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New bill would expand wilderness, formalize Condor Trail in Big Sur and beyond

The endangered California condor is likely to benefit from the wilderness expansion and recognition of the National Condor Recreation Trail proposed by new federal legislation.
The endangered California condor is likely to benefit from the wilderness expansion and recognition of the National Condor Recreation Trail proposed by new federal legislation.Elvis Santana

A new federal bill making its way through the House of Representatives proposes expansions to the Los Padres wilderness as well formal recognition of a 400-mile National Condor Recreation Trail through Big Sur, reports the Monterey County Weekly. These changes would increase opportunities for backpacking in these areas and entice hikers with opportunities to see the rare but recovering California condor.

Called the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, HR 4685 was introduced on May 15, 2014, by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara. If passed, it would be the first expansion of land protections in the Los Padres National Forest in more than 20 years.

Specifically, the legislation would expand the eight wilderness areas of the Los Padres National Forest by a total of approximately 246,000 acres and designate nearly 160 wild and scenic river miles. The bill also provides congressional designation to the Condor National Recreation Trail as an amendment to the National Trails System Act.

Currently, the Condor Trail is a thru-hiking route that links trails between the northern and southern portions of the Los Padres National Forest. It begins just south of Carmel at Botchers Gap and passes through coastal mountains, wilderness and backcountry areas in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties to its end point at Lake Piru at the Los Angeles County line. The route, which is nearing completion, traverses critical territory for the famed California condor from which it takes its name.

Improved trails and detailed route information are a boon for backpackers, and the coastal range provides an interesting contrast to Sierra Nevada backpacking. For the condor, which became extinct in the wild in the late 1980s owing to pesticide exposure in the 1980s, expanding habitat protections may increase the likelihood of a full recovery in its native habitat. HR 4685 is currently in the House Committee on Natural Resources. While it's being debated, Fresno backpackers can contact their representatives and encourage them to support this bill.

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