A long struggle by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) to protect an environmental and cultural refuge was brought to a successful conclusion by one of former President Bill Clinton’s final executive actions.

Clinton designated a vast grassland in northern San Luis Obispo County, known as the Carrizo Plain, as a national monument on Tuesday, Jan. 16. The Carrizo Plain, which had previously been under the jurisdiction of the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), contains the remnants of the San Joaquin Grasslands, the most visible portion of the San Andreas Fault and a number of Native American cultural sites, according to Capps’ spokesperson Stacey Paxton.

“National monument designation is something the president does. Representative Capps’ bill was to designate a ‘national preservation,’ ” Paxton said. “Under the Bureau of Land Management, the area needed a further designation to protect it from residential homes and oil drilling.”

Despite being designated as a national monument, control of the Carrizo Plain will be shared between federal employees and a local advisory committee, Paxton said.

“This one isn’t controversial. People in the area have been working to protect it. This advisory committee will remain a prominent force. This is not any new concept,” Paxton said. “It will continue to be a partnership with the BLM. The national monument designation provides even greater protection.”

Pete Crowheart, liaison for the Tribal Relations Program of the Los Padres National Forest, said it is important for the federal government to share power with indigenous peoples.

“If you give the land to one group of Native Americans they want to possess it,” Crowheart said. “When it is kind of taken care of by a government agency – the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service – they can have different Indian groups share the area.”

Legislation to protect the Carrizo Plain was originally drafted by former Rep. Walter Capps (D-Calif.) just before his death in 1997. According to Paxton, Lois Capps introduced her late husband’s legislation in May in a joint effort with Republican legislators.

“Walter Capps first authored the legislation shortly before he died. [Lois Capps] introduced the bill when she was elected,” Paxton said. “It’s something we’ve been working on in a bipartisan effort. Republican Bill Thomas of Bakersfield co-sponsored it.”

Despite bipartisan support, the bill was stalled twice in the congressional committee process in May of 1999 and in September, Paxton added.

“[The bill] had a hearing but never made it to the floor. Often members have to reintroduce a bill several times before it reaches the floor,” Paxton said. “There has been discussion about this sort of bill for a long time. It has almost passed several times.”

Protection of environmentally and culturally sensitive sites like the Carrizo Plain is important to present and future Californians, Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District board member Ariana Katovich said.

“Grasslands in California are rapidly disappearing due to urban sprawl. Every effort on the national and local level is important to sustaining our ecosystems,” Katovich said. “It is important to maintain Native American lands. They are needed to maintain our natural history.”

Crowheart said the national monument designation provides important protection for Native American groups.

“These areas do have a special meaning for Indian peoples. They are used for ceremonial purposes. It’s all very sacred. These sites are put in very special places. This is all we have left in some areas,” Crowheart said. “If they are on government land, it is protected by the BLM. They consult with Native Americans, and they do protect these places. Because of the [national monument] executive order, it is a ‘double whammy’ – there is double protection.”

Despite the transition to President George W. Bush’s administration, a reversal of Clinton’s Carrizo Plain National Monument designation is unlikely because it would require a majority vote in both houses of Congress, Paxton said.

“The designation has been done. Congress doesn’t need to ratify it; it’s part of the president’s power,” Paxton said. “It is possible to reverse the designation, but it requires an act of Congress. That’s just not likely with the current situation.”