input or full review.”

Shuckerow understands local concerns over Young’s legislation. He offers that in cases where there is public and local representative support for a national monument, “things would move much more quickly, and there would be support in Congress to pass” a resolution.

Young introduced the bill last month, and it has no firm timeline for passing. If it makes it out of the House Committee on National Resources, it would go before the House and then Senate for votes before landing on the president’s desk.

Should the president veto the bill, Shuckerow says Young would pursue other avenues, and the congressman would “continue to work on legislation that we believe in.” He would not comment on the possibility of H.R. 330 ending up as an amendment to another bill.

Keeley notes that the Antiquities Act has been used by both Republican and Democratic presidents to preserve important natural resources. At this point, he doesn’t want to sit around and wait to see fate of H.R. 330 “We don’t want to be caught in that partisan battle between the president and Congress, so we are really reaching out to the community to do something with great speed,” he says.

The president could sign off on the designation at any time, and then the real work of securing funding and drafting and implementing a national monument management plan would begin. It would take years to fully implement the plan’s recreation and conservation aspects, but without the designation, those may never happen.

If the monument designation were delayed, the property, which is currently owned by the Bureau of Land Management, runs the risk of missing out on federal and state funding needed to implement recreational components, like trails, and conservation efforts.

“We are very concerned that without national monument status, the Coast Dairies property will have a nice plan, and then nothing will happen after that,” Keeley says.

Safe space

Feb. 12 will serve as the first public event for the national monument campaign. Guests include former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, an internationally recognized environmental advocate, Eshoo and members of communities with national monuments, including Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker.

The event is free and open to the public, and will run from 6 to 8 p.m. at Kaiser Permanente Arena. Keeley says so far the response to the kick-off has been overwhelmingly positive.

Despite the groundswell of support, the campaign isn’t a slam dunk. Some groups, like the Rural Bonny Doon Association, have raised concerns regarding public safety, funding and the impact to the communities nearest the property.

The association is afraid the expected influx of tourists would put a strain on local resources, including fire and police departments, and that the monument would lack adequate funding to build on-site infrastructure and keep it maintained in the long term.  

Keeley says the campaign welcomes issues raised by the association as well as Davenport residents, noting the event will provide for “frank discussion” around the monument.
Dan Alper, a Bonny Doon resident and member of the Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument advisory board, says the benefits outweigh any potential negatives for him.

“I couldn’t support the monument designation if it would in anyway jeopardize the land,” he says. “This is a wonderful opportunity and we’d be making a huge mistake if we didn’t really make an effort to protect the property.”

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