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Monument Fate No Longer in Local Hands

The bell at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa sounds off time for services, weddings and funerals.

On July 1, with a speaker’s podium set on the Mission steps, the over 100 people gathered in the plaza below were well aware of the fleeting passage of time. Attendees at the ‘Rally to Save Carrizo Plain National Monument’ knew they only had until July 10 for their voices to be officially heard by the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior Secreatary Ryan Zinke.

The Department held a truncated public comment period whilst conducting an official review of the National Monument status of 27 areas preserved by previous administrations though the National Antiquities Act. Supporters of the current status for Carrizo Plain fear that when it’s through the bells will toll for the monument in eastern SLO County.

Those supporters included people that had worked to establish protect the Plain going back more than 20 years.

Former 24th Congressional District Congresswoman Lois Capps made a rare local speech since handing the reigns the post to current Representative Salud Carbajal.  While the incumbent spoke about his moving experiences on a recent visit to the Painted Rock site, sacred to the Northern Chumash people, Capps reminded the audience that protection of the monument was a bipartisan effort from the beginning.   In 1999 she worked with Republican Congressman Bill Thomas to co-sponsor the bill that later became President Bill Clinton’s basis for Monument declaration.

One of the few people that actually lives “on the monument” Pat Veesart, repeated for a larger audience some points he’d been sharing on trips with journalists earlier in the week, “The President called [Monuments] a ‘land grab.’ I want to make it clear this was never a land grab. Carrizo came about after decades of collaboration and partnership between public agencies and ranchers and nonprofits.”

He added that the area had already been partially protected as a preserve in 1996.

Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch – which also covers the Carrizo Plain National Monument in its nonprofit conservation mandate  – emceed the event as well as gathering comment cards to be personally delivered to Zinke in Washington D.C. before the deadline.

“He called the executive order, which instigated the review, “an attack on the essence of our democracy…Who would have thought,” he asked, “that 16 years after the designation we would be here fighting again?”

-Story and Photos by Camas Frank

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