A proposal is gaining steam to designate 330,000 acres of federal land in Napa and five adjacent counties as a national conservation area, with the goal of improving public management and public access.
The Berryessa Snow Mountain proposal would be a patchwork of federal lands stretching from Snow Mountain in the Mendocino National Forest to Cold Canyon in northeast Solano County.
The territory would include 55,000 acres in northeast Napa County that is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Reclamation or the Bureau of Land Management.
The region contains habitat for dozens of wildlife species and is one of the largest swaths of relatively undisturbed public lands in California, according to Tuleyome, an environmental group backing the proposal.
The designation wouldn’t change the recreational uses allowed on the land, so the average user may not notice the change. But it would expand access to grant money, create an umbrella organization to do comprehensive planning and permanently enshrine land conservation as the area’s number one priority, said Victoria Brandon, a board member of Tuleyome.
“These days, to get anything done you have to have grants,” Brandon said. “It would give much better access to funding resources than we have now. This would enable more hikers and horsemen and kayakers. It would create a structure for management that we don’t have now.”
The area currently encompasses the Cache Creek, Cedar Rough and Snow Mountain wilderness areas, state land and private land.
In his budget for the next fiscal year, President Barack Obama requested that direct funding for national conservation areas be increased by $3 million, with another pot of possible grants increased by $6.3 million.
Bob Schneider, Tuleyome’s senior policy director, said it was too early to gauge how much money the territory could receive in grants or other awards.
The expanded conservation area is supported by U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, but has been opposed by U.S. Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico.
A spokesman for Herger, who announced he was retiring earlier this year, declined to provide a comment because the proposal was being revised and Herger had yet to see the revisions.
While the ultimate goal is to designate 500,000 acres of the wilderness area, Brandon said boundaries had been redrawn to include only territory in Thompson’s 1st Congressional District, and none of Herger’s 2nd Congressional District.
The 500,000-acre goal received a boost because the state redrew its congressional districts last year as part of redistricting, and Garamendi’s new district took over jurisdiction over the remaining 170,000 acres, Brandon said.
Brandon said the proposal has received the support of 40 elected officials, more than 100 businesses, and thousands of citizens. With that support, Schneider said his group’s hope are pinned on getting Thompson or another lawmaker to sponsor a bill.
“If we don’t have a bill we’re not going,” Schneider said.
A spokesman for Thompson said the expanded wilderness area was being talked about in Congress, but a formal proposal had not been crafted.