Editorial: We support HR 5545 for Berryessa region

We trust Mike Thompson and support the bill to create Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area (NCA).

We support U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson’s bill to create the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area (NCA). Thompson introduced the bill, HR 5545, to the House of Representatives in May. Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced a companion bill, with essentially the same language, in the U.S. Senate last month.

The NCA status, if instituted properly, could have many benefits for residents and the land.

If the bill passes, it will mandate the creation of a site-specific management plan for the area, which encompasses some 319,300 acres from Lake Berryessa in the south to Snow Mountain in the north. Creating that management plan will be the three federal agencies that now manage the land — the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Forest Service — and a public advisory committee (PAC). The 11-person PAC would include representatives from the four counties in the NCA, Lake, Napa, Mendocino and Yolo, plus tribal representatives and other stakeholders.

The proposed legislation will improve recreation opportunities within the area, may help to increase the economies within the NCA, will improve enforcement against illegal marijuana gardens, and will help control noxious weeds and restore habitat. It will allow a wide range of recreational activities within the area, including hiking, mountain biking, hunting and fishing, camping and backpacking, grazing, and boating and rafting on Lake Berryessa.

According to its opponents, including Calistoga’s Lucy White, the bill is a disaster for California. They say it will restrict the use of the land, eliminate boating on Lake Berryessa and promote the purchase of private property within the area by the federal agencies. White said it also will take the “human element” out of the area.

Respectfully, White is wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The problem White has is that she doesn’t trust the federal government. She and her husband own one of the resorts on Lake Berryessa that is now shut down. White says she believes in the free enterprise system and believes it would create more jobs, bring in more tourists and create a healthier economy than would an area managed by the federal government.

With White’s experience at Lake Berryessa, who can blame her for not trusting the government?

But the passage of Thompson’s bill and the creation of an NCA has nothing to do with the concessionaire problems at Lake Berryessa. They are separate issues, despite what White said when she spoke to our editorial board last Friday.

Joining White were Sara Husby, executive director and campaign director of Tuleyome, a Woodland group that is working to pass HR 5545, and Carol Kunze, the Napa director of Tuleyome.

Husby said the creation of the NCA will enhance year-round recreation in the area, which will lead to increased economic benefits, especially for the “gateway” areas of Clearlake and Winters. A Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley, Sara Vatland, looked at the potential economic benefits for those two areas and found increased economic diversification, increased eco-tourism and increased property values.

Those who seek to discredit Thompson and his bill should tone down their rhetoric, read the bill, learn the facts, and quit spreading misinformation about HR 5545. The purpose of the NCA is “to conserve, protect and enhance for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational and scientific resources of the lands included in the conservation area.”

We trust Mike Thompson. He has a solid track record of protecting and enhancing public lands and using government to create structures that provide positive, public benefits. He’s an outdoorsman, is a boater and hiker, and has lived here all of his life. He has represented this district since 1998 in Congress and before that in the California State Senate. He knows well the concerns of the people in District 1.

The bill is supported by some 148 businesses, 52 elected officials and many local governments, including the Napa County Board of Supervisors, both the Calistoga and St. Helena city councils, and the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District. It is also supported by numerous landowners and farmers throughout the four counties and 30 recreation and conservation groups, including the American Motorcyclist Association, Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association, the California Wilderness Coalition, the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Napa River and others.

It is up to us as residents to keep our eyes on the process — making sure that it is properly instituted — and to serve on the advisory committee, to make sure the federal agencies are doing everything they can to fulfill the purpose of the bill: to protect and enhance the land for this and future generations.