As one of the most difficult years in recent memory draws to a close, Runners for Public Land’s Advocacy and Education Committee has put together a list of some of the big environmental news items from the past few months. From local land preservation to new drilling in one of the country’s most remote and beloved national wildlife refuges, these issues are important to recognize as we head into 2021.

1. Harmon Canyon Now Open to the Public

After nearly a decade of planning, negotiating, and fundraising, Ventura Land Trust recently purchased the 2,123-acre Harmon Canyon Preserve and opened the gate to Ventura’s first large-scale public nature preserve. “Acquiring Harmon Canyon Preserve is a watershed moment for Ventura Land Trust,” said Derek Poultney, VLT Executive Director. “Our founders’ vision of protecting the land forever is realized with this purchase. We are excited to welcome everyone to come and enjoy it.” Open to the public daily from dawn to dusk for hiking, biking, and trail running, at no charge, admission is and always will be free. The Harmon Canyon Preserve is a spectacular recreation destination that includes miles of trails within scenic wildlife habitat. The preserve’s hills and canyons encompass old oak groves, seasonal streams, and breathtaking views of Southern California’s mountains, coastlines, and Channel Islands. “When our preserve plan is more fully implemented, we will host a grand opening celebration,” said Poultney, “but for now, we’ll add trails, signage, and preserve amenities while we continue to raise the funds needed to assure our ability to care for Harmon Canyon Preserve forever.” 

Harmon Canyon Volunteers

Volunteers help build trails in Harmon Canyon. Photo courtesy of Ventura Land Trust.

Ventura locals no longer need to drive to Ojai, Santa Barbara, or the Santa Monica Mountains. We have 2,123 acres of unspoiled open space right here in Ventura’s own backyard! We invite you to the beautiful land that Ventura Land Trust has protected for you. Head up to Harmon Canyon Preserve, stretch your legs, take a deep breath (6 feet away from others) and rejuvenate. Together, we will get through the pandemic because access to nature is more important now than ever and it’s what Ventura Land Trust does best.

To learn how you can help complete Ventura Land Trust’s vision for Harmon Canyon, contact their development director Leslie Velez or visit their website. You can also become a member to help financially support the organization’s efforts to preserve open space around Ventura.

2. Ventura County Supervisors Vote to Fix Outdated Oil Permitting Process

Back in November, Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to update the county’s outdated oil and gas permitting process that was putting local ecosystems and water resources at risk. Under the old system, oil companies operating under a conditional use permit issued as long ago as the 1940s could drill or frack new wells without having to go through any extra environmental review. Thousands of oil wells in Ventura County operate under these “antiquated permits” that were issued before environmental and human health impacts were known and long before bedrock environmental laws existed. 

Pumpjack in Santa Paula Canyon

New well operating under a 1970s-era conditional use permit in Santa Paula Canyon. Photo by Bryant Baker.

Many of these wells are located within or adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest and other public lands in Ventura County. Others were immediately along streams or near communities like Ventura, Oxnard, and Fillmore. If a company with an antiquated permit wanted to drill a new well, all they had to do was get an “over-the-counter” zoning clearance after submitting a short application and a $330 fee. Under the new regulations passed by the Board of Supervisors, companies will now have to go through a more stringent process to get a permit for drilling a new well. This process will include discretionary review of the permit application, which ensures that all current health, safety, and environmental requirements are met–not just the requirements in place half a century ago. Environmental organizations in the region applauded the decision, but the fight to protect land and water from harmful drilling operations isn’t over–the industry is campaigning to overturn the decision.

Luckily, groups like Los Padres ForestWatch, Climate First: Replacing Oil and Gas, and Food and Water Watch are leading the charge to protect the new regulations. Visit their websites to learn more about how you can get involved.

Vote

“Vote!” by kgroovy is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, click here.

3. Californians Voted Up and Down the Ballot to Mitigate Climate Change

As president, Joe Biden’s plan to fight the climate crisis is geared towards building a clean energy future and fighting for environmental equity. Here are some of the measures that Biden plans to implement once in office:

  • Put the U.S. on track to achieve 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050
  • Recommit the U.S. to the Paris Agreement on climate change
  • Increase investments in clean energy and rebuild infrastructure making sure it can withstand the impacts of climate change

California has long been home to environmental activism and fights to counteract the effects of climate change through state and local measures, often leading the way for the rest of the country. Not surprisingly, California voters elected Joe Biden for president. With a Biden administration, we’re hopeful climate change will be put in the forefront of important issues to tackle.

Locally, California voters showed their support and concern toward a greener future:

  • Los Angeles and Ventura counties elected supervisors who have supported drilling setbacks, refused fossil fuel campaign contributions, and supported measures to rein in the oil industry.
  • San Diego’s new mayor, Todd Gloria, helped write the city’s climate action plan which aims to cut the city’s climate pollution in half by 2025 and supports reducing dependence on cars.
  • In Long Beach, a city long home to oil production, Measure US was passed to increase tax on oil production.
  • Voters in the Imperial Valley elected J.B. Hamby, who ran on a platform to protect Colorado River water supplies, and elected Javier Gonzalez, who received support from a solar company.

4. Country’s Largest National Forest Opened to Commercial Logging

Tongass

Stream in the Tongass National Forest. Photo by Scott Switzler.

Sometimes when we hear the word “rainforest” we think of the tropics and forests that are under assault. But did you know that the largest national forest in the United States is a rainforest in Southeast Alaska? The Tongass National Forest is an old-growth forest that covers nearly 17 million acres (almost 10 times larger than the Los Padres National Forest) and is home to salmon streams, bears, wolves, eagles, glaciers, and more. This forest is a treasure and portions of it are now in danger of destruction. At the request of the Alaskan congressional delegation, the USDA exempted the Tongass from the 2001 Roadless Rule across more than half of the national forest. This rule prohibits the building of roads, most types of timber harvest, and other damaging activities. With this new change, the forest is now at risk of large commercial logging projects. While no projects have been proposed yet, it’s important that we pay attention to upcoming projects and lobby the incoming administration to change this decision. You can learn more about this development and how to get involved in the fight to protect the Tongass National Forest here.   

5. Outgoing Administration Pushes Oil Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one the last undeveloped wild places on earth, is at risk of being opened to oil drilling. In a final push, the Trump administration is fast-tracking a lease sale to oil and gas companies that will lead to drilling in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge, one of the ecologically and culturally sensitive regions of the Refuge. Unchecked, there could be a sale before the inauguration of President-Elect Biden. 

Visit Protect The Arctic to find out about ways you can get involved in the fight to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. There’s currently an opportunity to submit a comment to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to urge the agency to protect polar bears in the refuge from any oil and gas activities. 

ANWR

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.