New national monument for Northern California

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument
McLaughlin Natural Reserve is among the three UC Natural Reserves located near newly-designated Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. Image credit: Lobsang Wangdu

Northern California has a brand-new national monument. On Friday, July 10, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation establishing Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument on more than 330,000 acres of federal lands north and west of Sacramento.

The monument extends across a 100-mile stretch ranging from Lake, Glenn, and Mendocino counties in the north to Yolo, Napa, and Solano Counties in the south. The new designation affords additional protections to a landscape rich in biological diversity, Native American history, and stunning examples of tectonic plate geology.

Berryessa Snow Mountain was one of three national monuments Obama established Friday. The others are Waco Mammoth, a paleontological site in Texas, and Basin and Range in Nevada, which harbors ancient rock art.

Benefits to UC reserves

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument
Coordinated land management efforts may be among the benefits to landscapes in and around the new monument. Image credit: Lobsang Wangdu

The boundaries of Berryessa Snow Mountain encompass only federal lands. Yet the monument borders thousands of acres of other protected landscapes, including three UC Natural Reserves administered by UC Davis: McLaughlin Natural Reserve, Quail Ridge Reserve, and Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve. The reserves are part of the statewide system of 39 reserves and 756,000 acres  within the UC NRS.

Establishment of the monument could benefit both the reserves and the region as a whole.

“It maintains current sustainable land uses and prevents future changes to these federal lands. For example, no new mining claims can be filed, selling off these public lands is now much more difficult,” says Quail Ridge Reserve director Shane Waddell.

Monument designation should facilitate landscape-scale research and public understanding of the environment. “Scientific initiatives will get a higher profile and interpretive programs will get stronger,” says Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve director Jeffrey Clary.

Influence beyond monument borders

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument
Unusual geology in the new national monument region has produced serpentine soils that support endemic plants like this phacelia. Image credit: Lobsang Wangdu

On the ground, federal interest in region-wide landscape management is likely to grow. That means agencies that own land in the monument might be more likely to develop agreements to coordinate weed management and habitat restoration efforts with their private and nonprofit neighbors, says McLaughlin Natural Reserve director Catherine Koehler.

By law, the monument allows any already-approved uses of the land to continue. That means previously existing mineral rights, maintained roads, and access to private property may continue as before, as will activities such as hiking, whitewater rafting, hunting and fishing, and other recreational activities. This provision also ensures that access to Quail Ridge and McLaughlin reserves will remain by permission of the University only.

However, the assurance that land in the monument will continue to remain in federal hands in its present condition could expand protections to landscapes nearby, says Koehler. “The likelihood of finding conservation funding to protect these lands is greater. Conservation groups with philanthropic backing might be more inclined to protect land abutting a national monument,” says McLaughlin Natural Reserve director Catherine Koehler.

Over the long term, NRS reserves adjacent to the monument may be eligible for federal funding supporting educational outreach.

Worthy of national distinction

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument
Stebbins Cold Canyon is one of three UC NRS reserves near the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. Image credit: Lobsang Wangdu

According to the Antiquities Act of 1906, national monuments can be created on federal lands that contain historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, or other objects of historic or scientific interest.

The NRS reserves abutting the monument protect fine examples of the region’s signature features. For example, tectonic forces like those that forced former seamounts into what is now landlocked Snow Mountain also uplifted the Coast Range ridges that surround and form Stebbins Cold Canyon. And the area’s unique biological riches can be seen in the endemic plant species found only on serpentine soils such as those at McLaughlin Natural Reserve.

The establishment of the monument caps years of effort by the local community, businesses, political leaders, nonprofit agencies, and others. The first efforts to gain Congressional protection for the area dates back to 2012, but  subsequent work to recognize the Berryessa Snow Mountain region with a special designation goes back more than a dozen years.

The new designations bring the total number of national monuments to 117, 19 of which were established by President Obama.

Related links

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, USDA Forest Service

President Obama declares Berryessa Snow Mountain a national monument, Associated Press/Daily Democrat

Three new national monuments are established by Obama, New York Times

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