Representative Sam Farr's recently enacted "Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act of 2002" had its beginning in the summer of 1998 when the Ventana Wilderness Alliance began an inventory of roadless areas in the Monterey Ranger District of the Los Padres National Forest and adjacent Bureau of Land Management lands. These public lands were surveyed and mapped and their wilderness values documented. The results of this effort helped to lay the groundwork for this important wilderness expansion legislation.
Passage of the Act would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of both Representative Farr and Senator Barbara Boxer. On the evening of the final House session, Representative Farr spent many hours on the House floor gaining the support necessary to discharge his bill from the House Resource Committee. His efforts were rewarded, and in the waning hours of the session, his legislation passed by voice vote. In a late night session in the Senate, Senator Boxer's firm insistence that the legislation be included with other bills to be voted on as a package, led to its Senate passage. The measure was signed into law by the President on December 19, 2002.
With the enactment of the "Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act of 2002", the Ventana Wilderness has been expanded for the fifth time since its original designation, adding nearly 35,000 acres. Originally set aside as a 55,884 acre Primitive Area in 1929, it was subsequently expanded and given wilderness status in 1969. The 14,500 acre Silver Peak wilderness, created in 1992 by the "Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act", has been more than doubled in size to 31,555 acres by the Act. Also, 2,715 acres of the Chalone Creek watershed was added to the Pinnacles National Monument Wilderness, located in San Benito County.
From the rugged slopes of Monterey County's highest mountain, 5,862' Junipero Serra Peak, to the lush redwood forests of the Big Sur coast, a great diversity of wildlife and vegetation is present in these wilderness additions. Threatened steelhead trout are present and the reintroduced California condor is often observed soaring high above the wilderness. Along with redwoods, chaparral, pines, ancient oaks and grassy meadows, several additions also include significant stands of rare Santa Lucia fir. The Native American archeological sites found within many of the additions will benefit from the protection afforded by wilderness designation.
The 8,820 acre Willow Creek addition to the Silver Peak Wilderness was never inventoried as roadless by the Forest Service and features the largest Douglas fir forest found in central California. With its old growth redwood forest, expanses of meadow, and stunning mountaintop views of the Pacific Ocean, it makes a spectacular wilderness addition. Other additions display a variety of features including river segments of the Little Sur River, the sandstone monolith of Wagon Caves Rock, and the enormous ancient oaks found along the San Antonio River. Also included in the legislation is the Bureau of Land Management's Black Rock Wilderness Study Area. This parcel adjoins the northernmost region of the Ventana Wilderness and features 2 perennial streams with lush riparian corridors.
The Act also authorizes the expenditure of $1,000,000 per year for 5 years for a pilot program to combat invasive plant and animal species throughout the area.
Vice President, Ventana Wilderness Alliance