Op Ed: The PUBLIC Lands Act Strengthens Protections, Expands Access to the Outdoors for Californians

With summer underway, one of my favorite family activities is getting outdoors and exploring California’s public lands—from the Pacific Ocean to the Yosemite Valley to the shores of Lake Tahoe. With the trails and scenery serving as an outdoor classroom, it’s our chance to connect with each other and with the stunning nature around us.

Yet chances to experience nature are out of reach for too many Californians—especially for communities of color. Statewide, 62 percent of people of color live in a “nature-deprived” area. In Los Angeles, the majority of Angelenos do not have a park within walking distance of their home.

I’m committed to building and improving parks and recreation areas so that all Californians can enjoy our state’s incredible environment. By conserving California’s natural treasures, we’re also building our resilience to climate threats like drought, extreme heat, and wildfire. We must act now to protect California’s wild places and unparalleled trails—and to ensure that future generations have safe water to drink and clean air to breathe.

That’s why I authored the Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California Lands Act (PUBLIC Lands Act). The PUBLIC Lands Act would protect more than one million acres of public lands and well over 500 miles of rivers—in the Los Angeles region, on the Central Coast, and in Northwest California. Protected lands would include new recreation areas and trails for all to enjoy. The bill would also advance our conservation efforts, such as safeguarding key drinking water sources, that are essential to solving the climate crisis.

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) introducing the PUBLIC Lands Act in front of the San Gabriel Mountains in 2021. Image courtesy of Senator Padilla’s office.

To understand the need for this bill, just look to the San Gabriel Mountains. Surrounding our city, the San Gabriels provide Angelenos with 70 percent of our open space. Their forests and rivers offer an escape from extreme heat for families who may not have a park or shaded sidewalks in their neighborhood. And yet, not all of the region is permanently protected.

The PUBLIC Lands Act would support new recreational opportunities in the San Gabriel Valley, bringing nature closer for communities like Baldwin Park and El Monte. It would also expand the San Gabriel National Monument to include the western Angeles National Forest, which provides one-third of Los Angeles County’s drinking water. In the face of worsening drought, it’s urgent that we safeguard this important source of clean drinking water for millions of residents.

West Fork of the San Gabriel River in the San Gabriel Mountains

Throughout California, the PUBLIC Lands Act would promote equity and protect the environment. Protected lands are our best natural weapon for capturing carbon from the atmosphere, reducing emissions, and ensuring clean air for all. To take on the threat of the climate crisis, America must meet the critical benchmark of conserving 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030. This bill will help California do our part.

Protecting public lands and rivers for future generations is an issue that enjoys widespread support. Companion legislation has already passed the U.S. House several times on a bipartisan basis. I urge the Senate to follow suit and pass the PUBLIC Lands Act this year.

Hundreds of local advocates, business leaders, and community groups developed these proposals from the ground up. I am proud to fight for public lands alongside dedicated advocates like California Environmental Voters, who are working throughout the state to protect nature for all. Every Californian deserves to enjoy the benefits of nature close to home. The PUBLIC Lands Act will help us to realize that dream—for our children and for generations to come.

The proud son of immigrants from Mexico, Senator Alex Padilla believes in giving everyone a fair shot at the American dream. A progressive problem solver, Alex has dedicated his career to finding solutions to the toughest challenges and fighting for communities that are too often left out and left behind. The Senator’s website is available here.

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