The Carrizo Plain National Monument is one of the crown jewels of San Luis Obispo County.
It’s a place where pronghorn antelope and tule elk roam the landscape. Where ancient pictographs tell stories and inspire wonder. Where the Caliente and Temblor mountain ranges rise above the valley floor. Where fields of native grasslands stretch as far as the eye can see. And where the shores of Soda Lake shimmer in salty silence, reflecting a kaleidoscope of wildflowers that blanket the surrounding hillsides.
If you’ve explored the Carrizo Plain—or simply admired it from afar—you know there is no other place like it.
Yet today it faces an unprecedented threat as politicians in Washington, D.C., seek to revoke its protected status. Last month, President Donald Trump ordered a review of two dozen national monuments throughout the West. The Carrizo Plain, right here in our own backyard, is one of the monuments on the chopping block.
Others slated for review include Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, Giant Sequoia National Monument in California, Cascade Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado, five marine national monuments in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and the recently created Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, among many others.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is tasked with orchestrating the review, and it must be completed within 120 days.
One of our region’s most significant conservation legacies—more than three decades in the making—could be undermined with the stroke of a pen by the end of this summer.
Local residents, along with state and federal agencies, have worked together since the 1980s to secure a permanent conservation legacy for the Carrizo Plain. An advisory council consisting of members of the public, local elected officials, landowners, ranchers, and industry representatives met regularly to ensure the protection of this treasured landscape. Public input was solicited, field visits were scheduled, and legislation was introduced in the halls of Congress. These efforts eventually culminated in the area’s designation as a national monument in 2001.
A few years later, after a thorough public process including hearings and thousands of comments, a comprehensive land management plan was adopted for the Carrizo Plain. That plan is hailed as a model for public land management in the 21st century, and it continues to enjoy widespread community and stakeholder support.
President Trump and Secretary Zinke’s review is unraveling this delicate balance that has been built over the course of the last three decades. It is rekindling old controversies that were settled long ago, and it is tearing at the fabric of our country’s natural and cultural heritage.
Without a monument designation, the Carrizo Plain would literally be erased from the map. It would lose its protected status, leaving these lands vulnerable to misuse and environmental damage. Fewer resources would be available to manage the area. And we would all lose a big part of what makes our region so special.
Thankfully, we have history on our side, and what it tells us is this: After 16 years, the Carrizo Plain’s monument status has been a boon to communities throughout the Central Coast. It drives tourism dollars, enhances property values, and spurs economic growth. During springtime “super blooms,” visitors from throughout the state flock to the Carrizo, spending money on gas, hotels, food, and retail goods while infusing hundreds of thousands of dollars into nearby communities.
Anticipating this economic boon, the towns of Atascadero and Santa Margarita have wisely declared themselves as official “gateway” communities to the Carrizo Plain, and continue to reap the rewards of the area’s monument status.
A recent study by the Outdoor Industry Association shows that visitors to national parks, forests, and monuments contribute $887 billion in consumer spending each year, supporting 7.6 million American jobs.
Many local businesses rely on our region’s strong network of protected open space—the Carrizo Plain National Monument, the Los Padres National Forest, state and regional parks, and marine reserves—as a powerful force that provides good jobs and feeds our local economy.
These lands also contribute to our region’s quality of life, and enhance our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. They define who we are as residents of the Central Coast, and as citizens of this great nation.
National monuments have become part of our national identity, and an example for other nations to follow. Congress enacted the Antiquities Act to give presidents the authority to designate monuments. Ever since President Theodore Roosevelt signed that bedrock conservation law in 1906, eight presidents from both political parties have used it to recognize and protect public lands of important natural, scientific, and historical value to all Americans. Today, 129 national monuments are found across 31 states, representing an important component of our country’s heritage.
No president, ever, has revoked a national monument designation. Whether we are Democrats, Republicans, or somewhere in between, we all share the common understanding that these lands should remain protected for future generations to explore and enjoy.
Residents throughout California’s Central Coast and beyond are speaking out and taking action so that the Carrizo Plain stays just like it is today: open, wild, and protected for everyone to explore and enjoy.
A coalition of organizations including Los Padres ForestWatch, Conservation Lands Foundation, Carrizo Plains Conservancy, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and Center for Biological Diversity are working around the clock to ensure that the Carrizo Plain retains its protected status.
By joining together, residents throughout the Central Coast can show Secretary Zinke how we overwhelmingly support the Carrizo Plain National Monument and the benefits it provides to our local communities.
The Interior Department is accepting public comments until July 10. Our goal is to generate 10,000 letters of support for the Carrizo Plain National Monument. If you’ve visited it, or just admire it from afar, we hope you will share your thoughts and let your voice be heard.
Visit savethecarrizo.org to learn more about the Carrizo Plain, view images by local photographers, and submit your comments to Washington, D.C., with the click of a button. We will collect and hand-deliver the letters to Zinke’s office prior to the July 10 deadline.
If you prefer to write directly, you can mail your letter to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20240.
We must do everything we can today to protect it, so that future generations can continue to experience the sheer wonder of this iconic landscape.
Send your letter today.
Los Padres ForestWatch Executive Director Jeff Kuyper and Conservation Director Bryant Baker want help protecting the Carrizo Plain. Respond with a letter to the editor to [email protected].