July 9, 2017
Dear Secretary Zinke,
I am a 14-year-old student from California and have enjoyed the outdoors for years. Our nation’s unspoiled natural wonders have always had and will always have a special place in my heart.
When your Department of the Interior decided to review 27 of our nation’s best national monuments, many people including myself were alarmed that any amount of the 11 million acres of wilderness could possibly wind up in the hands of energy or mining companies with no interest other than their profit.
One national monument in particular sticks out to me as one that needs to stay fully protected in its entirety. Carrizo Plain National Monument is located in San Luis Obispo County, California. The Plain is the only basin fully enclosed by the Coast Ranges of California and is the last area of untouched California Valley Grassland in the world.
The arid grasslands found in Carrizo Plain once stretched all across the southern half of California’s Central Valley and the southeastern portions of the Coast Ranges. Carrizo Plain is home to several federally listed species including the endangered San Joaquin kit fox. Carrizo Plain is also home to the last remaining herds of pronghorn antelope west of the Sierra Nevada. Carrizo Plain also boasts one of the few wild herds of tule elk within the arid California Valley grasslands. The herds of pronghorn and elk that inhabit Carrizo Plain are all that remains of the massive herds of these animals which once roamed the entire San Joaquin Valley. The Carrizo Plain also hosts Soda Lake, California’s largest alkaline lake. Soda lake provides excellent nesting and feeding habitat with little disturbance from people for several migratory bird species including American avocets, long-billed curlews, and impressive sandhill cranes. In addition, in spring, the plain comes alive with wildflowers as the surrounding mountain ranges turn yellow and purple. This transformation from arid desert to lush, blooming grassland that takes place in years with good winter range is a feature integral to the heritage of California. Other places see this transformation occur, but nowhere are areas of wildflowers so vast. Carrizo Plain also allows adventurous visitors to experience this amazing natural phenomenon in a true wilderness with few other people, something that is increasingly difficult due to the increasing popularity of wildflower sites such as Antelope Valley. Carrizo Plain also contains historic sites such as Painted Rock, with its ancient Native American petroglyphs, and Traver’s Ranch, where visitors can see the remains of a pioneer homestead. The monument also includes a portion of the San Andreas fault line, thus becoming a magnet for people seeking to learn about the region’s complex geology. Carrizo Plain also offers opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy a variety of activities including hunting, camping, fishing, and wildlife viewing. To me, the best thing about Carrizo Plain is the break it provides from our fast-paced modern world. It is a wonderful thing that there is still a place on this earth where one can hear no sounds but the wind rustling through the tumbleweeds and birds chirping and the only things to be seen for miles around are wildflower covered mountainsides.
When reviewing the status of Carrizo Plain, keep in mind that it is already surrounded by very large oilfields. Also, consider that you have touted your listening to the opinions of the people living closest to the monuments. Congressman Salud Carbajal represents California’s 24th district which includes the cities of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara as well the Carrizo Plain. Recently, Carbajal and San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon joined a rally in support of protecting Carrizo Plain. Friends of Carrizo Plain, an organization dedicated to protecting the national monument is backed by the city of Taft, a town whose economy is based mostly on oil. If your Department of Interior truly listens to the people who live and work around Carrizo Plain, the only option is to keep the plain protected in its entirety. 40 years down the road when people who are currently my age will be in charge of the country when my generation looks back on your tenure, what would you want your time in office to be remembered for? Would you rather be remembered as the Secretary of Interior who sold off Carrizo Plain and other treasures resulting in a slight increase in the income of the CEO of an oil company and erasing an integral piece of California’s natural heritage forever, or would you rather be remembered for being the one who protected Carrizo Plain for all future generations to enjoy in its full splendor? Leaving the Carrizo Plain unprotected could result in the extinction of the last remaining pronghorn herds west of the Sierra Nevada, a herd that once populated all of the San Joaquin Valley. Leaving Carrizo Plain unprotected could also result in one of the last areas of untouched desert grassland, a truly unique California ecosystem turning into one big oilfield. Energy development in the Carrizo Plain would mean more profits for an already wealthy oil company but also the demise of the last remnant of an ecosystem found nowhere else.
To submit your own letter regarding this subject, go to this site on or before July 10.