Biden Expected to Expand California Monuments

In Southern California, 110,000 acres of Angeles National Forest will be added to the the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
Biden Expected to Expand California Monuments
Vehicles make their way through the Angeles National Forest in the mountains north of Los Angeles on Oct. 2, 2013. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
Jill McLaughlin

President Joe Biden is expected to expand the boundaries of two California national monuments in the coming weeks, according to recent news reports.

Using the Antiquities Act of 1906, the president can add land to the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument near Los Angeles and the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, about 85 miles northwest of Sacramento.

The president’s plan aims to bolster his conservation record and increase access to the monuments for disadvantaged communities, according to an April 11 story in the Washington Post.

Politico’s Essential Energy and Environment news publication, known as E&E News, confirmed the plan in a report the same day.

There is no set date for the expansions, according to news reports, but a Washington Post source said they should occur sometime in April.

When Mr. Biden was vice president, former President Barack Obama designated both sites as national monuments.

Two members of Congress—Rep. Judy Chu of the 28th District which includes the San Gabriel Valley, and Sen. Alex Padilla, from California—introduced legislation in May 2023 to add nearly 110,000 more acres of Angeles National Forest land to the monument.

The legislation would also designate more than 30,000 acres of protected wilderness and add nearly 46 miles to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

“The San Gabriel Mountains are among the most pristine and beautiful public lands in the country, with more visitors annually than Yellowstone, and they are right next to one of the nation’s densest and most park-deprived population centers,” Ms. Chu said in a statement to E&E News.

Six months later, the White House sent a top-level cabinet member who oversees the Forest Service to the San Gabriel Valley in November 2023 to hear public comment on the proposed expansion of the monument located there.

The Berryessa Snow Mountain became a national monument in July 2015. The site encompasses nearly 331,000 acres of public land in the heart of Northern California’s Inner Coast Range, north of the San Francisco Bay area.

The mountains reach over 7,000 feet and stretch across nearly 100 miles and is a biodiversity hotspot and home to Native Americans for at least the last 1,100 years.

Clouds hover around the lightly snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles on Feb. 7, 2024. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
Clouds hover around the lightly snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles on Feb. 7, 2024. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

In advance of a possible expansion, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland toured the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in September, meeting with federal, tribal, state, and local officials, and community members.

Additionally, Mr. Padilla introduced legislation in July 2023 to add nearly 4,000 acres of federal land in the area’s Lake County, known as the Walker Ridge, or Molok Luyuk as it is known by an indigenous tribe there called the Patwin.

The expansion would allow the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to create agreements with Indian tribes to manage the additional land. It would also rename Walker Ridge as Condor Ridge.

After Ms. Haaland’s visit to the monument, Maite Arce, president of the Hispanic Access Foundation, a nonprofit focused on improving the lives of Hispanics in the U.S., said the expansion would be critically important.

“We applaud Secretary Haaland for visiting Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. The proposed expansion to include Molok Yuluk has received widespread support from tribes, environmental groups, and community leaders, as it would protect a rare and rugged landscape and safeguard public lands that are sacred to the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and are critically important to protect in the face of a changing climate,” Mr. Arce said in a statement at the time.

The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and Patwin are part of the larger Wintun People, which includes six other federally recognized tribes in Northern California.

Recent past presidents have used their authority often to name new national monuments.

Mr. Obama used the Antiquities Act most often in the recent past, creating 29 new monuments and enlarging five others. He also proclaimed the most monument acreage—about 554 million—among all former presidents, according to the Congressional Research Service, an agency that reports on legislation for Congress.

However, former president Franklin D. Roosevelt used his authority the most often in U.S. history, naming 36 monuments while in office.

Former President Bill Clinton established 19 new monuments and expanded three others during his term from 1996-2001, while former President Donald Trump designated one new monument and reduced and modified management of two others.

Mr. Biden has already named five new monuments, enlarged and modified two others during his term.

The Antiquities Act is used to protect sites with historic and scientific values, but has become contentious. Concerns have arisen about the extent of the president’s authority to establish and modify monuments and the inclusion of nonfederal lands within monument boundaries, among other issues, according to the research service.

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.