Decades in the Making: Reflections on the Permanent Protection of Molok Luyuk

CNPS Conservation Director Nick Jensen and Secretary Deb Haaland during a visit to Molok Luyuk on Sept. 25, 2023.

By Nick Jensen

I FIRST VISITED MOLOK LUYUK IN 2009, when I was the Rare Plant Program Director for CNPS. The goal of that day was to get to know the rare plants of this spectacular ridge, which encompasses about 20,000 acres in Lake and Colusa Counties. Back then, there was no way that I could have anticipated writing today’s blog post, which memorializes a monumental conservation victory: Yesterday, President Biden used his powers under the Antiquities Act to permanently protect more than 122,000 acres in California, including Molok Luyuk.

For decades, CNPS has been working to document the special plants and habitats on Molok Luyuk, and advocating for its protection. Through the efforts of volunteers and CNPS Vegetation and Rare Plant Program staff we know that Molok Luyuk harbors nearly 7% of the state’s flora on just .02% of its habitat, with more than 40 rare plants included in the CNPS Rare Plant Inventory. 

My initial visit to Molok Luyuk (a place many of us got to know as Walker Ridge) was intertwined with conservation urgency. That day, I had the pleasure of making that trip with Greg Suba, then CNPS Conservation Program Director. Greg was working to protect the ridge from aggressive development proposals that posed persistent threats to the ridge’s chaparral, oak woodlands, serpentine meadows, and McNab cypress forests. Prior to Greg’s work, long-time CNPS leader John Hunter had petitioned the Bureau of Land Management in 2005 to make the ridge an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. CNPS would go on to submit two additional petitions in 2011 and 2020 in attempts to secure the protection and management the area deserves. 

Sunset behind gray pines (P. sabiniana) at Molok Luyuk. Photo: Bob Wick
Sunset behind gray pines (P. sabiniana) at Molok Luyuk. Photo: Bob Wick

Late in 2019, the Molok Luyuk torch was passed to me. Days before the onset of the pandemic, a few of us met at the CNPS office in Sacramento to strategize on what we could do to push back on the latest proposal to permanently alter thousands of acres of habitat on Molok Luyuk — the last in a long line of wind energy development proposal, despite the area being determined by the CEC to have low to moderate wind energy potential. The folks in the room and on the phone that day formed the nucleus of the coalition that propelled us to where we are today.

As a conservation advocate, I am constantly reminded that victories are few and far between, and that when they happen they almost always result from years of hard work. The effort to expand Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument to include Molok Luyuk, has been challenging, exhilarating, and rewarding. The nascent effort in 2019 and 2020 of a few groups and individuals banded together to save a special slice of California habitat, grew in rewarding and unexpected ways. I never anticipated that this endeavor would lead to introduced federal legislation, meetings with our congressional champions, and their staff, a sunset hike with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, and the opportunity to develop a relationship with the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

In no small way, we would not be celebrating today were it not for the efforts and leadership from the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. This campaign is first-hand experience that developing relationships with and respecting the deep knowledge and wisdom of Tribal partners can result in decisions that are symbiotically beneficial to Tribes and partner organizations. Our shared goal of conserving Molok Luyuk has resulted in so much more than saving a special place for rare plants and habitats. President Biden’s proclamation features the ambitious requirement that the care and management of Molok Luyuk be “informed by and reflect Tribal expertise and Indigenous Knowledge.”  In subsequent years, this will pave the way for co-stewardship agreements between Tribes and the federal government. This is groundbreaking and respects the extensive cultural significance of Molok Luyuk to the Patwin people, which stems from thousands of years of their history, and informs their wisdom.

This campaign is first-hand experience that developing relationships with and respecting the deep knowledge and wisdom of Tribal partners can result in decisions that are symbiotically beneficial to Tribes and partner organizations. Our shared goal of conserving Molok Luyuk has resulted in so much more than saving a special place for rare plants and habitats.

As I write this post, feeling the emotions that it brings and embracing a tear of joy or two, my strongest sentiment is one of gratitude. Thanks to President Biden for his leadership and for saving Molok Luyuk. Thanks to our congressional champions and their staff for their years of dedication: Senator Alex Padilla, Representatives John Garamendi and Mike Thompson, and most recently, Senator Laphonza Butler. Thanks to our dedicated CNPS members and coalition partners for showing up for dozens of online and in-person meetings and field trips and their well-timed and skillful advocacy. And, last but not least, to the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, for providing the strength, wisdom, and leadership needed to make this happen. As we enter the next phase of Molok Luyuk advocacy, one that will incorporate thousands of years of Tribal knowledge and decades of scientific research into a robust management plan that includes all of BSMNM, we all have so much to be grateful for.


Nick Jensen is the CNPS Conservation Director.

 

 

 

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