March 21, 2023
(March 21, 2023) A short drive north of Sacramento lies Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. The monument stretches from Napa County in the south to Mendocino County in the north, encompassing 330,780 acres of public lands. President Obama designated the national monument in 2015, in response to the local community calling for these lands to be permanently protected.
Now, we are asking President Biden to build on this legacy and expand Berryessa Snow Mountain to include Molok Luyuk, 13,753 acres of public lands located on the eastern border of the existing monument. Molok Luyuk is sacred to the Patwin people, including my Tribe, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. It also includes important wildlife and plant habitat that is threatened by climate change and is beloved for outdoor recreation.
With rolling hills and rocky outcroppings that overlook meadows of wildflowers and forests of pine, cypress, and oak, this rare and rugged landscape is steeped in thousands of years of Indigenous history.
The ridge includes sites where we practice religious ceremonies, and that are central to our people’s origin stories. Routes that criss-cross the ridge were first carved out by Indigenous peoples who gathered, traded, and traveled through the region at a time when wooly mammoths still roamed the earth. These vital cross-cultural linkages connected Pomo people from across Northern California and built a rich network of cultural pollination and exchange.
We hope that President Biden will ensure that Molok Luyuk is permanently protected and that the lands are collaboratively stewarded with federally recognized Tribes like ours. Requiring federal agencies to consult with Tribes in the development of the area’s management plan and ongoing management decisions would help ensure that tribal knowledge, perspective, and practices would be a part of the Monument’s stewardship going forward. Our hope is also to see the return to an Indigenous name for these lands. Molok Luyuk is Patwin for “Condor Ridge” and is a name provided by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. Currently the area is referred to as “Walker Ridge.”
Condors once flew over the ridge and our hope is that, if we are successful in protecting this area, ongoing habitat restoration efforts could allow the condor to return. The ridge also serves as a migration pathway for wildlife including deer, elk, mountain lion, black bear, and bobcat. These connectivity corridors will be key for species survival as wildlife adjust their migration habits due to climate change.
Molok Luyuk also supports a rich array of native biodiversity that is increasingly threatened by climate change. Originally derived from the ancient sea floor, the ridge’s serpentine soil was belched out by volcanoes 140 million years ago. That geological history creates a home for imperiled wildlife and over 30 species of rare plants, like the Adobe Lilly.
On top of cultural and environmental value, Molok Luyuk provides access to outdoor activities for locals and visitors alike. A visitor to Molok Luyuk might bike, horseback ride, or hike along the winding trails. Incorporating Molok Luyuk into the existing monument would improve land management, bring additional resources for trail construction and maintenance, and help improve public access.
Molok Luyuk holds rich history and sacred meaning for local Indigenous Tribes, safeguards biodiversity in the face of climate change, and expands access to nature. It is eminently deserving of permanent protection for future generations.
Representatives Garamendi and Thompson and Senators Padilla and Feinstein recently called on President Biden to use the Antiquities Act to permanently protect Molok Luyuk. The Antiquities Act is a 1906 law that grants presidents the ability to designate federal public lands, waters, and cultural and historical sites as national monuments.
The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation considers the protection and stewardship of this land and its wildlife to be part of our sacred responsibility. We urge President Biden to permanently protect Molok Luyuk.
Chairman Anthony Roberts is Tribal Chairman of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. Elected Chairman in January 2018, he has served on the Tribal Council since 2000 and as Treasurer since 2006.