While California’s state parks are perpetually troubled, at least the Golden State can celebrate a new national park. On Thursday, President Obama signed into law a bill by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) that makes Pinnacles National Monument in central California a protected national park, the 59th in the country and ninth in the state.
“The park’s sanctuary for the California condor and native wildlife, its red crags, caves, impressive displays of spring wildflowers, and opportunities for star-viewing under its noteworthy dark skies make Pinnacles a special place and worthy of its national park status for future generations to enjoy,” said Neal Desai, Pacific Region associate director for the National Parks Conservation Association.
Farr had tried to make the bill stronger, but was foiled by House Republicans:
[T]he last Congress, which ended Jan. 3, was the first Congress since 1966 not to designate a single new acre of public land in America as federally protected wilderness, where logging, mining and other development is prohibited.
Farr’s bill originally called for designating 3,000 acres inside Pinnacles boundaries as wilderness. The area is where biologists in recent years have been releasing California condors as part of a captive breeding program to bring the species back from the brink of extinction. But that provision was stripped out by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Resources Committee.
Last month, Obama proposed adding 2,700 square miles off the coast of Northern California to the national marine sanctuary system, permanently protecting the area from oil and gas drilling.
That’s all well and good for the (adorable) sea otters and (unfortunate-looking) condors, Obama, but what about the rest of us? For all he might be doing, Obama is not measuring up to his predecessors when it comes to protecting public lands. According to the usually Obama-friendly Think Progress, under this president, the U.S. has protected less than 10 percent of the acreage protected under Bill Clinton, and less than 25 percent of what was protected under George W. Bush.
I know it’s cold out, but you’d best hustle outdoors this weekend if you’d like to see any of this country’s wild places before they’re turned into one giant drilling field. At least we’ll always have Pinnacles.