California’s 24th District Rep. Salud Carbajal reintroduced a bill to Congress this week that would safeguard public lands and wild rivers for the Central Coast.

The bill, known as the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, proposes protection for lands in Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

“Pragmatic policies like the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act make a real difference in the fight against climate change, give residents and visitors the opportunity to appreciate the great outdoors and boosts our recreation economy — all while preserving the plant and animal life that call these public lands home,” Carbajal said in a Los Padres Forest Watch press release.

The bill would protect 250,000 acres of federal public land across Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties. A 400-mile trail from Big Sur to the Los Angeles County Line — across the entire length of the Los Padres National Forest — would also be established.

It would also ban oil development, logging and other industrial activities in the Carrizo Plain National Monument and Los Padres National Forest.

Forestry and natural resources junior Rachel Baer said she is hopeful for this new bill and that it would not only benefit the environment but the economy as well.

“Yes you’re preserving for future generations, but also there is a big recreational or tourism economy that comes with preserving these lands,” Baer said.

While Baer said she thinks there will always be controversy over developing public lands, she said she hopes bills like the one Carbajal proposed will be a step in the right direction. She said that it’s important to move toward a common goal and protect these lands for future generations.

“My favorite thing about national forests, or forest land, is that it’s such a place of peace and solitude,” Baer said. “I feel like there’s just something for everyone in the forest. There’s just a uniqueness and zen about nature that you can’t find anywhere else.”

Visitors to these areas will be asked to follow leave-no-trace practices. However, horseback riding, walking leashed pets, hunting, fishing, canoeing and kayaking are some of the activities that would still be allowed.

California representatives Elton Gallegly and Lois Capps introduced the bill last year, and it received bipartisan support in the House as part of a larger package of public lands conservation bills. However, it did not pass in the Senate both times.

Los Padres Forest Watch Executive Director Jeff Kuyper said in a press release he is optimistic the bill will pass this time. He said that its previous success in the House and President Joe Biden’s current goal of conserving 30% of public lands by 2030 could help its momentum.

It also enjoys the support of more than 500 civic groups and leaders, landowners, businesses, elected officials, schools, recreation leaders, farmers and ranchers, according to the Los Padres Forest Watch.

“This effort represents 12 years of constant pressure from an ever-growing coalition,” Kuyper said in the press release. “It’s gratifying to see what can evolve from a few folks around a picnic table talking about the future.”

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