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Oil drilling, mining concerns for Carbajal if Carrizo Plain loses national monument status

Bree Zender
Congressman Salud Carbajal speaks to a crowd of about 200 to support the continued monument status of the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Congressman Salud Carbajal and former Congresswoman Lois Capps attended a rally in San Luis Obispo on Saturday to protect the status of the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Carrizo is one of 27 national monuments that may be restricted in size or eliminated entirely after President Trump issued an Executive Order in late April for a review of the monuments. 

Congressman Carbajal said the tourism industry is one of the top money generators in San Luis Obispo County, and Carrizo Plain contributes to that.

“There are more endangered species per square mile on the Carrizo Plain than there are anywhere else in the lower 48 states,” Carbajal said.

Since 2001, the Plain's national monument status protects the land from new oil leases while retaining existing drilling rights, and also bans target shooting and off-road vehicles. San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon said the elimination of the monument and its protections may open opportunities for oil and mineral extraction industries to use the land.

“This is simply another example of the current administration's disdain for the environment and human health and its efforts to roll back crucial protections for the common good,” Harmon said.

One of the factors that may contribute to revoking the monument status would be if Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke determines the designation was made “without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders,” according to the order.

Pat Vessart has been living on the Carrizo Plain for fifteen years. He says the momentum to make the Plain a National Monument was decades long, and included the coordination of the public, local and federal government agencies.

“I want to make it clear that for the Carrizo, this was not a land grab. This was not an impulsive act,” Vessart said.

The Plain was one of the sites of the recent "superbloom" of flowers after last winter's rain.

The public comment period on the review effort ends on July 10. Secretary Zinke will report back to the president in August with his conclusions.

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