Conserving California's Berryessa and San Gabriel Mountains

Conserving California’s Open Spaces

Conserving California’s Open Spaces

Under the Antiquities Act, United States presidents have the power to designate federal public lands, waters, and cultural and historic sites as national monuments. Creating national monuments means preserving clean air and water, protecting species, offering recreational opportunities for local communities, and upholding sacred sites. It also means safeguarding our beautiful wildlife from being destroyed by industrial development like mining or oil and gas drilling.

The Berryessa Snow Mountain and San Gabriel Mountains cover hundreds of thousands of acres of land across Southern and Northern California. In 2014, President Obama designated these two regions as national monuments using the Antiquities Act, protecting the rich cultural history and biodiversity of the California coast. Since that designation a decade ago, support has grown to expand these original protections and better support surrounding communities and wildlife.

The San Gabriel Mountains are located just east of Los Angeles and serve as the backyard for local, urban committees that do not have access to green spaces in their own neighborhoods. President Obama’s original designation covered 346,000 acres of national forest land — but local communities, California lawmakers, Indigenous tribes, and conservation groups continued to push to expand the national monument. 

Expanding this monument means protecting the upper Los Angeles river watershed which contributes to the drinking water for the entire region — home to more than 15 million people. The San Gabriel Mountains are also a refuge for wildlife like mountain lions, black bears, coyotes, and mule deer. They also house dozens of endangered or rare species like the California condor, Nelson’s bighorn sheep, the California spotted owl, and the Southern California legless lizard. 

On top of the environmental protections, expanding the monument means green lighting additional funding to safeguard the mountains’ cultural significance for Yocha Dehe Wintun nation, Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians and Gabrieleno San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians. These peoples were first displaced from the region between 1770-1816 under the Spanish missionaries. Today, their descendants use the region for ceremonies and collect traditional plants for cultural practices.

San Gabriel expansionMap of San Gabriel Mountains expansion via USDA Forest Service.

The Berryessa Snow Mountain monument is in northern California’s Inner Coast Range and was originally designated a national monument by President Obama to protect its prairies and California species like the tule elk. Since its initial designation, tribal leaders, California lawmakers, and conservation groups rallied to expand this monument to include the 11-mile long ridgeline that is sacred to the Patwin people.

Berryessa Snow Mountain was home to the Patwin, Pomo, Wappo and Miwok tribes before they were displaced in the 19th century. The 11-mile ridgeline provided sustenance for tribal nations for more than 10,000 years and still houses historic, cultural objects.

Expansion of Berryessa Snow Mountain also means preserving local biodiversity and allowing for continued wildlife migration. The ridgeline serves as a critical corridor between existing protected lands for species like tule elk, mountain lions, and black bears. The ridgeline is also home to serpentine soil that is essential to preserving California’s rare plant life — serpentine soils only live on less than 1.5% of California’s land.

Groups have been working together to pressure President Biden to expand the boundaries of these two national monuments for years. In March alone, groups sent over 650,000 signatures to his administration — including 56,000 signatures from members like you — urging him to use his authority under the Antiquities Act. And he listened.

Berryessa expansionMap of Berryessa Snow Mountain expansion via Lake County News.

In May 2024, President Biden used his authority to expand both the San Gabriel Mountains and Berryessa Snow Mountain national monuments. Biden added 105,919 acres considered the gateway to the Angeles National Forest to the San Gabriel Mountains, and expanded Berryessa Snow Mountain national monument to include the 11-mile ridgeline — now called Molok Luyuk, which means “Condor Ridge” in the language of the Patwin people. On top of expanding the two monuments, Biden directed his Interior Department to be co-stewards of the lands with tribal nations.

This was a huge win that will unlock critical support for two of California’s most popular, and most important, national monuments. Pressure from our members, regional partners, and Tribal communities pushed this campaign across the finish line to safeguard these national treasures. 

Related News